SOUTH PORTLAND – Bet Ha’am means “house of the people.”

That’s what Congregation Bet Ha’am is, and that’s what its new rabbi, Jared Saks, plans to embrace.

When the congregation’s previous rabbi became ill and couldn’t continue in the job, the synagogue began an extensive search for the proper match.

“A rabbi is the spiritual leader of the community and sets the tone for the congregation,” said Elaine Falender, chairwoman of the congregation’s rabbi search committee. “But on the other hand, the congregation establishes core values to protect and nurture.”

Saks, 33, was at Temple Israel in Minneapolis, Minn., where he had been an assistant and associate rabbi for six years, when he applied for Bet Ha’am’s position.

“I strive to create a place for everybody,” he said of his approach and philosophy.

Saks grew up in Long Valley, N.J., a place he said got its first traffic light in 1990. There was not a large Jewish population in his area, but he said he wore his Judaism on his sleeve.

In third grade, his parents attended a school open house, where every child had posted their names on a classroom bulletin board. Saks, who had just learned how to write his Hebrew name, proudly displayed “Gedaliyah” in big Hebrew letters next to all the other English names.

“He was a person who knew his own mind,” said Rabbi Joel Soffin, who was Saks’ rabbi at the synagogue where he grew up, Temple Shalom. “He is comfortable being himself.”

Saks did his undergraduate work at Florida State University and attended rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College. During the summers he worked at the Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, Miss., for Jewish youth in the deep South.

“Being in a place with a significant minority meshes with my experience,” he said.

When Saks got his rabbinical job in Minnesota, he helped create and lead youth and adult education programs and helped youth groups raise an awareness of homelessness in the Twin Cities.

He hopes to continue helping the community in Maine.

“I want to get to know the congregation and engage the congregation in the life of the synagogue and in Jewish life,” Saks said.

Not only does he want to get to know all the members of the current congregation, but he also wants to attract people who aren’t yet members and have them join.

Saks lives Willard’s Square with his partner, Kirk Boettcher. He enjoys cycling and cooking.

Congregation Bet Ha’am is a reform synagogue devoted to having an open door and diverse community, including those of interfaith families. The reform movement began in the 19th century and is a movement of Judaism committed to bringing about healing in the world as well as engaging in social justice.

Saks appreciates this and plans to keep the door open.

“He is young, but very mature and secure in his Judaism,” said Falender, the search committee chairwoman. “He has a deep knowledge base but is open to different approaches. We wanted a rabbi who is comfortable being the head of the congregation but also working cooperatively with the community, and he enjoys doing this.”

Staff Writer Ellie Cole can be contacted at 791-6359 or at:

[email protected]