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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of June 26 - July 2, 2002


Wood River’s new rabbi ready to meet challenges

Express Staff Writer

The Wood River Jewish Community is officially on the map. With the hiring of Rabbi Martin Levy, 50, it is only the second Reform Jewish community with a full-time rabbi in Idaho. Boise’s Ahavath Beth Israel is the other.

Rabbi Levy Martin

Levy says he’ll be a bit of a "circuit rider" as one of only two rabbis in the state. "It’s going to be exciting."

Levy, who moved here from Houston with his fiancé Mollie Oshman last week, will hold his first Shabbat Service this Friday evening at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum.

Levy says he is a competitor and rallies to challenges. His skills range from building communities in the areas where he has served to ice skating competitively.

Born in Teaneck, N.J., he went to college at Amherst in Massachusetts and studied at the Hebrew Union College in New York City, where he graduated with honors.

His first position was a huge departure for Levy. But the congregation in Amarillo, Texas, where he stayed for four years, still considers him their rabbi, and he returns often to perform weddings and funerals.

In 1985 he moved on to Congregation B'nai Israel in Galveston, which is the oldest Jewish temple in Texas.

In 1990, Levy returned to New York for two years, but the lure of the West proved a stronger draw than being near his home. He says he especially missed the friendliness in Texas, and the slower pace of living. "There were more things I could do as a leader there." He points out that in New York, babbis, like bagel shops, are on every other block.

Levy returned to the Houston area, and began what he calls his own spiritual journey. "I wanted to get far away and see what the Jewish world was like in the rest of the country." As Temple Beth Tikvah’s first-full time rabbi, Levy helped to build a temple a year and a half ago ¾ an experience that bodes well for the WRJC’s long-range plans, which include building a temple some day.

Though the WRJC has 135 families as members, many of them only live here two to three months during the year, says Levy. But the numbers of permanent are growing.

"There is a rekindling of interest since the mid 1980s," he said. Many people are coming back to their roots, and want to take classes to help them understand what the prayers mean, he added.

Levy will soon be teaching Hebrew classes for both children and adults and the first Bat Mitzvah is already planned.

To accommodate the growth, the WRJC has office space for the first time in Ketchum to be used as a Jewish Community Center.

Other than Levy’s office there will be a classroom, a library and a Judaica shop. It will serve as a drop-in center for locals and visitors, said Adam Koffler, president of the WRJC.

Having both a new rabbi and the center is a "means of establishing our community in a more significant manner, he said.

The Community Center at 211 Sun Valley Road, will be opened by the end of July.

In the meantime, Levy and Oshamn are busy with the move, meeting the congregation and planning their wedding in Houston in August.

Levy, who was a nationally ranked competitive skater at 17, and has continued competing successfully in the senior amateur level in both ice dancing and freestyle men’s skating, came to the attention of the WRJC through a skating contact.

Charles Fetter, a member of the Sun Valley Summer Skating School staff for more than 25 years, is an old friend of Levy’s. Fetter mentioned to WRJC member Phyllis Kourland that Levy would be perfect as a rabbi here in the valley. That remark coincided with Levy beginning to look for a new challenge, further west in the mountains.

Over two full weekends of interviews with the WRJC and conducting Shabbat Services, he had a "good panoramic view of the congregation." He was hired earlier this spring.

Levy plans to hike, skate and play tennis, a sport he taught while in college. He foresees working these pursuits into the children’s classes. As the main teacher at the center, his classes for adults will cover philosophy and history and he intends on bringing in guest speakers.

Levy is also a published writer and is currently at work on a book on meditations on Biblical stories that he is co-writing with a friend who is a Catholic priest in Texas.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.