Kol Ami in NoVa welcomes familiar new rabbi

Rabbi Gilah Langner Photo Provided
Rabbi Gilah Langner Photo Provided

Rabbi Gilah Langner has been a religious school principal and an adjunct professor at several Washington-area universities.

This summer, she will become the rabbi of Kol Ami Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community in Arlington. Langner will succeed founding Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, who is retiring.

Langner was one of two finalists in the search, said Herb Cooper-Levy, a member of the rabbi selection committee.

“If I were to construct a rabbi that had all of the ideal characteristics — good with adults, good with kids, caring, compassionate — then that rabbi would look a lot like Rabbi Gilah,” he said. “Our search engaged both of the finalists in three things: leading an adult service, a family service and an adult education activity. Both were acceptable, but Rabbi Gilah was exceptional.”


The congregation began with a national search and quickly narrowed the list down to local candidates, Cooper-Levy said.

Kol Ami, with 56 member households, is the sole Reconstructionist congregation in Northern Virginia.

Kol Ami holds services at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. It does not own its own building, something that Langner sees as an advantage.

“There’s an obvious value to having your own building,” she said. “But there’s also a wonderful value of having a relationship with a community of another faith and the [Unitarian Universalist church] is a terrific group.”

Berner, who led the congregation for 16 years, is a longtime friend of Langner. After Langner’s contract begins on July 1, Berner will continue her work as dean of students for the Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s rabbinical ordination program.

“I loved the people at Kol Ami. [They’re] a beautiful community of people and I was exceedingly happy there,” said Berner, who announced her upcoming retirement more than a year ago. “I think I was simply at a point where congregational work was no longer my interest.”

She believes the transition will go smoothly because of Langner’s history with the community.
“Over the years I’ve brought [Langner] in for various events and functions,” said Berner. “She came to know a fair segment of the congregation and became beloved to them.”

Langner said, “Rabbi Leila is a tough act to follow because she is so beloved by the community and I’m thrilled to be able to follow in her footsteps.”

Langner, whose position is part time, said she wants to increase the congregation’s membership and expand the music used in services.

Since her ordination in 2003, Langner has served nine congregations. She was principal of Shoreshim Hebrew School in Reston and Kehilah Chadasha Sunday School. She was a guest teacher at Kol Ami and at the Catholic University of America, The George Washington University and the University of Maryland, College Park. She served as a visiting chaplain at Georgetown University Hospital and co-directed the Washington Jewish Healing Network.

Langner is the founding publisher and co-editor of Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism, and is a member of Jews United for Justice and T’ruah, the rabbinic call for human rights.

Said Cooper-Levy, “Rabbi Gilah [is] a very warm individual and that is something our congregation values a great deal.”

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