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Rabbi chose a path to enlightenment

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Monday, August 1, 2005

RIVERSIDE: She became a religious leader to help others with life's tough questions. 

12:15 PM PDT on Sunday, August 14, 2005 

By Bettye Wells Miller / The Press-Enterprise 

Suzanne Singer had not yet decided to become a rabbi when she left a successful 20-year career as a television programming executive and producer to attend Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. 

She knew she was tired of behind-the-scenes nastiness that was common even in national public television, where she had spent 15 years and won two Emmys. She knew she wanted to return to school and study Judaism. 

"I was proud of the work I did," she said. Although she was successful in television, "I felt I was an alien in TV. My values were different. My interests were different. ... Life is too short to be miserable and not do something you love." 

Suzanne Singer quit her job as a journalist to become a rabbi. She is now the interim rabbi at Temple Beth El in Riverside. 

By Kurt Miller / The Press-Enterprise 

Today, Singer is the interim rabbi at Temple Beth El in Riverside. Ordained at Hebrew Union College in 2003, she worked as a rabbi for two years at Temple Sinai in Oakland before beginning a six-month assignment last month in Riverside. 

Singer, 52, said she was filled with questions about God when she began her studies, largely because of her mother's experience in Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp in Poland where her mother's parents, brother and grandmother died. She struggled to reconcile her mother's experience in Auschwitz with Jewish services that praise God. 

"My mother's experience made me very outraged at injustices in the world," Singer said. "For a long time I was asking why. I realized finally that I'll never know why. I can only answer, 'How am I going to respond? Am I going to sit back and ignore it?' I feel I have an obligation to repair the world. It's why I started a career in journalism." 

That concept of tikun olam -- which reflects the values of justice, compassion and peace -- is a call to social action, Singer said, a call she witnessed in her paternal grandmother who worked for prison reform in New York. 

The Rose M. Singer Center, a women's prison at Rikers Island, is named for her grandmother. 

"We're all struggling to figure out what God expects of us," said Singer, who is the first female rabbi in Temple Beth El's 62-year history. "Truth is multifaceted, sometimes contradictory and paradoxical. Part of the job of a rabbi is to help people feel comfortable with the paradox." 

Reach Bettye Wells Miller at (951) 368-9547 or bmiller@pe.com

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu