Rabbi Myra Soifer
Rabbi Myra Soifer, 59, was Reno’s first female rabbi. She started 25 years ago and will retire June 30. She’s been extremely active in Northern Nevada’s interfaith groups, credited by some with starting the burgeoning interfaith movement hereabouts. She says it wasn’t difficult to become the area’s first female rabbi (and first fulltime staff member at Temple Sinai): “That was no trick. I was born female. They were looking for a rabbi, and I was looking for a job. I’d have to say we were probably both pretty desperate at the time, and it all worked out.”
What are your retirement plans?
The first year, I’m a legal guardian to a young man who will be a senior in high school so I have to stay here as part of being his guardian, so I’m not going anyplace. The first thing I’m doing, actually, is giving myself a trip to Kenya and Tanzania.
Cool. What made you pick those places?
Well, it was odd. I simply knew I wanted to get away after I retired, and I went online and googled where it wasn’t too hot or too cold, and they came up. That’s where I’m going. In July, not too cold and not too hot is a tricky business. When I get back in a couple weeks, I’m going to go to my second time at Burning Man. The Jewish high holidays and one Sabbath a month, I’m going to do a very, very part-time rabbinate at a little congregation in Grass Valley—kind of keep my hand in it for the year. I want to get in the car and drive to Bryce Zion [National Park], and by the end of the year, when some of that’s out of my system—maybe—I’m going to get serious about checking out the possibility of learning American Sign Language. I have an indication that I’d like to be an interpreter, but I haven’t really moved on that yet.
In your time in Reno, what were your biggest memories? What sticks out in your mind as maybe the best or the worst moments?
Well, they’ve mostly been pretty terrific. Part of why I’ve been here 25 years is there haven’t been many worst. First and foremost is this congregation, which I love and have been supported and loved by in return. So there’s all those moments of having been privileged to be involved in people’s lives, when they were born, when they were dying, when they were getting married—when they were doing all kinds of things—bar and bat, b’nai mitzvah, all those moments. And teaching this congregation and being its spiritual leader in whatever sense I’ve been able to do that.
That’s the top of the list. Running a close second is all the wonderful interfaith connections and opportunities to be active and do good interfaith work in this area, which is really quite magnificent. That’s a pretty broad palette.
Didn’t you have some moments with anti-Semitism?
There was that. There was a guy who called and threatened me—and Jews in general, but through me—both at home and at the synagogue. That was awhile ago.
I might be thinking of the other synagogue. Didn’t they have a firebomb?
They actually had some vandalism. We did have an incident where a fellow was actually around for a weekend, and he couldn’t figure out how to find any black churches, so he went for a synagogue. He left messages like, “All Jews must die,” and stuff like that. That was on my home phone so that was not fun. But it was the days of caller IDs; he went to jail, and he went to AA, and I think he’s a better human these days. I don’t know. One can hope.
Is there anything else you’d to add?
Just that in my 25 years at Temple Sinai, everything that’s been involved with being a rabbi in this synagogue and in this community has just been a magnificent blessing. Beyond anything I could have hoped for.
What do you know about the new rabbi?
Her name is Teri Appleby. She’s a second-career person. She was an attorney and she’s older, not a kid right out of seminary. She’s only been ordained for two years. Her husband is also an attorney. They have grown children. She’s coming here from Southern California, and she’s absolutely lovely.