For the first time, Baton Rouge’s Jewish congregations both welcome female spiritual leaders

I Am 225: Meet Batsheva Appel & Teri Appleby

Last month, Jewish congregations celebrated the beginning of the Year 5781 with the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

—B’nai Israel Rabbi Batsheva Appel

Already, it’s shaping up to be a historic year.

This past summer, the Baton Rouge Jewish community welcomed a new rabbi at both Congregation B’nai Israel and Beth Shalom Synagogue. It’s the first time both congregations have been led by women.

In fact, women weren’t ordained in the United States until 1972. Now, an estimated 650 female rabbis lead congregations nationwide, and women represent nearly half of all Reform rabbinical school classes.

Before being ordained by Hebrew Union College, B’nai Israel Rabbi Batsheva Appel graduated from Wellesley College with a bachelor’s in biological sciences and economics, worked in a research laboratory and, later, in corporate sales and marketing.

Besides serving as a rabbi at an Arizona temple, Appel was part of the national faculty for an online Introduction to Judaism course. She also contributed a chapter on how eating locally is a Jewish choice in the book, The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic.

And, even though Appel recently relocated to Louisiana, the Seattle native is no stranger to the South. As the director of rabbinic services for the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute for Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi, Appel became intrigued with Southern Jewish culture.

“The intersection of Southern hospitality and Jewish hospitality is really pretty intense,” she says with a laugh. “I’m also interested in the area’s history of the Jewish community and the approach to Reform Judaism.”

While the rabbis had not met prior to coming to Louisiana, “it’s wonderful to have a colleague here in Baton Rouge,” says Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Teri Appleby. “We enjoy each other’s company very much.”

—Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Teri Appleby

Appleby was ordained after attending Stanford University, serving as a Los Angeles public defender and raising a family. She cherishes all the opportunities the role has brought her.

“I really enjoy all of the social and community work. You’re kind of a jack of all trades, and I really I just love it,” Appleby says.

Throughout her career, the San Francisco native has had pulpits in California, Nevada, Tennessee and Ontario and Alberta, Canada. After receiving favorable reviews of the Capital City from former Nevada congregants, Appleby and her husband left Lincoln, Nebraska, for Baton Rouge.

Here, Appleby saw a unique opportunity to contribute to a potential merger in the local Jewish community. “I like the idea of both congregations getting interim rabbis and engaging in ongoing conversations about perhaps creating a new, merged congregation after being separated for 75 years.”

In this unprecedented era, Baton Rouge’s new rabbis will continue to lead the Jewish community in civic projects and prayers for world health, peace and a better year ahead.

To that, we can all say amen.

This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.