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First Female Rabbi in The U.S. Marines Sails into Winnipeg

By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B.

Rabbi Karen Soria, the first female Rabbi ever to serve in the United States Marines, is the new spiritual leader of  Temple Shalom, a Reform congregation in the city.

Rabbi Soria, who served in the Marines from 1992-1996 , also became the second female Rabbi to serve in the U.S. Navy,  a position she held from 1992-2003.

Soria was also Australia’s first ever female Rabbi, a position she held  in Melbourne from 1981-1989.

Soria arrived in Winnipeg for a year before taking over the pulpit at Temple Shalom.

“My partner in the armed forces was transferred here a little over a year ago.” Soria said.

When asked what her partner’s religion was, Soria declined to comment.

Soria says that as Rabbi of the Temple Shalom, she would be willing to perform same sex marriages.

She believes that the Temple’s congregation will grow because “our services have the best [live] music that touches people’s soul’s and we have such diversity and are open to such diversity” that people will be attracted to the congregation.

Soria says that one of her areas of interest is “working with people who choose Judaism as adults.”

Growing up near Chicago, Soria, graduated from the Hebrew Union College in 1981. She then served as a Rabbi in Australia and then as a Rabbi for two congregations in Florida. 

After this, she decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy as a Chaplain.  She says “A friend convinced me that this it would be a good thing to do..I chose the Navy because the Navy’s application was on the top and the Navy was the fastest getting back to me.”

In 2003, Soria says she was ready to get out of the Navy and “I got an honourable discharge.”

While in the Navy, Soria says she encountered “a number of Jewish people who weren’t at morning high  holiday services because they didn’t feel comfortable asking their commanding officer to take off work.  I had an overwhelming sense of duty to those people to pray on behalf of them.  This was a defining moment.  It can be very difficult to be Jewish in the U.S. forces and some people that I knew were not confident to observe [Jewish holy days] as otherwise they would have liked to.”

She also remembers speaking with one Jewish sailor who felt that one of the reason’s he was estranged from the Jewish community was because he was a sailor.  “He said what Jewish parent ever wants their kid to be a sailor?   [It made me realize] that as a community we have less tolerance than we should of very different ways that people can work productively.”

Soria  says that  her synagogue will be starting an official chesed committee and an adult education committee. 

She also says she will act as a part-time Rabbi for the Temple Shalom congregation. In addition, she will also start to work part-time as the Jewish Chaplain at the Health Sciences Centre.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.