While there are many rabbis who are married to other rabbis, Rabbi Annie Lewis and Rabbi Yosef Goldman, newly installed at Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg, are among a smaller number of married couples who co-lead a congregation.
“They took a risk on two rabbis,” Goldman says of the Conservative congregation, “to blow up the only [leadership] model they’d ever known.”
Lewis and Goldman began their tenure in July. Still searching for the neighborhood coffee shop that they can call theirs, they say the risk Shaare Torah took on them makes the 25-year-old congregation more like a nimble startup than a legacy institution.
When Shaare Torah’s founding rabbi, Jacob Blumenthal, left in 2019 to become leader of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue, congregants stepped in, not only to lead services, but to check on the welfare of congregants isolated from their spiritual home by the pandemic.
“The board called every member multiple times to check in,” Goldman says.
The rabbis see their role not to supplant their empowered lay leadership, but to “strike a balance, bringing our professional expertise in a way that lifts up the vision of the community and its members,” Goldman says.
Goldman and Lewis, who met in rabbinical school, are both musicians and singers (Goldman is also a composer) with a spiritual bent. Lewis calls the members who led services before their arrival the “davening team,” and sees them as a necessary part of worship.
“It’s important for us to experience the divine as a group, through singing together,” Goldman says. So during the high holidays, it will be important “that we are all thinking of ourselves as a sacred team bringing the divine into this space.”
Lewis says they are grappling with their high holiday sermons, which will mark their formal introduction to the congregation during a pandemic that no longer seems like it is ending.
“We’re trying to figure out how to talk to hearts that are fatigued,” she says. “There’s been so much grief and loss.”
Their task this year is to acknowledge the grief and use it to find room for growth.