Rabbi Joshua Boettiger began his rabbinate at Temple Emek Shalom five years ago this month — in August 2012.

During his five years as teacher and spiritual leader at the temple, Rabbi Joshua has instituted a regular Jewish meditation practice, four cohorts studying and practicing "Mussar" ("embodied Jewish ethics") with a fifth Mussar cohort beginning in the fall, and myriad other spiritual, educational and social justice innovations.

Rabbi Joshua and I have engaged consistently in sacred dialogue ("chavruta") and written "Mochas, Midrash, and Mysteries," a monthly reflection on some aspect of faith, life and culture. We have covered topics from how to treat the elderly to the existence of evil.

I would like to reflect on my interfaith dialogue, journey, and friendship with Rabbi Joshua — in honor of his five years of rabbinical service to Temple Emek Shalom and to the wider community.

Our interfaith dialogue and friendship are marked by key and, I believe, essential characteristics.

Curiosity: When I read John Darling's July, 2012 article announcing the new rabbi's imminent arrival at Temple Emek Shalom, I was riveted by Rabbi Joshua's pastoral motto: "You can build fences and decide who's in and who's out; or, you can build a fire and see who comes."

What a stunning contrast! We naturally make judgments and define our "belonging" to this group or cause, or that one. What a startling approach: to build a fire (offering light and love) and see who comes!

I told my wife after reading Darling's piece, "I must meet this man."

Rabbi Joshua and I continue to be curious about each other and about our faith traditions and world-views.

Respect: No positive relationship lasts without mutual respect. Throughout our five-year journey of friendship and learning, Rabbi Joshua has consistently impressed me by his deep wisdom, learning, kindness, compassion, joy and peace. I deeply respect Rabbi Joshua.

Common cause: Friendships are often strengthened by sharing a cause of merit. Rabbi Joshua and I share a commitment to interfaith dialogue and collaboration, to the spiritual-ethical practice of Mussar, and to the building of a just and loving community.

Regular connection and communication: Like a plant that requires sun, good soil, and water, a robust friendship grows through regular get-togethers and open, honest and emotionally transparent communication. Rabbi Joshua, a man in great "relational demand," always finds time to meet, to compare notes and to explore together.

At a welcoming event for the new rabbi and his family in August 2012, my son and I stood some 20 feet from Rabbi Joshua, who was fully engaged in conversation with someone at a table. We weren't sure how best to introduce ourselves to him, so we waited at a distance, enjoying the Klezmer-style music. Finished with the conversation, Rabbi Joshua stood up and approached us. (We had no idea that he even noticed us standing at a distance, in this very large crowd.)

Rabbi Joshua greeted us warmly. He asked us about ourselves and thanked us for coming. The next day, I wrote an editorial for the Ashland Daily Tidings entitled, "Ashland Has a New I-Thou Spiritual Leader."

Thank you, Rabbi Joshua, for blessing us with five years of compassion, humane spiritual leadership, and interfaith connections. You teach us by your life what Thomas Merton observes: "The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another."

Amen.

— Daniel Murphy fosters human flourishing through positive life coaching in Ashland and beyond.