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Finding her spiritual calling: B’nai Chaim cantor ordained as rabbi

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By Deborah Swearingen

Sunday was a day of celebration for Congregation B’nai Chaim in Morrison.

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After several years of studying and serving as the Reform synagogue’s cantor, Kim Harris officially became a rabbi, and there were plenty of smiles and tears, “Mazel Tovs” and prayers to go around.

Harris, a native South Carolinian, first came to B’nai Chaim in 2013 during Jewish High Holy Days. As a cantor, she led the congregation in worship through music. Though her visit was temporary, Harris soon returned full time after the synagogue’s rabbi retired in 2014.

Upon her return to B’nai Chaim, Harris served as the spiritual leader, though she was still a cantor. But ultimately, she decided to pursue more and began working toward becoming the chief religious official of the synagogue.

“I don’t know if I can say I did it for me, but I definitely did it for (the congregants),” Harris said.

She worried newcomers might shy away from B’nai Chaim without a rabbi at its helm. And if one thing is for certain, it is Harris’ commitment to growing the congregation. Since her arrival, attendance has grown by about 20 percent.

On Sunday, the South Jeffco synagogue was packed with congregants, all of whom have grown to love the enthusiastic cantor.

“It is truly a great honor for her, as well as our whole congregation,” Susan Bergkamp, president of B’nai Chaim, said to the crowd last weekend.

With cool mountain air and a welcoming atmosphere, Harris hopes to create for her congregants a connection similar to the one she felt back in 2013.

“It saved my life. I just love it here,” she said, tearing up at the thought of her first visit to B’nai Chaim.

“ … The people are just so nice and respectful and appreciative and kind,” Harris added. “ … It’s just wonderful. I’m just so happy.”

The path to Judaism

Growing up in a Christian family in the south, Harris at first felt hesitant to pursue an unfamiliar faith. But the more she and her husband, Brian, explored Judaism, the more she fell in love.

“The things that I read about really resonated with me, and they made sense to me,” she said. “And I kind of realized I think I’ve been believing this way the whole time.”

Harris converted to Judaism and later attended Hebrew Union College of New York, receiving her cantorial ordination in 2002. Prior to coming to Colorado, she served at Temple Beth-El near Chicago for 11 years.

Shining a light

It was fitting for Harris to be ordained during Chanukah, a time of spiritual renewal and introspection.

And Rabbi Tirzah Firestone of Boulder spoke to this in Sunday’s service, referencing the light of Chanukah and Harris’ ability to illuminate the path for her congregants at B’nai Chaim.

“May you never be depleted, only illuminated,” she said.