A love of tradition, her Jewish heritage and serving people. Those three things were the trifecta that inspired Katie Bauman to become a rabbi. Described by her congregants as “soulful” and “spiritual,” Rabbi Katie Bauman is not only dedicated to her congregation at Temple Israel, but she is also active in our community, taking leadership roles in interfaith activities and on local agency boards to help make Memphis a better place.
Since she came to Memphis not quite 10 years ago, Rabbi Bauman has been an active leader both inside and out of the temple, working to foster acceptance in our community. She is the current Chair of the newly established MICAH: Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope and is an active board member of MIFA. She also spearheaded Temple Israel’s participation in The HIAS Welcome Campaign, Keshet Equality Guide and OUTMemphis‘s list of welcoming congregations. We are delighted to talk with Katie about her vocation, her life and her inspiration.
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in New Orleans, and I grew up mostly in Little Rock. My parents divorced when I was young, but my family remained close-knit. I have one sister who is my best friend. I went to an International Studies Magnet for elementary school, which inspired my appreciation of cultures and languages from a young age. And the Jewish community of Little Rock was large enough that I had wonderful friends and teachers within it, but small enough that every single person mattered tremendously and had a role to play.
What made you decide to become a rabbi?
The intellectual study of Judaism has always inspired and excited me. The liturgy and literature of Judaism has always been a mode of spiritual expression for me. Throughout my young adulthood, I had opportunities to apply these passions and interests in Jewish professional settings like camps, organizations and congregations. The satisfaction I got from those experiences propelled me toward rabbinical school. I love being connected to my tradition and heritage and serving my people, so becoming a rabbi felt like a natural fit.
Tell us a bit about your professional journey.
I attended Washington University in St. Louis, where I majored in Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies. After college, I was fortunate to be a music and education intern at Temple Israel and to be mentored by its outstanding clergy. I maintained relationships with the temple’s leaders and congregants throughout rabbinical school and came back to work at the temple as assistant rabbi in 2009. I have focused on every aspect of congregational life, from music, worship and education to pastoral care, engagement and community action. I am beginning my ninth year at Temple Israel, and I still find myself invigorated by the challenges before me.
Describe your typical day.
The best part about my work is that there is no typical day. Each day is a dazzling mosaic of visioning with the incredible Temple Israel team, sharing intensely personal struggles with congregants, working with community leaders from other faiths and organizations to build a better Memphis, teaching and learning with every age of child and adult, reading, writing, so much emailing and, of course, driving a little carpool and reading bedtime stories. The only thing I would describe as typical about my day is that each one is filled with variety, intensity and relationships.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is accompanying people in the most important parts of their lives’ journeys. The births, the weddings, the funerals, the prayers at the end of the week and the quiet moments at a bedside — I am so humbled to be invited into these moments. I often wonder how I can ever express to the people who share their lives with me how grateful I am. Each and every day, my community generously gives me perspective, and that cherished gift lets me live my life more fully.
Why have you chosen Memphis as your home? And what drew you to Temple Israel?
Tempe Israel has been a part of my life since I was a young adult. I had the opportunity to intern here after college, and I truly felt I had found my home. Upon ordination, I was so very fortunate that Temple Israel had a place for me. It is a warm, welcoming, principled, lively, creative, historic and forward-looking congregation, and I am truly honored to serve it.
As a working mother, how do you balance and make everything work?
I have an incredible husband who is a complete partner, and we have wonderful family support, as well as amazing teachers, neighbors and, of course, a great synagogue community. I plan furiously and far in advance so that I accomplish as much as possible during working hours. And most of all, I try to be as present as possible wherever I am, whether involved in my work or being with my children. There are definitely times when the balance is way off, and I can feel that things need a reset. So I breathe, recalibrate and try again. For me, it’s all about being focused, forgiving and grateful.
What do you do to relax?
I run, kayak, read, cook and connect with old friends.
What is the first place you take out-of-towners when they visit you?
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Make more time to see your best friends. Synopsize every class you’re taking and every book you’re reading. Take a few more days off. Keep in touch with your favorite professors and mentors. Travel more and farther. Don’t worry so much, and believe in yourself.
What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
I am an introvert who does not particularly like public speaking. Oops.
What inspires you?
People who experience pain and loss and still find hope and joy inspire me. I try to remember them when I get scared, sad or frustrated. Their resilience gives me strength.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
My proudest accomplishment is saying “the hard thing” even when I’m afraid. Being able to do this — something way outside my comfort zone — has enabled me to build new initiatives within Temple Israel, build coalitions in Memphis that work toward social justice and confront important issues, support people in personal crises, be a stronger team member and mentor and be a better, more connected wife and mother. Turning courageous conversations into a regular practice has not been easy, is certainly still a work in progress and continues to be something I am proud of.
What is your best piece of advice?
Believe that your voice is unique and beautiful, and use it to bring more healing and hope into the world.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Exercise, cooking and time spent outside.
Thank you, Rabbi Bauman! To learn more about Rabbi Bauman’s work at Temple Israel, visit timemphis.org.
Thanks to Micki Martin for the fabulous photos of Rabbi Bauman!
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