Rabbi Adam Zeff may have just been installed as the senior rabbi at the Germantown Jewish Centre (GJC) on May 5, but he is definitely not new to the congregation.
He has been with the congregation since 1999 when he purposely moved to Mt. Airy to be a part of the synagogue’s community.
Zeff’s journey to GJC
He began his rabbinic journey after working as an administrator at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College when he decided he wanted to be a rabbi. With the help of Rabbi Emeritus Leonard Gordon who wrote his letter of recommendation in 2002, that dream came true. When Zeff called to thank Gordon for the letter and inform him that he was accepted, Gordon immediately asked Zeff if he wanted a job as GJC’s student rabbi. He was promoted to the assistant rabbi in 2007.
In a short period of time, Gordon went from just being his rabbi to his boss, which Zeff said was an apprenticeship because he got the opportunity to see and understand all the aspects of the job.
“Being a rabbi is really about being of service to the congregation and that is something that I really saw him model for me in everything he did and he dealt with people and crisis with such a commitment,” said Zeff.
Gordon was also one of his teachers at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College where Zeff fully showcased his knowledge of Jewish thought, prayer and literature.
“It was a bit intimidating and out of the norm that you had someone that was generously going through the rabbinical school program, but it was clear fairly quickly that Adam could have taught the course we were in together,” said Gordon.
He continued by saying that Zeff is a caring individual and special teacher with unique musical abilities, which he believes adds a new dimension to the congregation that he was not able to and believes will be deeply appreciated.
Gordon served the congregation for 16 years from 1994 to 2010 before he moved to Boston with his wife who accepted a position with Northeastern University. He is now the senior rabbi at Congregation Mishkan Tefila. Gordon hopes to spend a Sabbath with the GJC community next year.
While it is typical for congregations to struggle with their identity when their leader departs, Zeff said GJC already had a clear understanding of who they were and their values. GJC serves a diverse community with more than 1300 congregants with different political beliefs, sexual orientation and different levels of Jewish knowledge.
Under his direction, Zeff aims to make the values and identity more reflective in the programming by offering a wide variety of activities for every age group.
The biggest change was the adoption of the brand new High Holiday prayer book Mahzor Lev Shalem published by The Rabbinical Assembly where Gordon served on the editorial committee.
“In some ways it was really sweet because we had this new prayer book to use which was really from him,” said Zeff. “We could see his influence in it even though he wasn’t there on the High Holidays when we were using it, we could feel in some ways we had a part of him with us because we were using the book”
New assistant rabbi
Rabbi Annie Lewis is will begin her first day as GJC’s assistant rabbi on July 1st. She is a graduate from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York with a Masters degree in Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies.
She studied linguistic-anthropology and Judaic studies at Brown University and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. She also lived and worked in Jerusalem, Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva,Israel as a New Israel Fund/Shatil Social Justice Fellow and as a counselor for the Nativ college leadership program.
Lewis was selected through an interview process that included a two-day trip to New York and a weekend at GJC in order to find the perfect match for the synagogue.
Zeff said GJC is really excited about Lewis’ arrival because it’s been 18 years since the congregation has welcomed someone new and feels she will bring a lot of skills and expertise to the community.
“From the beginning, Rabbi Lewis stood out as a really wonderful match for us because of the kind of experiences she has had and her orientation towards Judaism and toward tradition really meshed with us” said Zeff.
Zeff said her presence will help GJC better serve the community by having the chance to visit more prayer services and ultimately help more congregants in their time of vulnerability and difficulty.
In addition to leading services and serving people with pastoral needs, Lewis will be working with the youth program as well as the bat mitzvah program.
She will be installed on April 20, 2013.