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Rabbi Evette Lutman thinks of her new position at Temple Beth-El as “bashert,” a Yiddish word that means divine match.
“I’m really, really pleased to be here,” said Lutman. “It feels like home.”
Lutman moved to Las Cruces this summer from Denver with her wife, Shari Abramowitz, and their rescue dogs. She took over rabbinical duties at Temple Beth-El in August.
A native of Akron, Ohio, who gave up a law career to become a rabbi, Lutman spent two years in Jerusalem honing her Hebrew skills and studying the Talmud and Rabbinic literature at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies before returning to the United States to train at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia.
Before entering the rabbinate, she worked as assistant religious school administrator for a Reform congregation in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and spent two years as the lay rabbi for a synagogue in Jackson, Michigan.
Lutman and Abramowitz moved to Denver in 2010, where Lutman served as the spiritual leader of B'nai Havurah, Denver Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, before making the move to Las Cruces.
Lutman said she is looking forward to helping grow the Temple Beth-El congregation. She will be officially installed as the congregation’s spiritual leader Friday, Nov. 11.
In Las Cruces, Rabbi Evette succeeds Rabbi Larry Karol, who retired in 2020 and returned to Kansas City, Missouri.
“I have big shoes to fill,” said Lutman, adding the congregation has welcomed her, with members telling her, “We are so glad to have you.”
“This congregation has a really big tent,” Lutman said, including many longtime members and invaluable volunteers who are well into their 80s who helped the temple continue between Karol’s retirement and Lutman’s arrival, and throughout Covid.
The temple also welcomes others who have only recently discovered they have Jewish heritage (think 23andME, ancestry.com, etc.) and want to learn more about it, she said.
“I love being able to transmit that joy,” Lutman said.
Lutman has a Jewish father and a Christian mother and underwent a Conservative conversion to “settle the question officially” of her own Jewish status, she said. That was necessary, Lutman said, because a person’s Jewish status is passed down on the mother’s side according to Jewish law.
“I really want people to experience the joy of living a Jewish life,” Lutman said.
She also welcomes the idea of living so close to the international border between the United States and Mexico, and was present when congregant Stewart Kelter blew a shofar (an ancient musical horn) at the border wall, along with Jewish communities from El Paso, Las Cruces and Juarez, Mexico. They went to celebrate Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) in September, Lutman said. The trip included students from Temple Beth-El Religious School, allowing them to experience the “social justice across borders vibe at a very young age,” she said.
“Any time we can put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, it really brings us home,” said Lutman, who is no stranger to causes for social justice.
As a practicing attorney, Lutman represented battered women in court and helped settle family-court issues like custody, visitation and child support as a referee for the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court program in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“I have a moral obligation to support efforts that advance second chances and create greater equity and opportunity for all people,” Lutman said during her tenure with B’nai Havurah in Denver. “I am particularly moved to protect those most harmed by injustice and marginalization.”
At Temple Beth-El and in the wider community, Lutman plans to minister to “the needs of an invisible population,” including those struggling with homelessness, poverty and hunger, the disabled, isolated and animals.
That work will include partnering with churches and mosques in the area for tikkun olam (“repair of the world”).
Lutman said she won’t ask anyone the temple helps if he or she is Jewish.
“How are we going to turn away anybody?” she said.
Temple Beth-El is located at 3980 Sonoma Springs Ave. in Las Cruces. Call 575-524-3380. Visit http://tbelc.org.