Idyllwild’s synagogue, Temple Har Shalom, is welcoming a new rabbi. Rabbi Ilana Grinblat has led high holiday services for several years, including virtually during COVID, but will now be performing shabbat services regularly in person.
Temple Board President Pat Schnetzer described how a community gathering for religious observances became a synagogue: “It started in April of 2014. In December, we were having a community gathering for Hanukkah, and someone said, ‘You know, I think Jewish Federation of the Desert can help us become a synagogue.’ We were able to find a student rabbi, Julian King, and then we had a retired rabbi, Malka Drucker, from Santa Fe, up here for five years. Then Rabbi David Lazar, who came from the desert, and now we’re starting with Rabbi Ilana Grinblat. She did high holy days here a few years ago, so we know her, and really like her.”
Grinblat grew up in Washington DC, and after working summers in the capital, attended Brown University in Rhode Island, studying world religions. She spent two semesters abroad, teaching school in Ecuador, and studying art and culture in Ghana. Returning to DC, she worked for the American Jewish Committee in Washington. She came to Los Angeles’ Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She also earned a master’s degree in Midrash (Biblical studies) from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has over 15 years of experience serving as a rabbi.
The Crier spoke with her this week.
TC: “You have been coming up here for a while?”
IG: “I have done services on high holidays for several years, 2019 and 2020. I’ve been leading services. My first shabbat was in May, and doing virtual Friday night candle lighting services. I’ll be coming up in June.”
TC: “You’re commuting?”
IG: “I live in LA. I applied because it’s so beautiful. I wanted to spend some time up there. I got to know the community during the high holidays; such a warm synagogue, the people are lovely.”
TC: “You have quite a résumé.”
TC: “What else should we know about your work?”
IG: I wrote two books: one is called “Blessings and Baby Steps.” It goes from pregnancy to pre-school, with spiritual lessons for each of those stages. My second is called “Castles and Catch.” It goes through the Bible with three spiritual reflections from each part on the lessons that children teach us.”
TC: “Are you a parent?”
IG: “I am. I have two kids. My son is graduating from high school next week, my daughter is finishing ninth grade. I’ve been writing about what I’ve learned from them basically their whole lives.”
TC: “When did you first realize you wanted to be a rabbi?”
IG: “I figured that out in college. I was raised in a very Jewishly religious household. My father was a rabbi, not a congregational rabbi, but a rabbi. In college I realized that ‘rabbi’ combined my passions for counseling, writing, community building, teaching and ritual.”
TC: “Anything else you want to say to readers?”
IG: “How excited I am to be part of the community. The people are so warm and welcoming, I have been enjoying getting to know them better; it’s such a beautiful place, and beautiful to be part of that.”
Schnetzer said Grinblat also is a certified Zumba teacher. “In the past she has done it to Jewish music; maybe you’d call it Jewmba? And she sings and plays guitar.” Synagogue member Karin Greenwood relayed an invitation to “new-to-the-Hill members as well as others who are interested in taking part … to join us and help Temple Har Shalom move forward to best serve the needs of our Jewish community.” Schnetzer also spoke of the last few years and the new “virtual” services. “During COVID there emerged a small but mighty group who have stayed together on Zoom. It’s been pretty wonderful — on Friday night to light the candles, and Saturday afternoon book club with Rabbi Malka.”
These modern resources mean that even when members move away from the Hill, they may still participate and keep in touch. The active involvement of former Hill residents made their recent yard sale a success, with several members making the trek up the Hill to reconnect and help out.
A newer member, Julia Ruchman, pointed out that meeting the challenges posed by the pandemic has strengthened the group. “[I]t is wonderful and inspiring to join a congregation that is actively seeking new ideas, and wants to grow and evolve. It is an important part of our culture that our religion must keep evolving in order to survive — and our adaptability is a key component of our survival.”
Ruchman also described the joy of unexpectedly discovering community. “I am a new member of the congregation, but not super new to the Hill. I have lived here since 2019. I grew up in a small, rural town in New England, very much like Idyllwild, where we were one of the only Jewish families in the community. I (incorrectly) assumed that there weren’t any other Jewish people living in Idyllwild-Pine Cove full-time, and so I didn’t look for them. Then — just last week — I was standing in line at the post office and overheard one of the members talking to someone else about Jewish services. I couldn’t believe it. I basically chased after her to find out more information.
“She introduced me to Pat and many of the other members. It’s such a wonderful group of people who I am so pleased to know. The sense of community, their hospitality and generosity of spirit is very inspiring. They made me feel so welcome.”
Services are held at St. Hugh’s Episcopal Church on Tahquitz Drive. Those interested in attending may email [email protected] or call (951) 468-0004.