By Miller Friedman
Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky is the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s
director of intergroup relations and rabbi in residence. The 37-year-old Philadelphia native is new to the Washington area (she started her job at JCRC in July). In her position, she works to foster community relationships with members of other religions.
What drove you to become a rabbi?
It’s what drove me and then what drove me back. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a rabbi. I loved going to synagogue and just participating in Jewish ritual. The idea of being up in the front and running the show and getting to do that as my job seemed really awesome. So I thought about that through elementary school and into high school. Then I got to college and said, “That’s not really what I want.”
Right before my senior year, my dad and I were driving back to college and my dad said, “Whatever happened to that whole wanting to be a rabbi thing?” I really thought about it during the first semester. Something was hitting me, where I thought something was missing from [my major of] psychology. What was really missing was the spiritual component. I eventually came around to the idea that I needed to be in rabbinical school [at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York].
How did you get into interfaith work?
When I was working in chaplaincy in a hospital setting, I never really had a big Jewish patient load. This forced me to have to think about how to relate to people who are of a faith that isn’t like my own. I had to have an understanding of how other people pray.
When I went into the room of a Baptist man, he didn’t care that I didn’t look like him, that my religion was different than his. He said, “If you’re a person of God, then go pray for me.” And I prayed for him. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do that.
Do you think there are more similarities between Judaism and other religions than people realize?
Oh, yes. One of the fun things about this job is I get to participate in a bunch of interfaith things that are happening somewhat under the radar. I participate in a book club called “All Faiths and Friendship.” Last night, we were at a mosque, and they opened with a verse from the Quran. One of the Jewish women and one of the Christian women were able to point out a line and everyone was able to find a common thread [of these words] in their own spiritual practice.
It was this very beautiful moment. We all have the same general motifs and the same general ideas, and when we find the little pieces that link it together, it’s really nice.
Do Jews have a responsibility to make these kinds of connections and relationships?
I don’t know if it’s a responsibility, but it’s definitely something that is imperative and important to who we are as Jews.
What is your proudest moment as a rabbi?
There are a couple. Receiving the JPRO Network young professionals award [that recognizes the achievements of outstanding Jewish professionals] was amazing. To be honored for doing work for the Jewish community in a non-profit capacity was really just a great experience. To be acknowledged by peers and colleagues in the Jewish community who I deeply respect [was an honor].
Before I was here [at JCRC], I worked with Jewish military chaplains, and I was there for five years. After I left, the chaplains wanted to honor me, and they flew [an American flag] in my honor in three or four different continents and in all four branches of the military.
It was done by people who knew it would be meaningful to me, so receiving that was awesome.
Finally, my two kids. Being their mom is a very proud rabbi experience for me. Being able to teach them the things that I love about Judaism [makes me proud].
Do you think either of them share your childhood dream of becoming a rabbi?
I don’t think so. If they wanted to, they can go for it, but I want them to choose their own paths and be happy, proud Jews.