Rabbi Jenna Stein Turow has been working in the D.C. area as a community rabbi for the Den Collective since 2021. She grew up in Maryland before becoming ordained at Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies in California, after which she returned home. Rabbi Turow has been a major part of the Den’s inclusivity initiatives, and loves music, writing, teaching, community connections and spreading authenticity with her congregants.
Can you tell me how you decided to become a rabbi?
Before I became a rabbi, I was a high school English teacher. I really loved teaching and when you’re a public-school teacher, you have to go to grad school. It almost started as a logical question of what am I going to do grad school for? But it also was really this kind of innate desire. I really wanted to have a job or career where I could continue to teach but also have other components of my job. I really loved the pastoral aspects being a rabbi, getting to be there for people and counsel them through things and the community aspect. There’s something really powerful about empowering other people to foster their own community.
What did the process of you becoming a rabbi look like?
I had been out of college for only a year because I started teaching high school and I taught for one year and then decided to go to rabbinical school. And I went to school at Ziegler in Los Angeles. The biggest transition for me was moving across the country. I had culture shock being on the West Coast. But it’s full-time grad school, five years long. One of the years is in Israel, for my school it’s the third year of the five.
How did you become involved with the Den Collective?
I grew up in Gaithersburg for most of my formative years. So, I had heard of the Den Collective beforehand just from having been connected to this area and watching what was happening here… I didn’t think I was going get to work there because I was still in rabbinical school, and I didn’t know by the time I was done whether they’d be hiring or not. And they [initially] weren’t, but then when I was looking for my next job, it just so happened that the Den was also still looking for a new rabbi…I just felt very connected right away.
What are some things you enjoy outside of being a rabbi?
I’m a big music person, from the listening side of things. I’m always listening to music. I have upwards of 35 playlists on Spotify. A lot of them are Jewish-themed, but a lot of them are not. And I go to a lot of live concerts. I really love live music, so I really try to see as much of it as I can. That’s probably the bulk of what I’m doing with my free time. I also have a cat, and I love to read and I love to write. I write all kinds of stuff.
Would you be able to tell me a little bit more about your writing?
I like to write poetry. And then honestly, it really depends on after I’ve written something whether I feel like it’s just for me or whether it’s something I want to share, because sometimes I’ll write a poem and then I’ll post it somewhere, and sometimes it’s just for me. I also really like essay style writing — memoir type essays. I used to have a pretty consistent blog that I stopped posting on. But from time to time, I’ll go back and publish an article there.
Inclusive values and openness are important to you, how does that translate into your work?
One of my personal values and also one of the values of the Den Collective is authenticity. When you go to our website and you look on the front page, one of the first things you see is our list of values and one of them is authenticity. And that was why I’m so drawn to work there honestly. And for me, what being authentic means is that you’re willing to offer your full self to people and so that’s the way that I like to be a rabbi. Yes, I have boundaries. I don’t tell everybody everything about my life, but I don’t draw a significant distinction between when I’m being Rabbi Jenna versus when I’m just Jenna.
What do you enjoy most about being a rabbi?
I’ll make this a cheesy answer, but I think it changes all the time. I’m an educator at heart, I really love to teach and so being in a learning space is probably my favorite part of what I’ve always wanted to be as a rabbi…A big part of what we do at the Den is to have this opportunity to have a relationship with a rabbi, in addition to being a part of the community. And so that’s the other thing I really love, which is having these individual meetings with people where I get to hear about their lives and share in their lives with them and be listening and supportive in whatever way feels right to them.