To Temple Shalom’s Rabbi Rachel Ackerman, the best type of religious service is one in which congregants feel pushed out of their comfort zone — but not too much. “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” is her byword.
On July 1, Ackerman, 35, became the senior rabbi at the Chevy Chase Reform congregation, after spending seven years in a variety of roles there, including assistant rabbi and director of education. Ackerman follows interim Rabbi John Franken, who led Temple Shalom for the last year, and his predecessor, Rabbi Michael Feshbach, who was there for 16 years.
A recent Havdalah service that included a drag queen show was one of her attempts to push those boundaries. Elementary school-age children were invited to attend dressed in costume.
“That was the sort of thing, where we really thought intentionally about who people would engage with, who would be doing the crafts, how we wanted people to dress up, and that really touched people,” she said.
It was the type of off-the-beaten-path worship experience Ackerman hopes to expand upon as she steps into her new role.
“Congregants should feel that they’re taking a journey,” she said. “They should leave feeling like this was a break from the normal routine, and that they felt moved by something.”
Ackerman said as senior rabbi, her focus will shift from overseeing the religious school to leading services, officiating lifecycle events, pastoral care and working closely with the congregation’s board of trustees.
Rabbi JoHanna Potts will take over as interim education director for the next year. Finding a permanent replacement will be the congregation’s main priority. The second priority, she said, will be to find a permanent replacement for Cantor Lisa Levine, who left earlier this year after 10 years at Temple Shalom.
“We have a big hole in our community in that Cantor Levine has taken another position, so we’re thinking creatively about what music should look like in our community,” Ackerman said.
I have been in two incredibly moving and meaningful services led by Rabbi Ackerman since she became the Senior Rabbi. Both were powerful, inspiring and thought-provoking. Her sermons connected me to myself, Jewish teaching, and the world we live in today. They weren’t easy — they challenged me — but in the very best way. Taking on hard issues within our own community. This is what I want — a shul and a rabbi that pushes me to grow and reach to be my best / our best selves. I think that is aboundary worth pushing! Temple Shalom is fortunate to have her.