By Deb Silverthorn
Reaching out, touching souls and connecting with others has been the base of Rabbi Heidi Coretz’s rabbinate for 25 years. Now, she extends those qualities further as she has been named Jewish chaplain at Southern Methodist University.
On SMU’s campus since 2004, as director of Hillel, a position she retains, Rabbi Coretz has inspired students and faculty to register to vote, to become potential bone marrow donors, to study and become community involved. There isn’t an interest or need she leaves behind.
“With so many issues facing the Jewish community, I’m proud to work at a university that encourages inclusion, that respects its full population, and where diversity is a priority,” said Rabbi Coretz. “My hiring is proof of that and I’m grateful to represent.”
Rabbi Coretz joins SMU’s Reverend Dr. Veronica Davis, Reverend Dr. Stephen Rankin, Tyler Kim and Imam Dr. Bilal Sert in servicing the campus. The Office of the Chaplain provides pastoral care, counseling and theological reflection, promoting religious, moral and ethical development of students, faculty and staff.
“We have long worked with and supported Rabbi Coretz and we couldn’t be more excited,” said Chaplain and Minister to the Campus Reverend Dr. Rankin. “We’re pleased to extend the campus’ religious representation by having her follow in the tradition of Jewish chaplaincy (Rabbi Nancy Kasten was her predecessor on campus years ago) as well as appointing Imam Dr. Bilal Sert, our first Muslim chaplain.”
The additions have been made as the university continues recruiting a diverse student population. Long engaged in interfaith conversations and programs, the leadership team is opening more doors.
“We trust that Rabbi Coretz’s dedication, creativity and talent make her the obvious choice,” said Rev. Dr. Rankin. “The Jewish community here on campus is engaged and we are happy to have it be more represented.”
Rabbi Coretz, a native Floridian, is the daughter of Andrea and Harry Barron, he of blessed memory, and the sister of Lisa, Michael and Todd. While in high school, she attended the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program. Returning to the States, with a strengthened palate for Jewish history, language and culture, she wanted to learn more.
A high school senior, she connected with Congregation B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Richard Agler, who was involved in counseling and Soviet Jewry advocacy and helped her come closer to her Jewish identity, leading to her future.
“At 17, Heidi was spiritual, intellectual, hungry and curious about the world around her,” said Rabbi Agler. “I’ve watched her grow and I know she’ll do an outstanding job. She is learned and sensitive and I believe she will be a credit to herself the university and the Jewish people.”
After attending the University of Florida, involved at Hillel seven days a week and president of the Jewish Student Union, the more she learned, the more she yearned for. Jewish life progressed to become the meaning of her life.
“What I decided to do with my life perfectly matched who I was,” said Rabbi Coretz, ordained by Hebrew Union College in 1995, coincidentally in the same class as Temple Shalom’s Rabbi Andrew Paley and his wife Debbie. This summer, HUC will bestow an honorary doctorate on both rabbis.
As assistant rabbi at Temple Israel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the then-Rabbi Barron met her future husband, Alan. The couple are parents of Hannah who is a teacher at the JCC’s Goldberg Early Childhood Center. Coretz has served congregations in Arlington, Longview and Lubbock. In addition to her roles at SMU, Coretz also leads Shir Tikvah in Frisco.
“I’m honored to represent this flourishing Jewish community. SMU has an AEPi chapter with a house, nine new courses in the Jewish Studies minor program, Hillel and now the Jewish chaplaincy position,” said Rabbi Coretz. “This calls for a shehechiyanu — I am absolutely grateful to have reached this season.”
By Deb Silverthorn