Building Community Cohesion and Volunteer Work: Rabbi Warner Ferratier

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Rabbi Warner Ferratier. Photo Courtesy of Temple Beth Emeth.

Rabbi Warner Ferratier has served Congregation Beth Emeth for only about two years after more than a decade of public school teaching and becoming ordained in the early 2010s, but the Herndon, Virginia, resident has made an impact on the synagogue and surrounding community.

Notably, Ferratier volunteered for months to help Herndon High School with its production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” getting a chance to do community outreach and educate local students on Jewish history and culture.

Outside of that, Ferratier has revitalized programs at the synagogue and worked on the continual development of his rabbinical skills as he looks to provide optimism and cohesion within his community.

What were you doing before you came to the Northern Virginia area?

I’m originally from Springfield, Illinois, and I was a high school teacher in the Champaign, Illinois, public schools for 12 or 13 years. I’ve always been very Judaically involved, and so I [ended up] going to rabbinical school. After a year of prep at the Conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem, I think that would have been in 2013-2014, I was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2019. And after spending a couple of years in Northbrook, Illinois, as a rabbi, I accepted that position of rabbi at Congregation Beth Emeth.

What are some things that you’ve worked on improving during your time at the synagogue?

I’ve been here just under two years and, in that time, have tried to make services a little bit more efficient, worked on relationships with families and helped to revitalize religious school programs.

How did you get involved with “Fiddler on the Roof” and what did you do for the production?

Back in late January to early February, the director of the Herndon High School play contacted me because they had been planning to do a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” He called to ask if I would be willing to work with the production and the cast and crew to make sure that things were done correctly and appropriately and to help the students and production staff understand a little bit more about the culture and the time period in which “Fiddler on the Roof” takes place.

For the entire rehearsal period, I attended rehearsals twice a week; they met right after school. Not only did I help with the specific things that were happening on stage, but I talked to the kids through some of their character development.

A little bit of what life would have been like, what people’s expectations would have been, but also more general stuff about Jewish culture, particularly Ashkenazi culture and about some Jewish approaches to whatever questions they had. [This was] with the goal of helping the students to understand that this wasn’t just foreign culture, a long time ago and far away, that there are descendants of these characters who are right in their
own community.

What benefit did that type of hands-on education have for those students?

I think it helps humanize and makes everything about Judaism [less exotic]. I think one thing we as American Jews lose sight of is how small of a minority we are, and so many students either don’t know anybody who’s Jewish or, if they do, [it’s] somebody who is much more secular and they don’t really have much of an understanding of what is behind all the different traditions. With antisemitism in the news so much, I think it helps to give a face to a community that feels under assault at the moment.

How does this volunteering mirror the work you do at the synagogue?

In general, it fits in with my philosophy that there’s always more to learn and that there’s just this huge wide world of Judaism that even most Jews don’t think about or need to have more exposure to. In a sense, this is just an extension to that.

What are some things that you’ve been able to bring to the synagogue since you started working there?

What I’ve really tried to foster since I’ve been here is, when I arrived, I had a sense that the community was really looking to be more unified after COVID and other things that preceded my coming that had people not cohesive. And so, I think my goal has been to just provide that cohesion and optimism in the community, and I think I’ve made a good start on that.

What are some areas of your work that you hope to expand upon and improve with?

I’m always looking to learn more. I just have a very natural curiosity. But I think for the community the main goal at the moment is just to continue fostering that sense of cohesion and optimism, to build on what we’ve done so far, to keep expanding it. There are always partnerships to be made in the community. There are always other things that can be expanded upon or improved, but I think without that at the foundation, you’re kind of building castles out of air.

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