B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville welcomed new assistant Rabbi Cheryl Stone as its chief education officer.
With a bachelor’s in design and technical theater from Florida State University and a master’s of Jewish education degree from Hebrew College, Stone comes to the Conservative congregation strapped with knowledge of how to build community, whether it’s backstage or on the pulpit. She has a certificate of advanced Jewish studies from the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.
Stone, who was ordained in May by the Ziegler School in Los Angeles, spent several years working in the costuming department of professional theater. “I worked around the country at various regional theaters and the Shakespeare festival,” she said.
In San Francisco, Stone became involved in a spiritual dance community. “At some point I looked around and noticed that a significant portion of that community was Jewish,” she said. “I thought, wow, there’s a lot of seeking a spiritual connection and we’re not doing it in a Jewish way.”
Going from very little Jewish engagement to full-on immersion, Stone taught in a Jewish day school and began to explore where the disconnect between community spirituality and Judaic roots could be found. “I knew when I started this that I wanted to be a rabbi,” she said.
Stone found that those who felt the disconnect had no way of accessing the fundamental texts.
“Part of my road to becoming a rabbi was finding those tools to be able to teach that.”
Before committing to rabbinical studies, she would save up money and travel around different countries. “My life was like ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ before it was a book,” she said.
One of her tours included a visit to Israel during the high holidays. Although she expected it to be “the most amazing experience,” Stone found herself alone in a foreign land. Then, she went to a Shabbat service. “That was the first time it felt like home in Israel.”
The service completely shifted Stone’s experience, and she pursued her rabbinical studies. After traversing the world, she finds herself in Rockville. “I used to say my heart is in San Francisco, my soul is in Jerusalem and my brain is wherever I am. Those pieces are starting to come back to me in Rockville,” she said. “I am whole.”
Stone said she and her husband chose to come to B’nai Israel because of the vibrant Jewish life the synagogue offers. “They brought me in so that I could bring more community, so that I could knit together the various pieces.” Stone said she plans “to weave the very strands of the community into a tapestry.”