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Chava Koster announced to her family that she wanted to be a rabbi when she was 16 years old. The family’s response was, “Impossible!” This was in Amsterdam and there had never been a woman rabbi in The Netherlands. Her answer, “Watch me!”
Prior to her rabbinic career, Rabbi Koster studied English Historical Linguistics at the University of Amsterdam. A few years later, she moved to the United States to study at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1993, she earned her Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies and Jewish Education. She also earned a fellowship at the Melton Center for Research in Jewish Education in New York that same year. She then went on to the Academy for Jewish Religion, where she was ordained in 1997. None of us know exactly how many languages Rabbi Koster speaks, but eight would be a good guess.
Rabbi Koster’s rabbinate began as Associate Rabbi five years at Congregation B’nai Abraham in Livingston, New Jersey, followed by seventeen years as Senior Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel, of New York City. As a spiritual leader, Rabbi Koster believes that for a congregation to become a truly sacred community, the emphasis must be on learning, spiritual growth and social action coupled with warmth and caring. The vibrancy, excitement and ownership of these fundamental elements will enable all members, regardless of their knowledge and observance, to be inspired to find even greater depths of meaning within Judaism.
Rabbi Koster was a representative to the American Jewish Committee. As past Director of Columbia University’s Uriel Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture, she has been a supporter of Eastern European Jewish culture, no small feat for a Sephardic Jew. She was an adjunct professor of Jewish Studies at the City University of New York in Harlem. As one of the keynote speakers for the Global Peace Initiative of Women Spiritual Leaders, she is proud of the practical outcome of the initiative, in that it offers both spiritual and economic programmes focused on young girls and women. The Peace Initiative has supported the basket project in Rwanda, and set up computers training for women in Afghanistan. As a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, she believes in an Israel as it ought to be, and supports open discussions to re-engage people in Israel.
Rabbi Koster is honoured to be part of Bromley Reform Synagogue – and humbled by people’s trust and willingness to allow her to be part of their lives. She looks forward to continuing a conversation that is both thousands of years old and utterly new. She hopes to challenge everyone to understand their traditions and to apply them to the modern issues we confront each day in our private and community lives.