Clergy and Staff
I guess it’s a pretty funny thing to do, becoming a rabbi. What kind of job is this for a nice Jewish boy?? But sometimes you gotta do what you feel called to do, right? Thankfully for me, I knew for a long time that I wanted to be a rabbi. It’s something I started thinking about in high school, when I was still living in Stockholm, Sweden. And it continued to build into a realistic goal in college, in New York City, and was then fulfilled when Rebecca and I (and now Caroline) found this warm and incredible Ohev community to call our home.
To me, Judaism is about asking good questions. It’s a way to see the world and connect to our history and culture that can enhance our lives, if we engage with it honestly, yet joyfully, and don’t take it TOO seriously. And so much of it is about being in relationship – with each other, God, our ancient (and modern) texts, Israel (in all its complexity), and with the wider community around us. Here at Ohev, we really try to do this, and I believe – I hope – that it’s making people proud to be Jewish and proud to be Ohevites. Once upon a time, it was hard to picture myself as a rabbi, and it seemed like a pretty surreal idea. Today, I honestly couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
I am hooked on Jewish learning.
It can’t be helped – I am hopelessly and deeply in love with Torah, and there is no turning back. From my days as a high school student at Akiba Hebrew Academy (now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy), through my college years as a religion major at Boston University, and up through my first experiences learning and teaching as a young Jewish adult in Western Massachusetts, I have found that there is nothing that lights me up from the inside like poring over a rich Jewish text, idea, or conversation.
Given all of this, it took me a surprisingly long time to realize that what I needed to do with my life was become a rabbi. It is almost as if I needed to realize that I could give myself that gift; to be a learner and teacher of Torah as my “day job” seemed almost too good to be true! My years at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College only deepened my attachment to Jewish learning, as I discovered the magic that can take place in a community that is committed to drawing ancient Jewish conversations into the present, mining them for meaning that is not only relevant, but illuminating, healing, and useful. Now that I am an Ima (mother) to Gabriel, I am learning all over again the joy of sharing our tradition with children, starting with the most basic wonder of lighting Shabbat (Sabbath) candles.
I am honored and blessed to be sharing this journey with Ohev Shalom and its wonderful community of learners and pray-ers of all ages.
Three H’s–Hebrew School, Habonim, and Holocaust–are mostly responsible for my becoming a rabbi.
I attended the Hebrew School at Beth El, a Conservative congregation in Camden, New Jersey. What I learned there made me love and want to know more about Judaism. (Years later I taught in Beth El’s school until I began rabbinical studies.)
My main Hebrew School teacher advised our Camden teenage group of Habonim: Labor Zionist Youth. I also joined a Habonim club in Philadelphia and went to Habonim camps, especially Camp Galil in Bucks County. These experiences greatly increased my knowledge of Zionism as well as my attachment to Palestine-Israel and its Jews.
The Holocaust’s horrors affected me deeply. The slain and maimed were part of my extended family, the Jewish people. I felt that I must live more Jewishly for myself and for them.
One 1946 night in Korea, a 19-year-old in the U.S. army of occupation stood outdoors and pondered his future. My conclusion: I would help the Jewish people live on by working in a Jewish field.
My initial plan was to teach high school English and work in a Jewish school in the late afternoon and Sunday morning. That was succeeded by the goal of directing a Bureau of Jewish Education. Finally I determined that my talents and desire to serve Jews of every age could be realized best as a congregational rabbi. Therefore I enrolled at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical school.
As of July 2015, 54 of my 59 years as a rabbi have been spent at Ohev Shalom. Overwhelmingly, they have been years of great personal fulfillment and, despite some failures, I believe of significant accomplishments for the Jewish people, particularly in our area. For that I am most grateful to our congregation’s members.
Although you won’t hear many children say that they want to be a synagogue director when they grow up – it really is a fulfilling, challenging (and certainly never boring) position! How fortunate I feel to have landed right here in my own community after having served at two other congregations. After more than twenty years of working in synagogue life, I still enjoy juggling the day to day operations of running a congregation. I love meeting and getting to know our congregants, finding solutions to the problem of the day, and most of all, the connection I feel to our Jewish community. Oh, did I mention that I get to combine my love of musical theater with our Ohev Shalom Players?
Janean is the voice you hear when you call the office and the friendly face that greets you when you stop in. Do you have a question about a yahrzeit? Do you need to put an announcement in the weekly email? Having trouble understanding a statement? Call Janean. She will help guide you in the right direction.
If Janean is not in the office, you can find her at Scott Arboretum or the Players’ Club of Swarthmore. She currently lives in Morton with her husband, Bill.
Steve Smith came to Ohev Shalom in 1997 as a part time maintenance staff member. He eventually transitioned to full time and has served as our maintenance supervisor for many years. He is a fixture at Ohev Shalom, and everyone knows that they can count on him to have rooms properly arranged, and facilities in order. He is always ready to help however he is able.
Steve also is the caretaker for Ohev Shalom Cemetery in Brookhaven. He lives there with his wife, Mary. They met when she was a teacher at Kehillah. They have three adorable dogs; Sweet Pea, Snuggles and Scruffy.