Batsheva Appel drew two things in grade school when she was asked to draw what she wanted to be when she grew up.
The then-fifth-grader drew an astronaut and a rabbi.
It’s the latter that became reality in 1996 when she was ordained from the New York Campus of the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion.
After serving congregations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Long Island and most recently Chicago, Rabbi Appel, 52, brings her experience to Tucson’s Temple Emanu-El, where she was appointed associate rabbi in early August.
She is the first female rabbi to be solely employed by Temple Emanu-El, which is the oldest Jewish congregation in Arizona. She takes over the associate rabbi position from Rabbi Jason Holtz, who has taken a position in London.
Before becoming a rabbi, Appel worked in sales and marketing for a company that sold supplies to research biologists.
Her involvement in her Boston synagogue — where she sang in the choir, served on the board of directors and took several classes — inspired her to pursue rabbinical studies.
“I realized that I wanted to do more and I wanted to do it full time, even though I had finally gotten the promotion I was looking for at work,” Appel said. “It was a hard choice, but I think the right one, for me to leave all that behind and just jump into rabbinical studies.”
The Seattle native was drawn to the Tucson congregation because of the scope of work the position offered. At Temple Emanu-El, the senior and assistant rabbis mostly have the same duties.
“There are many places, big congregations, important congregations, where portfolios are very limited for what an assistant or associate rabbi can do, and with limitations like that on the portfolio, that wasn’t what I was looking for,” Appel said.
And she already had a connection with senior Rabbi Samuel Cohon because the two studied together in Israel in the early 1990s.
“She’s a professional, highly capable rabbi with a great deal of experience who is good at communicating and teaching, in particular to all ages of congregant, and she’s just a wonderful new resource for our congregation,” Cohon said.
Even though she hasn’t fully unpacked her office, Appel is already preparing for new classes she plans to offer at the midtown synagogue.
In November, she will begin a class called Art Beit Midrash, which will ask congregants to interpret a part of the Torah through their choice of artistic medium.
“I understand that art can be really a reflection of our understanding of the text,” Appel said.
Another medium Appel embraces to teach the Torah is through 140-character snippets on Twitter.
As part of the current Hebrew calendar month Elul, Appel and other Twitter users and bloggers are reflecting on daily themes chosen by a Chicago rabbi in their tweets and blog posts.
In the few weeks she’s been in the Old Pueblo, the community and congregation have been welcoming, Appel said. And she’s looking forward to what the upcoming Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, has in store.
“Just being out and about and just taking care of all the things you need to do when you move, I’ve really encountered some really lovely people, and it’s genuinely warm and welcoming and it’s not just superficial, and that’s just been really refreshing in some ways,” she said.