LACONIA — "I've just been following my own path," said Rabbi Boaz Heilman, who last week was installed as the rabbi at Temple B'nai Israel, which has been the hub of Jewish religious and social life in central New Hampshire for the past century.
Rabbi Heilman's path has taken him from Israel to America and back again, where he has left his mark as a pianist, teacher and medic with the Israel Defense Forces while slaking an appetite for hiking and honing an eye for photography. With his rich experience and diverse talents, Rabbi Heilman is an ideal fit with what Barbara Morgenstern, a member of the board, called "our interesting, eclectic congregation."
Rabbi Heilman was born in Israel in 1949, and in 1961 came with his family to the United States, where he trained as a classical pianist. He studied at the University of California at Los Angeles and earned a bachelor's degree in music in 1971 and an artist diploma in 1973 before rejoining his family in Israel. For the next four years, he performed and recorded as well as fulfilled his military duty. Returning the United States in 1977 to pursue his musical career, he earned his master's degree at the University of Cincinnati in 1979, and a year later married Sally Firestone, a rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College.
IN 1995, Rabbi Heilman followed his wife's footsteps, enrolling in the rabbinic program at Hebrew Union College in New York, where he was awarded a master of arts degree in Hebrew literature and was ordained a rabbi in 1998. From 1995 to 1998 he served as Rabbinic Leader of the Congregation B'nai Torah in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and afterwards as its rabbi until this past June, when the sanctuary was named in his honor.
"We found each other," Rabbi Heilman said of his coming to Temple B'nai Israel. "I was reaching the end of my tenure in Sudbury after 20 years," he said, "adding I wasn't ready to go to Florida and play golf. I can't hit a ball to save my life."
He said that he wanted to remained engaged, but also have time for teaching, study and music as well as "my other hobbies."
Rabbi Heilman said that the schedule calls for him to spend two weekends at Temple B'nai Israel a month.
"That's the schedule," he said, "but that's not in our hands."
Meanwhile, he will continued to teach two dozen adult education courses — "history, anti-semitism, theology, anything to do with Judaism and Israel" — and study. "In order to teach," he said, "you've got to learn." He is also writing a commentary on the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, the source of Jewish law and wisdom.
As for hiking, Rabbi Heilman said he has already climbed in the Belknap Mountains and to the top of Mount Major. "I plan to continue," he said, extolling the beauty of New Hampshire. "When God sets to work," he noted, "He really does a magnificent job and we can only stand and admire it."
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