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Flushing synagogue welcomes new spiritual leader

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Temple Beth Sholom of Flushing ceremoniously installed its new rabbi Sunday, who became the first woman to lead the synagogue since it was built 60 years ago.

“It’s such a wonderful day for me and [husband] Walt and my family and I’m honored to be sharing it with you,” said Rabbi Sharon Ballan, who will ´╗┐officially start serving as Temple Beth Sholom’s rabbi in July.

The synagogue is at 175-39 Northern Blvd. in Flushing.

The ceremony was attended by some of the congregation’s 200 families along with rabbis who came from as far away as Connecticut and state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose).

The installation was conducted by Rabbi Theodore Tsoruoka of Temple Isaiah of Great Neck, L.I., a Japanese American who converted to Judaism 42 years ago and became a rabbi in 2004.

Elliot Simon, a member of Temple Beth Sholom’s search committee, said Ballan was one of several candidates who were given a second interview and she was asked to serve as a guest rabbi as a tryout.

Simon said it took about 20 minutes from the time she started leading the service for search committee members to conclude that she would be the right choice for the synagogue.

“Since her arrival at Temple Beth Sholom, we have been reminded about our decision,” he said.´╗┐

Ballan takes over for Rabbi Bruce Goldwasser, who led the congregation for 31 years before retiring.´╗┐

“I’m very happy to have handed over this responsibility and this privilege to such a fine and scholarly and kind-hearted person,” Goldwasser said.

The synagogue, built in 1950, is a reform congregation, a branch of Judaism that allows women to be rabbis.

Ballan originally worked in advertising for 20 years before she decided to become a rabbi.

“Slowly, the advertising wasn’t really doing it for me spiritually,” she said. “Life is too short not to do something you love 24/7.”

Ballan said she would work on making prayer services enjoyable for the congregation.

“I’m trying to update the services, try to make the services more lively,” she said. “We’re trying to be a beacon of reform Judaism in northeast Queens, where the demographics are changing.”

Gail Tishcoff, a Temple Beth Sholom member for more than 15 years, said Ballan has been a hit with the congregation.

“The rabbi is lovely. She’s very well-prepared. She always has a terrific story, something that is relevant to the occasion,” she said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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