Lone Star Rabbi: Native Texan Returns Home Via CBI’s Bimah
By Tonyia Cone
Congregation Beth Israel’s new associate rabbi, Rabbi Kelly Levy, begins July 1, bringing along her love of children and pastoral care and years of experience at Union for Reform Judaism Greene Family Camp.
A San Antonio native, Levy decided at a very young age that she wanted to become a rabbi. Her family has always been very involved in their Jewish community and congregation, Temple Beth El. Her mother was a pre-k teacher at the Barshop Jewish Community Center of San Antonio for 11 years, and served as a senior youth group advisor and regional advisor for NFTY-TOR (Texas Oklahoma region), and her father served as Temple Beth El’s president.
Each week, the family attended Shabbat services and spent time with a group of family friends afterward; Levy was an active religious school participant every Sunday; and Levy spent 16 summers at URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas.
Levy’s father now serves as chair of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio and treasurer for the URJ’s executive committee. Her mother recently finished her third year as Judaic teacher at San Antonio’s JCC.
"Judaism was all encompassing in my life. It was something that was a constant, and it was something that my entire family was incredibly passionate about and still to this day remain passionate about," said Levy.
When Levy was 13, Temple Beth El hired its first female rabbi, Rabbi Allison Bergman-Vann.
“I’d already been really drawn to Judaism and being a part of a congregation. Then when we hired Rabbi Bergman-Vann, I found that she was such an inspiration and role model for me; I saw how she brought that passion for Judaism and that joy for Judaism and made it into a career, and I felt like that was something I could do as well,” said Levy.
After graduating from Texas Tech with a degree in psychology a semester early in 2007, Levy volunteered in Israel for six months, where she worked as a therapist with students with autism. She then returned to San Antonio for a year, where she worked as a special education assistant at an elementary school.
"Working with children with special needs became a second passion of mine and something that I considered devoting my life to until I felt that the rabbinate was really calling me," Levy said.
While at the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion New York campus, Levy served for two years as a student rabbi at Temple B'nai Israel, a small congregation in Albany, Georgia.
She was a leader in the HUC-JIR Soup Kitchen program, which serves meals to homeless and hungry people in the nearby Washington Square area, and taught at religious and Hebrew schools throughout New York City.
Levy did not take it easy during her summers while in rabbinical school. She spent one summer at Scott and White Medical Center in Temple, Texas, where she completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education; a summer at URJ Greene Family Camp; a summer at the 92nd Street Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association, better known as the 92nd Street Y, Camp Yomi; and a summer as a Schusterman summer resident and rabbinic intern at the Reform congregation Temple Israel of the City of New York.
“I have a real love for working with kids, so I very much enjoyed my time working at the camps, in particular Greene Family Camp because that was the camp I grew up attending,” she said.
In her fifth year of rabbinical school, she served as a chaplain intern in the Mount Sinai Hospital Palliative Care Unit.
Pastoral care is one of the things that has really defined Levy’s rabbinate is pastoral care, and her experiences at Scott and White and Mount Sinai really defined what she believes it means to be a rabbi.
"I believe that a rabbi is there for you at moments of great joy and at moments of great sorrow. Working in chaplaincy allows you an entrance into people’s lives that you wouldn’t find necessarily in other careers. I love that as a rabbi I have the opportunity to bring comfort to people during those difficult moments," she said.
Levy was ordained in 2014 before beginning her rabbinate in Rochester, New York, at Temple B’rith Kodesh. While serving as the congregation’s assistant and associate rabbi, she focused much of her work on pastoral care, teaching adults and children, leading worship and creating innovative programs for the congregation and community.
Levy, who is moving to Austin with her husband, David DeAngelo, and daughter Ezri, was drawn to Congregation Beth Israel because she finds it very welcoming.
“In my rabbinate, I feel compelled to be present for all people at all points of their life. I love being around kids, I love being around people who are celebrating incredible moments, I am honored to be around people who are in the midst of a great challenge, whether it's the loss of a loved one or they're battling an illness of some kind, and CBI is a congregation that takes all of these moments of life and provides a space for people in those different moments,” she explained.
Carly Cera, previously CBI’s director of community engagement, recently began serving as the congregation’s education director, and Levy foresees working closely with her on religious school and education programming. Levy also plans to take an active role in some of the congregation’s committees and their affinity groups, and is looking forward to engaging with the youth group and returning to Greene Family Camp.
She is also very excited to work with Rabbi Steven Folberg and Cantorial Soloist Sarah Avner.
"They are really phenomenal partners and I'm excited to be on the bimah with them," Levy said.
Levy is also excited to return home to Texas and closer to her family, and naturally, after 10 years living out of state, Tex-Mex restaurants.
“Beyond that, the city of Austin itself is this growing, booming place where people just want to be,” she said, adding that the city has something to offer every person who is here. “It is a diverse and exciting city and I'm really looking forward to being part of a community like that.” ■