New clergy roundup



Cantor Jason Kaufman, music and health consciousness

Cantor Jason Kaufman
Cantor Jason Kaufman

Cantor Jason Kaufman of Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria isn’t your usual cantor in that he’s not only focused on the health of the liturgy, but has put an emphasis on the physical health of his congregants, as well.

Kaufman, who assumed his cantorial role at the 600-family congregation in early July, has spearheaded a health and wellbeing initiative, complete with a walking and running group that meets on Sundays for adult members.

“I’m inviting the congregants to walk and run with me in hopes of creating more programming that talks about how we treat our bodies and how our spiritual and physical bodies are one and the same, one can’t be neglected over the other,” he said. “Our synagogue is a place where you bring authentic truth and authentic struggles and celebrations and it’s a wonderful way to get to know your congregants by going on a run with them and a great way to interact with them in a social, fun context.”

The new cantor, who came to Beth El after serving in Wilmette, Ill., New Orleans and New York City, explained that one of the major reasons he came to work at the synagogue was its spiritual leader, Brett Isserow.

“He’s just a fantastic rabbi who leads a great synagogue and a great community,” he said. “I really enjoyed my first High Holidays with the congregation, and there were a few moments this year where truly the entire congregation was joined together in song and everyone got lost in this wave of music that enveloped the room. It was incredibly exciting.”

In addition to the health and wellness initiative, Kaufman has plans to get to know the congregation while introducing them to different styles of music.

“I’m really hoping to learn from them and learn who they are as a community in a deeper way,” he said. “I’m looking forward to sharing with them gems from the spectrum of Jewish music to see how people of all ages find meaning and Jewish connection and spiritual connection in those moments.”

— Emily Minton

Rabbi Laurie Green joins her ideal congregation

Rabbi Laurie Green
Rabbi Laurie Green

Growing up in New Jersey, Rabbi Laurie Green described her synagogue as her second home. That love for Judaism inspired Green, a mother of one and the new rabbi at Bet Mishpachah in the District, to not only be incredibly active in her congregation, youth group and summer camp, but to attend rabbinical school and become ordained in 2007 from the Hebrew Union College.

With more than 18 years of experience in Jewish education, Green joins the egalitarian synagogue from Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, N.Y., where she served as the associate rabbi for three years.

She described her new congregation as “ideal” adding, “They are truly a family — caring for one another in a very deep and sincere way — longtime members and new members alike. They are inherently warm and welcoming,” she said.

“The worship is beautiful. They love to sing and have the most beautiful choir. The shlichei tzibur [service leaders] are incredibly learned. They wrote their own siddur and machzor, which are a beautiful blend of traditional liturgy, progressive values and their own creativity. They really live their values — tradition and change, social justice, spirituality, klal Yisrael [Jewish peoplehood].”

As the congregation’s new spiritual leader, Green explained that her duties range from teaching, counseling and mentoring to playing with children, visiting the sick, teaching adults and lobbying a senator.

“I get to make a living doing holy work, and I love it,” she said.

— Meredith Jacobs

From Minnesota to Maryland

Rabbi Julie Gordon
Rabbi Julie Gordon

To say that Rabbi Julie K. Gordon, the new director of education at Bethesda’s Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, is experienced in Jewish education and synagogue life would be an understatement. Gordon, who assumed her role at the 480-family congregation on Aug. 1, served as the spiritual leader at a Conservative congregation in Brooklyn for three years followed by a 14 year stay as co-senior rabbi at a congregation in St. Paul, Minn.

The mother of two adult children, who holds a certificate of advanced Jewish studies from the Pardes Educators Program in Jerusalem as well as a master’s degree in Jewish education from Hebrew College in Boston, was attracted to Adat Shalom’s unique and thriving congregational community.

“I chose to work at Adat Shalom because I share the community’s approach to Jewish tradition, ethics, and innovation,” she said. “It is a very warm community and the members have graciously welcomed me. I am thrilled to be working with the talented and caring clergy: Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb and Cantor Rachel Hersh. I feel supported by our executive director Judith Erger, committed lay leadership and devoted membership.”

As the director of education, Gordon has a long list of responsibilities including preparing for the synagogue’s Shabbat morning Torah school, weekday Hebrew programs and Sunday evening teen educational programs.

“I believe that the Adat Shalom community is supportive of creative formal and informal education. The students are interested in developing meaningful relationships with staff and are open to addressing challenging modern issues that confront us as American Jews,” she said.

While Gordon enjoyed her first High Holiday services with the congregation, she expressed her excitement for the years to come in her new position.

“As I embark on the holy work of serving as the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation director of education, I am grateful for the hard work and support of the clergy, Torah School Council, board, teachers, staff, parents, and children,” she said.

— Emily Minton

Rabbi Menachem Rhine
Rabbi Mordechai Rhine

Rabbi Mordechai Rhine, stands in his own shoes

Any new rabbi needs patience and tact to make the pulpit his own. Make that a double for Rabbi Mordechai Rhine, who came to Southeast Hebrew Congregation in August. He succeeds Rabbi Kalman Winter, the Silver Spring congregation’s longtime rabbi and a leader of Washington’s Orthodox community, who died last October.

“I met with [Winter’s] grandchildren, to reaffirm that I’m well aware that he was a very great man,” says Rhine, 42. “When I jokingly said, ‘So I have some big shoes to feel,’ they responded, ‘Just be yourself.’ ”

With that understood, Rhine is ready to move ahead with the 120-member congregation. He wants to focus on youth education, as well as classes for adults. He plans to work together with other rabbis on shared communal issues. But his pet project is developing “the short d’var Torah,” brief lessons to appeal to the “sound-bite generation.”

Raised in Monsey, N.Y., Rhine received his ordination from Rabbi Berel Wein, founding  dean of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Monsey. He served Young Israel of Cherry Hill for a decade, until he heard that Southeast Hebrew Congregation was looking for a rabbi. His new pulpit is “a tremendous step up,” says Rhine, who is joined by his wife, Yittie, and their six children, ages 5-14.

The rabbi got his introduction to the community the day after his job interview. “I walked into the beis midrash [study hall] at 6 a.m. for the 6:25 minyan. The place was already buzzing with people learning. I thought, this place is good.”

— David Holzel

Adat Shalom’s new executive director

Judith Erger
Judith Erger

Although Judith Erger wouldn’t consider herself “new” to Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation (she has served as the executive director for 10 months now), this was the first time she coordinated the congregation’s Rosh Hashanah services, which is no small feat considering the services, that took place for the first time this year at Rockville’s Wootton High School, are attended by more than 1,000 people.

Prior to taking up the executive director position at the Bethesda congregation, Erger worked in synagogue management at the Union for Reform Judaism for 15 years. She described coming to Adat Shalom as a “logical next step for me in my career,” adding “I accepted Adat Shalom’s offer because this is an extraordinary congregation. It’s intellectual, amazingly interactive, socially conscious and incredibly participatory.”

With the successful High Holiday services under her belt, Erger is looking forward to an exciting and smooth-running year at the congregation.

“I think for me and my staff, making the services happen was the highlight. For us this year the main challenge was choreographing a service in a new space, but we really pulled it off,” she said. “I’m really excited about introducing new operational processes to the synagogue and bringing what was once a very small congregation and is now a very large congregation into a more operationalized method of doing things without changing the culture here.”

Erger praised the staff of Adat Shalom, giving a special shout out her maintenance supervisor who served as her “right hand” during services.

“In a synagogue as complex and diverse as this one, in our population and our programming and our worship and full complement of whats offered to the congregation, we could not be as efficient and effective as we are without a great administrative staff and a great custodial staff and great clergy,” she concluded.

— Emily Minton

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