Janis Siegel, Jewish Sound Correspondent
Like many Jewish leaders over the millennia who were called to serve their flocks, it wasn’t always obvious to the two new clergy now on staff at Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Rabbis Jaclyn Cohen and Micah Ellenson, that the rabbinate was their destiny.
Multi-talented and drawn to the worlds of psychology, music, theater, sports, and history, once the two professionals — who had worked together at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles — finally chose rabbinical school, they never looked back.
“Director of congregational learning was the job I wanted and Seattle was the town I wanted to move to,” Ellenson said. “I thought about entertainment, I thought about teaching, I thought about psychology, but I was always drawn back to the Jewish world. It’s where my passion really lies.”
The son of Rabbi David Ellenson, the recently retired president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, Micah, 36, was not necessarily looking for his father’s blessing over his choice of career, but he got it, nonetheless.
“He said ‘you’ll make an excellent rabbi’ and that he was really proud that I was going down this path,” said Ellenson.
Ellenson was the youth director at Stephen S. Wise Temple for four years. That’s where he met his wife, Sara. They have a four-year-old daughter, Lily.
“Micah brings a breadth and depth of pedagogical training and experience that will really help us build on the remarkable success of our educational program,” TDHS senior rabbi Daniel Weiner told The Jewish Sound, “and really take it to the next level.”
Ellenson is no stranger to the Puget Sound. Yearly, his family would visit relatives in Issaquah and he often visited his best friend who was stationed at the Puget Sound Naval Ship Yard in Bremerton.
“I love the community,” said Ellenson. “I love how diverse it is. Everybody’s so warm and welcoming and friendly.”
Ellenson is overseeing the Jennifer Rosen Meade Preschool, the Bridge Family Religion School, all adult learning at TDHS, youth programs, and the temple library.
It’s also Jaclyn Cohen’s first congregational post. The newly married 30 year old will be working with the 22-to-35-year-old TDHS affinity group, The Tribe. The group holds events and happy hours, too. It has a core attendance of about 20 and a mailing list of over 400 unaffiliated young Jewish professionals.
“These are my people,” Cohen said, “the sort of post-college, pre-marriage-with-children age range. We’re all similarly struggling and trying to make sense of this bizarre world and I think Judaism is really an essential part of having to navigate this craziness.”
Officially a member of the “millennial” generation, Cohen said that 9/11 was its “JFK moment.”
“I was a senior in high school on Sept. 11, and that’s when things really shifted,” she said. According to Cohen, the economic crash and the housing crisis of 2008 also deeply impacted her peers. Some, she said, question whether they want to have children. The traditional images of marriage, family, and the stability of a home look less attainable to them and have left many in her age range doubtful about the expectation of a prosperous and predictable future.
“That pattern doesn’t exist anymore and my age group knows that,” she said. “We’re all asking ourselves how we’re going to afford being adults, get a job, pay off our student loans.”
Speaking to The Jewish Sound the day after the Israeli Defense Forces militarily entered the Gaza Strip and the shoot-down of a Malaysian passenger jet in the war zone on the border between the Ukraine and Russia, Cohen is reminded of just how fragile a peaceful world can be.
“Yesterday was just a horrible day,” she said. “I kept thinking – ‘people need Shabbat, people need grounded-ness, people need Torah. That’s my job now as a rabbi, to give that.”
Cohen considered becoming a cantor out of her love for music and singing, but ultimately she wanted more. Her vocal styles encompass both the secular and sacred – from a cappella to musical theatre.
“Jaclyn brings incredible energy, sensitivity, insight and thoughtfulness and is the whole package,” said Weiner, “not only including that youthful vigor and idealism, but at the same time, a maturity that belies her age that I think will appeal to the breadth of generational cohorts that we have here at the congregation.”