From Temple Rodef Shalom to Rabbinical School and Religious Careers

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Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church is producing religious leaders at an incredible rate, with over 10 people who either grew up at Rodef Shalom or have an affiliation with the synagogue currently going through various stages of ordination and preparing to become full-time clergy.

This trend continues a longstanding pipeline from Rodef Shalom to religious careers, although this recent uptick is slightly unusual. The synagogue has two people who recently became ordained, one person who will be ordained in a few weeks, five people becoming ordained in the next two years and three people that have been accepted to or are applying to religious colleges.

“It’s extremely fulfilling and meaningful and important to have so many young people who have decided to also become rabbis. Our clergy team feels very special about this reality,” said Rabbi Amy Schwartzman, senior rabbi at Rodef Shalom.

Schwartzman said that the people going on to become clergy come from different areas, with many growing up at the synagogue, while others were interns or had positions working at the synagogue.

Most are getting ordination in the Reform movement but there are and have been people from various denominations becoming Jewish leaders from the synagogue.

Schwartzman attributes this historical pipeline from Rodef Shalom to Jewish leadership positions in large part to the relationships that the clergy at the synagogue have with their members and particularly younger people.

“We’re a congregation that really embraces Judaism and the joy of Judaism. It’s a place of joy. And it’s also a place of ‘meaning making.’ In doing all those things, we have the chance to show people that being a cantor or rabbi is amazing work, and I think our clergy are happy. People are feeling that they would be happy [if they become a member of the clergy], like their work is meaningful. We also are accessible and available to young people,” Schwartzman said.

The synagogue also has robust leadership programs for kids as they grow up in the congregation, from youth groups to one program where kids serve as junior leaders from their early teens into their 20s.

Schwartzman said that these programs keep kids involved throughout the year and gives them exposure to leadership within the community at a young age. She’s also able to see kids that seem heavily involved and who are visibly getting a lot out of their Jewish practice and let them know that clergy work is a potential path they could take.

“[When] I hear someone is interested in being a rabbi, I want to meet with them and see how I can be helpful to them. And we let them shadow us and have a lot of experiences that help them to discern this path,” Schwartzman said.

And the guidance that Rodef Shalom’s clergy have given their younger members has been influential in opening the possibility of that career path for several people who are part of the synagogue’s clergy spike, including fourth-year rabbinical student Madeleine Fortney.

“I started thinking about becoming a rabbi when I was in high school. I was active as a Jewish leader in high school. I think it was Rabbi Amy Schwartzman who first noticed me as a student leader, and she really encouraged my leadership and nurtured me as a young Jewish leader,” Fortney said.

Schwartzman and the other leaders at Rodef Shalom also continue to serve as resources for these up-and-coming clergy — being mentors, giving career advice, letting students practice services with them and checking up on them as they go through the process.

“She [Schwartzman] really is an amazing mentor and continues to be an important mentor for me today. She taught me what it means to accompany people through the most important moments of their lives,” Fortney said.

Fortney added that it was important for her to see Schwartzman as a woman in a rabbinical position serving as a role model growing up, and for the entire staff making it known that the Jewish community cared for her and there was a place there for her.

This type of engagement from people who had close ties with the synagogue for years is a point of pride for Rodef Shalom’s clergy and Schwartzman said that having all of these students becoming ordained is a full-circle moment.

“One person in particular who is a third-year rabbinic student, I did her baby naming, I did her bat mitzvah. This is great for me,” Schwartzman said. “Making more cantors and rabbis, that’s our work in the world. We’re here to perpetuate Judaism.”

And with so much need for rabbinical leadership as communities across the country are facing challenging times, the work that these future rabbis do will help the Jewish people flourish spiritually, wherever they may be.

“The future of Judaism sits in their hands and we’re going to need, and we do need, future Jewish leaders. Our obligation as the current leaders is to raise up the next generation of leaders. And I’m incredibly proud to have so many students already stepping into that role,” Schwartzman said.

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