Rabbi Amy Bernstein said writing the letter that she addressed to members of her Temple Israel congregation this week is the most difficult thing she's had to do during the 11 years that she's served the congregation.
In her letter, Bernstein informed congregants that she had been cited for driving while intoxicated.
"I cannot begin to tell you how badly I wish I could go back and change many of the things leading up to my poor judgment that night,'' Bernstein wrote in a letter that she provided when asked for a copy by the News Tribune. "... This has been a traumatic wake-up call for me and I can only beg your forgiveness and promise that it will, of course, not happen again."
According to court records, Bernstein's white Lexus sport utility vehicle was pulled over by a St. Louis County sheriff's deputy at 10:32 p.m. Nov. 27 on the Martin Road in Canosia Township. She was traveling alone. The deputy's written report stated that he had clocked Bernstein traveling a "steady 73 to 74 mph in a 55 mph speed zone.'' The report also said that roads were icy and slippery.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Bernstein said she was in a hurry to get home before her 4-year-old daughter's bedtime. She told the deputy that she had shared a bottle of wine with two other people at the temple. In his report, the deputy said the rabbi was not cooperating with his attempts to administer a preliminary breath test. He wrote that she was not making much of an effort to blow into the mouthpiece to indicate whether she was intoxicated.
Bernstein, 42, disagreed with the deputy's opinion that she was less than cooperative. "That's the officer's interpretation -- that he's certainly entitled to,'' she said. "It was freezing cold. I was nervous. In general, just pretty upset about the whole thing.''
Bernstein was taken to the Hermantown Police Department, where she took a breath test and registered 0.11 percent blood-alcohol level. A person is considered too drunk to drive in Minnesota with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more. She contacted an attorney. Bail was set and she was released to a sober party, according to the deputy's report.
"We have got to be really attentive to our own inner lives and our own best practices and the need to slow down in general -- the need to stay centered and whole so that we don't get careless,'' Bernstein said. "Because that's what happened -- I got careless. Those of us who teach about that need to take our own advice.''
The rabbi said she's taking a three-month sabbatical to Israel starting at the end of the month, something that was planned before she was cited for the DWI. She said she has felt stressed and fatigued.
In her letter to her 200-household congregation, Bernstein wrote: "This incident has shocked me into awareness that there are several important things that need my careful attention right now. I promise to make my time in Israel a time of real inner work and careful reflection on the meaning and direction of my life.''
Bernstein pleaded guilty in St. Louis County District Court to the misdemeanor crime of driving while impaired and was fined $1,207. Of that amount, $125 was earmarked for a chemical dependency evaluation.
Court records indicate that Bernstein also has three speeding violations in the past two years, paying fines of $122, $134 and $142,
Michael Rosenzweig, president of the Temple Israel Board of Directors, said the board and congregation stand behind Bernstein.
"No one has lost faith in her,'' Rosenzweig said. "She's been tremendous for the Jewish community. She's done a tremendous job even in the non-Jewish community. She's very involved in the community and we're blessed to have her as our spiritual leader. This happened. This isn't fun. This isn't nice. She's not taking it lightly and we're not taking it lightly. Her statement pretty much tells the story. We do support our rabbi.''
MARK STODGHILL covers public safety and courts. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5333 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.