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Winnipeg rabbi returns home

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Rabbi Kliel Rose

Rabbi Kliel Rose, the newly appointed spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg, has strong local roots.

The son and brother of rabbis, Rabbi Rose grew up in Winnipeg and is happy to be back leading the congregation with which his parents, Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose, also have long and ongoing ties. (The senior Roses lead an annual alternative Yom Tov service in the synagogue’s lower level.)

Congregation Etz Chayim is the younger Rabbi Rose’s fourth pulpit. In 2014, he was honoured with the Human Rights Hero Award by Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. He was most recently chosen to be among 20 rabbis from different denominations to train in the Clergy Leadership Incubator – a two-year program run by Rabbi Sidney Schwarz that’s intended to educate younger rabbis in innovative thinking, change management and institutional transformation.

Asked how he feels about being back in Winnipeg, Rabbi Rose says that he is “overjoyed.”

“On a personal level,” he adds, “it has been somewhat surreal bumping into people – people who played a significant role in my life when I was growing up – whom I haven’t seen in 30 years.”

He credits his parents with being tremendous role models. “They are a dynamic team,” he says, “but they never pushed any of us (Rose is the middle child in a family of four brothers and one sister) in any particular direction. They were really nurturing. They were OK with anything we decided, as long as we were passionate about it.”

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As a young man, Rabbi Rose notes, he fought against going into “the family business.” But, he says, the people he worked with at Jewish summer camps saw something in him and convinced him to pursue his rabbinic ordination.

Thus, after graduating with a Judaic studies degree from Gratz College in Philadelphia, he enrolled in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He notes that the most important piece of advice his father gave him before he enrolled in a rabbinic studies program was the suggestion that he should work for a time in a large congregation, to see what it is like – “both the joy and the underbelly,” as he puts it.

“I took his advice,” Rose says. “For two years, I worked under the umbrella of a special fellowship at Bnai Jeshurun Congregation in Manhattan. The congregation had 4,000 members at that time. It had been a dying congregation, which had been revitalized by Rabbi Marshall Meyer, who had previously helped revive Jewish life in Argentina. Rabbi Meyer, with his vision of social justice, was an inspiration for me.

“I also spent a year at an Orthodox yeshiva in Israel and a couple of years as a youth director at a large Conservative congregation on Long Island.”

Before coming to Winnipeg, Rabbi Rose served congregations in Miami Beach, Fla., Nashville and, most recently, Edmonton.

In Edmonton, he also served as a Jewish chaplain at the University of Alberta and took the lead on a program called Faith and Inclusion, which supports individuals with cognitive and physical learning challenges.

He cites the presence of a Jewish high school as one very important factor in his decision to come back to Winnipeg. (Rabbi Rose and his wife, Dorit, have five children.)

The egalitarian Etz Chayim synagogue is Winnipeg’s second-largest congregation. Rabbi Rose says that he is looking forward to representing Etz Chayim in the larger Jewish community and continuing his parents’ involvement in interfaith relations.

“I believe that interacting with people from other religious communities makes one more aware of our differences, as well as what we share in common,” he says. “It leads to a deeper appreciation of our own community.”