Shedding New Light on Jewish Traditions

Rabbi Julie Greenberg's Story

Rabbi Julie Greenberg’s Story

(Julie Greenberg is the Rabbi of Reconstructionist Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City in Philadelphia.) 

I was a second year rabbinical student, in my mid-twenties, when I was hired to develop the nascent Hebrew school at what was then called R2C2, the Congregation of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. We had five students and the basement of the Rabbinical College building. We quickly bequeathed a new, spiritually elevated name upon our space, calling it the “Lower Level.”

A dedicated school committee helped the school grow. As Director, I oriented my teachers towards creating a real relationship with each student, even as the teachers engaged students in systematic learning. We aimed for a relationally based, multimodal, thorough Jewish education. Something succeeded, because the school grew from five to one hundred to close to two hundred students.

Congregational leaders respected my professional expertise as a rabbi-educator, but we had to stretch to meet each other in other ways. In my personal life, I was immersed in a feminist community where same sex unions and various alternative family formats were becoming typical. The suburban nuclear family scene was different from my world.  I was young and the congregation was young, and we grew together. I consider my five years with Or Hadash as a successful multicultural experience.

I remember my students well. This past year, a young man called me on the phone. “Hello Rabbi, I don’t know if you remember me, but you Bar Mitzvahed me a long time ago at Congregation Or Hadash. I’m getting married soon and we are wondering if you would prepare my partner for conversion and then marry us.”

I felt both old and happy that my educational leadership years ago had helped build a community that nurtured the positive foundation for this couple’s Jewish life. I hope there are many more such stories.