Rabbi Neil Tow’s office at Congregation B’nai Tzedek is cluttered with books, papers, a few musical instruments and a small collection of about a dozen rams’ horns. The latter, he explains, are for a project where the fourth-grade Hebrew school class will be making their own shofarot.
“They’re going to drill the mouthpiece. It’s really cool,” he says. “They’ll be able to actually use it in the service. We’re going to teach them the notes.”
It’s Tow’s first big project at the Conservative synagogue in Potomac, where he became associate rabbi in July.
“I’ve always been really excited about and committed to a hands-on approach toward Judaism,” he says. Tow enjoys teaching about Judaism. At his previous synagogue in New Jersey, he and his wife, Rabbi Rachel Schwartz, co-led.
“We shared responsibilities. She was doing the more pastoral side of things. I was doing the more educational side of things. We would take turns leading services,” he says.
The 41-year-old rabbi grew up attending Congregation Har Shalom, just a few miles from B’nai Tzedek. His parents still attend services there and won’t be attending his services at B’nai Tzedek any time soon. He understands their decision.
“Har Shalom is their home,” he says. “That’s where they’ve been for more than 40 years now.”
Tow is B’nai Tzedek’s first associate rabbi. Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, the congregation’s founding rabbi, says Tow will allow the synagogue to expand its offerings.
“B’nai Tzedek is at the point where we thought our members would benefit from having a second rabbi on staff. We’re an extremely active congregation,” he says, adding that Tow’s experience and local connection made him a great fit for the synagogue.
“First of all, it’s nice to have a hometown person come back. He has familiarity with community. There are people in the congregation who are finding they have connections with him when he was younger. It’s not always easy. He’s fitting in very, very well,” Weinblatt says. “We wanted [Tow] to have a presence in our religious school so some of our younger families would have a chance to make a connection with him. He fits in really very well.”
Tow says he has a lot more planned. After the shofar-making workshop, which will culminate with the students blowing their shofarot during the Ne’ilah service at the end of Yom Kippur, he is going to prep for olive oil making class, for Chanukah.
He hopes to inspire students to become more involved in Jewish life.
“Good teachers can encourage us to take the next steps in areas we’re
interested in and love.” WJW