Rav Amelia Wolf Takes Up the Family Business at Congregation Etz Hayim

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The daughter of a rabbi, Rav Amelia Wolf did not expect to follow in her father’s footsteps.

(Courtesy of Rav Amelia Wolf)

“I don’t know if you’ve spoken to many children of rabbis, but when you have a parent in the clergy, you often want to distance yourself from it,” she said.

Her father, Rabbi Joey Wolf or “Rabbi Joey,” was the rabbi of Havurah Shalom in Portland, Ore., for more than 30 years.

This month, Rav Amelia, as she’s referred to, became spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington, succeeding Rabbi Natan Freller.

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She added with a laugh that, as a child, the things she most wanted to be when she grew up were either a knight or a U.N. ambassador.

But during a year after college studying at Yeshivat Hadar, she realized that she had a hidden passion for Torah study, and that she could not imagine herself doing anything but teach it.

“I wanted to use [rabbinical texts] to help people in the community, and to build relationships with them. The more I thought about it, the more I was, like, ‘That’s what rabbis do,’” Wolf said.

Wolf, 31, spent five years studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary, attaining a master’s degree in Jewish studies with a concentration in Talmud and rabbinic literature.

Studying to become a rabbi was a deeply meaningful experience for her, one she describes as “incredible and exhausting.”

“We were learning all sorts of things,” Wolf recalled. “I had an incredible cohort. The administrators and the faculty were really dedicated to shaping us into rabbis, helping us find ourselves and challenging us to ask who we are as rabbis.”

Wolf was ordained in May. By then, she had been a rabbinic intern at one New York synagogue and an acting rabbi at another.

Having relocated to Virginia, Wolf lives in Arlington with her wife, Elise.

Now in her first month on the job, Wolf said she has two main goals for the congregation: to attract new Arlington residents to Etz Hayim and to encourage more intense Jewish learning among the congregants.

“[Etz Hayim] is a very intellectual congregation, the members are very highly secularly educated,” she said. “I think there could be a real appetite for high level Jewish learning,
whether it’s the Tanach or the weekly parshah or talmudic rabbinical literature. I think there could really be a lot of hunger around that, especially as we identify how many of these texts are directly addressing our lives today.”

Another priority is to form connections with Etz Hayim members.

“I have plenty of time to meet people,” she said. “That could be in my office or taking a walk around the neighborhod or getting coffee at a cafe. I’m new to the area, so I want to get to know the Washington Jewish community. This congregation has a beautiful glass door, and anyone can come up and come in.”

Correction: The yeshiva Wolf attended was incorrectly listed as “The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem” in the original article. It was actually Yeshivat Hadar in New York, N.Y. 

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