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Jewish life on the border: Beth-El in Las Cruces

Rabbi Larry Karol

Rabbi Larry Karol

By Raphael Bein, IJN intern

How does being 20 minutes from the Mexican border affect a congregation?

Rabbi Lawrence Karol, spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El in Las Cruces, NM, since 2011, says that Las Cruces’ proximity to the Mexican border creates a consciousness within the congregation and among Jews in other border communities.

In 2015, a rabbi in El Paso, Texas, along with the Jewish Federation of El Paso, created the program Shofar Across Borders at a location called Border Monument 1, a location without a fence (patrolled by guards and spotlights nonetheless). This is where Texas, New Mexico and Mexico meet. There is a no-man’s land between the two countries.

For the past two years, prior to Rosh Hashanah, more than 100 Jews from El Paso, Las Cruces and Juarez, Mexico, stood inside the no-man’s land, and the Mexican congregants stood on the other side of the border. Each congregation traded shofar blasts across the border.

Rabbi Karol asks: “Where else can I be where something like this would have happened?”

Karol was ordained in Cincinnati in 1981. Once an assistant rabbi at a temple in Dayton, Ohio, he transitioned to a position at Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka, Kan., where he served, 1984-2006.

For his next move, he decided to find a congregation where he could stay for the rest of his career. He made his way to Dover, New Hampshire, but that position became part time, and so  he made his way to Las Cruces to head Beth-El.

Karol says that the feeling in Las Cruces differs from his previous rabbinical engagements in a couple of ways.

“This community has people who have been here a really good long time; there are some founders here. Some come for the university, some are retirees.”

Temple Beth-El is quite active, as is not always the case with communities in less urban areas.

The synagogue is host to a minyan each week for Shabbat, has an adjoined religious school that meets 28 weeks of the year, and includes 125 member families.

Karol says that Beth-El is always looking forward. He and the congregation are constantly looking for new ways to worship and be a part of the Reform Jewish community.

The political spectrum at Beth-El is diverse. In light of this, Karol makes sure to keep any political discussion at his temple succinct. There is an interesting interaction between being a southern border town and a Reform temple that seems to play a part in this.

Karol augments his rabbinical career with other interests and activities. A passionate musician, he has been a singer-songwriter since the mid-90s.

He also writes a blog, full of different topics, from political musings to dvar Torahs to personal reflections.

Copyright © 2017 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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