On July 1, Congregation Beth Emeth - a conservative synagogue in Herndon - welcomed a new face: its first woman rabbi.
Rabbi Michelle "Mina" Goldsmith takes over for Rabbi Steven Glazer, who retired after 18 years at Beth Emeth.
Goldsmith, 42, comes to the area from Birmingham, Ala., where she led Temple Beth-El for four years. The Las Vegas native was ordained in 1998 and was previously a rabbi at congregations in Jacksonville and Sarasota, Fla.
Goldsmith is settling in to life in Northern Virginia with her husband Jeff, who works in the tech industry, and four children ages 6 to 16.
Karen Goff of Reston patch spent a few minutes with Rabbi Goldsmith recently.
Patch: What drew you to come to Virginia?
MG: One of the primary goals we had was to be closer to family. We did not have any family in what is considered a reasonable driving distance from Birmingham. So we tried very hard to apply to places where we could be closer to family. I have a sister in Gaithersburg.
Patch: How do you feel about the Northern Virginia Jewish community?
MG: It is interesting, because I just came from Birmingham. Though people here say this is a small Jewish community, it is so close to everything else [Montgomery County and D.C.] that I feel I am in the middle of Jewish central.
I just went yesterday to the kosher market in Rockville. It was a 35-minute drive. But to be 35 minutes from something like that...I have not lived 35 minutes from something like that since I left the seminary in 1998. To me, this is very central to Jewish life.
When you go on interviews for congregations, everyone puts their best foot forward. Sometimes you are able to see they are putting their best foot forward and it is not really their real foot. I have to say when I came here, not only was everyone putting their best foot forward, I have to say they weren't acting. Really real - they were such a lovely congregation. Just seemed like a healthy, happy wonderful congregation who is ready for something new.
Patch: You are the first woman rabbi at this synagogue. Has that been a challenge at all?
MG: It has not been a challenge here. On the contrary, this is the first time I have heard somewhere at least a half dozen times by congregants that they are so excited to have a female rabbi. I have never gotten that anywhere before - and I was always the first female rabbi in every congregation I have served.
A couple of places my gender did not matter so much. It was definitely more of a challenge at the congregation I just left in Alabama, which is a little more conservative. But by the time I left, I would say 98 percent of the people who had not been ready were ready, but there were a few who were just never going to be satisfied. One of the things you learn on the pulpit, you can never make everyone happy - and if you are making everyone happy, something is really wrong.
Patch: Are you looking forward to the Jewish holidays and really getting into the spirit of Beth Emeth?
MG: I am already gearing up. I have written the first two High Holiday sermons. I have already done three funerals, a baby naming and a bat mitzvah. There is no summer break. I had to jump in with both feet - the holidays are early this year.
Patch: I hear you have four kids. Tell me a little bit about being a busy parent and a busy rabbi.
MG: My sons will be going to Fox Mill Elementary in fifth and second grade. My twin daughters are going to South Lakes High School, they are already in the marching band. I can't go to a football game on Shabbat, but in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur there is a Thursday night game - so I will be at that game, which means I have to have my Yom Kippur sermon done well before Thursday.
We feel really happy so far with the move, the house, the schools. We're just trucking along.
Patch: Do you see making any big changes here at Beth Emeth?
MG: I think [Rabbi Glazer's] style is very different from mine. I happen to love music. I play guitar every Friday night, so that is very different. The very first week I was here we made shakers and handed them out in the service, so it is not just me, it is everyone being interactive during the service.
My style on Friday night is a more casual service. I don't stand on the bima, I stand on the floor. I don't use notes on Friday, I just speak about whatever I want to speak about.
I also deliver sermons of practical implications - sometimes they can be construed as intellectual, but they are not academic. If it has no practical import, I wouldn't give a sermon on it. I try very hard to connect with people's hearts.
I try and let people know I want to be part of their lives. One of the nicest things here is people have reached out to us and welcomed us. We were here for a week when someone invited my sons for a playdate. There have been three get-togethers to know our family. A congregant organized an event for the South Lakes students who are congregants. That's unbelievable.
I feel like people are very excited I am one of their peers, that I am leading the life they are leading and understand the challenges. So when I speak about balance, I will be speaking from my own life experience. That is important, I think.
To learn more about Rabbi Goldsmith and Congregation Beth Emeth, click here.
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