The pieces of Corey Helfand at Ohr Kodesh Congregation

Photo by Jamie Anfenson-Comeau

Rabbi Corey Helfand, the new rabbi at Ohr Kodesh Congregation, once aspired to be a doctor, but while a pre-med student at Washington University in St. Louis, he had a change of heart.

“I got into a tumultuous relationship with organic chemistry, and it didn’t end well,” said Helfand.

After that, Helfand did some soul searching and decided that the rabbinate was where he really belonged. Helfand said being a rabbi nurtures “three different parts of [his] soul.”

“One is just being with people, the relational piece. The other is legal thinking. I studied political science. I had an interest in American law. I thought maybe I’d go to law school and then I found Jewish legal thinking, the rabbinic piece of the work, to be very nurturing,” Helfand said.

“The medical piece I got through a love of Jewish medical ethics, and how Judaism frames how we engage with those issues, and also the pastoral piece, being with people in their journeys spiritually, in the most amazing moments and the most challenging moments,” he said.

As a kid, Helfand did most of the Jewish things a kid could do: Jewish day school in Kansas City, Mo., USY and BBYO youth groups, reading Torah at his synagogue.

“When I went to college, I thought I would try to take a break and do other things, but almost immediately I found myself back into the Hillel world, leading high holiday services and being an active leader in the Jewish community [on campus],” Helfand said.

Helfand received his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, as well as a master’s degree in Talmud and Jewish law and a concentration in pastoral care.

Helfand said he and his wife were looking for a community with “the right spiritual fit” and found Ohr Kodesh in Chevy Chase.

“I think that this is a community that really prioritizes intergenerational learning. Everyone has an opportunity to learn and to really use the robust nature of our Jewish tradition, of our heritage, of our history, of our story, of our practices, to help people ask hard questions and answer them in a meaningful way, and allow it to guide us in purposeful living.”

Helfand said the pandemic has presented “a whole host of challenges” for bringing people together.

“I think my role, first and foremost, is a combination of continuity, of reassurance and of presence, that we’re going to do this together, and that we can lean on each other,” Helfand said. “When COVID prevents or restricts us from gathering, how do we go to the people? And when people do come, how do we create different spaces for them to enter safely, inside, outside, as we continue to navigate this period of uncertainty?”

Helfand said one of his primary goals in his first year is “inreach,” getting to know the Ohr Kodesh community, and also reaching out to others who do not currently have a spiritual home.

“Coming back together also means widening the tent, to help people feel like they can come in when they’re ready, and also people who have perhaps not been here before can also experience the blessing of community.”

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