After six years in Philadelphia, Rabbi Marc Israel is returning to Maryland as the head rabbi of Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville.
Before his time as the rabbi at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, Pa., Israel served as rabbi educator at Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase for eight years. Israel said he is happy to have moved closer to his in-laws and old friends.
“And here at the synagogue, I just can’t imagine a more welcoming group of people, it’s really been very nice to experience,” he said. “I was just so impressed with how genuine people are.”
With a background as an educator, Israel said it’s great to be at a congregation with an early childhood center, and be able to work with teenagers and adults to further their Jewish education.
“Anytime that I’m able to be teaching is, to me, really the fulfillment of what it means to be a rabbi,” Israel said. “We are ultimately supposed to be teaching Judaism.”
Israel, 49, grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where his Reform family was very involved at Temple Beth El. He began as a Reform rabbi, starting in 1998.
“I was very much involved in the Reform movement, both on a local and national level,” Israel said. “But as I began my studies and continued my learning process, I became more and more attracted to traditional [practices].”
He wanted to join the Conservative movement, but he was uncomfortable with the fact that it barred gay and lesbian candidates from becoming rabbis. So he waited it out.
“I didn’t feel comfortable making the change [from Reform to Conservative] during my rabbinical school years. But as soon as they [began to] allow gays and lesbians to become rabbis, I began my process of switching over to the Rabbinical Assembly,” Israel said. He became a Conservative rabbi in 2007.
“Both movements have a strong commitment to social justice and the idea of a living Torah that we continue to interpret in today’s world,” Israel said.
Israel has three children with his wife, Abbey Frank: Oren, 13; Micah, 16; and Elianna, 19.
Micah will stay in Philadelphia with Frank, who works for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, to finish his last two years of high school. Israel said they have been making the commute work during the summer.
Eliana will be a freshman at the University of Michigan this year, and Oren will attend eighth grade at the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital.
Tikvat Israel has been a little “off the beaten path,” Israel said, so he wants to help the congregation gain recognition within the community.
“I want to help it become more known within the Jewish community for its many strengths, and really to build up the programming for families with young children.”