Deborah Lewis was ordained May 31, installed June 12
By Pamela Dozois
The Santa Ynez Valley Jewish Community has a new Rabbi, Deborah Lewis. She was ordained as a Rabbi on May 31 and her Installation took place on June 12.
Until she began Rabbinic school in 2015, Lewis had previously been the information technology director for a financial institution in Santa Barbara. She was also involved in the local Jewish community in Santa Barbara, teaching classes as well as leading services and participating in life-cycle events.
“In 2015 I spent three weeks in Israel in a learning program,” Lewis said. “It was the third time that I had spent summers in Israel participating in different learning programs. Before I left Israel to return home, it became clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career in the Rabbinate.”
She returned to Santa Barbara and began Rabbinic School at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles, graduating with a Master of Arts degree. She commuted to Los Angeles from Santa Barbara weekly.
“It was a long and winding road,” she said with a smile. “It took me six years and many miles to become ordained as a Rabbi.”
Part of the tradition in the Santa Ynez Valley is that there is an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service usually hosted by Bethania Lutheran Church in Solvang or St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church in Los Olivos.
Lewis explained that the Rabbi who had previously been servicing the Jewish community was unwell at the time and she was contacted as someone who may be able to step in and represent the community in this service.
“That was my first introduction to the Santa Ynez Valley community,” she said. “At the time I was a Rabbinical student. Sadly, the Rabbi who had been ill subsequently passed away.”
It was then that Lewis was asked if she would be interested replacing the previous Rabbi.
“Last year in August I was approached by the President of the Santa Ynez Valley Jewish Community who wanted to discuss any interest I may have in serving the community as their new Rabbi,” she said. “This was all during COVID. It was a very difficult and interesting time to start serving the Jewish community.”
On May 31, Lewis was ordained as a Rabbi and on June 12 she was officially installed as the Rabbi for the Santa Ynez Valley Jewish Community and a celebration was held in her honor. Her contract is for two years.
“Family, friends, school mates, and colleagues came to celebrate me in my new position,” Lewis said. “It was a beautiful day held at a lovely ranch here in the Valley.”
“My duties are that I lead a Friday evening service (Shabbat- Sabbath) once a month followed by a Saturday morning Adult Education class,” she explained. “I provide pastoral care for congregants who find themselves in need of spiritual care. I officiate life-cycle events including funerals, weddings, baby namings, bar/bat mitzvahs (coming of age ceremonies), celebrate all Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Hanukkah and Passover as well as the in-person services in the Santa Ynez Valley Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.
“Being a Rabbi for the Santa Ynez Valley Jewish Community is a labor of love,” she said. “I am honored to be their new Rabbi.”
Lewis service to the community is limited to Santa Ynez.
“I also work for the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara and my primary role there is to connect volunteers with the home-bound, so we provide a weekly one-hour visit to anyone who wants one,” she said. “Right now, 90 percent of the people are not Jewish. We service the whole community not just the Jewish community. This was done over the phone until recently.
“All of those people have provided me with such a sense of purpose in a way that my job in the private sector couldn’t,” she said.
Lewis offers an open invitation to anyone who wants to come to the Jewish Community.
“We are a very warm and welcoming community,” she said. “We welcome interfaith couples; we have an open door and welcome anyone who wishes to participate, in any way they feel comfortable. Please feel invited to join us.”
In her free time, Lewis enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with her wife Traci and their three dogs, Lucy, Harvey and Mia.
For more information, call 805-693-4243 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.