New Rabbi Helps Congregation Grow

New Rabbi Helps Congregation Grow

Rabbi Brings Changes to Community

After nine years of hard work, Rabbi Randi Nagel is anxious to lead the Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation in Loudoun County.

Nagel’s journey to becoming a rabbi began when she was a freshman at Boston University. During her first Jewish studies course in Massachusetts, the then 19-year-old student realized how much she didn’t know about her faith.

"I wanted to learn more," she said.

Every semester, she signed up for Jewish studies classes and eventually declared it her major.

"I always wanted to be a dermatologist, but I was lousy at organic chemistry," Nagel joked. "My Jewish studies classes were hard, sometimes frustrating, but I had a passion to learn and know."

In the middle of her senior year, Nagel said she woke up one morning and decided to go to rabbinical school.

"It seemed like the next logical step," she said.

Nagel applied to Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Over the next five years, she studied Jewish text, the Hebrew language and traveled to Jerusalem, where she met her husband, Scott, who is also a rabbi.

Upon completion of rabbinical school, the Ohio native moved to Baltimore, Md., where her husband works as a rabbi of a 900-family congregation.

Nagel will travel from her home in Baltimore to Loudoun County one day a week, one Friday a month and one Sunday, a total of six times a month. She plans on spending her time off with her 3-year-old son, Daniel.

"This is the perfect part-time job," Nagel said. "I was looking for something flexible that would also fulfill my needs as a rabbi."

This is Nagel's first position in a synagogue. She was the former rabbi at a Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Baltimore, Md.

BEFORE NAGEL, Beth Chaverim's congregation depended solely on student rabbi, Jessie Gallup.

In his fourth year of rabbinical school, Gallup flies from Hebrew Union College's New York City campus to Loudoun County every other weekend to lead Friday and Saturday services and teach confirmation classes, as part of his two-year pulpit internship.

"Last year, I was performing all clergy duties," he said. "It was full time. The job was growing too big."

Nagel's addition to the congregation means Gallup can concentrate more on his studies. With her help, the fairly young congregation, which began last year, can grow.

"We're teammates," he said.

For parishioners like Sue Benezra, Nagel’s presence means many things.

Now, Beth Chaverim members can meet with Nagel during the week for pastoral counseling. If there is an illness in the family, Nagel can make house visits to members of the congregation. She will also teach Sunday school once a month and prepare Jewish teens for b'nai mitzvahs.

The ordained rabbi will also be able to perform weddings and funerals, two things Gallup was not able to due because he is not ordained.

"I think she’ll be a great fit," Benezra said.

BETH CHAVERIM is a reform congregation made up of approximately 135 families.

Benezra joined Beth Chaverim last September.

"They are the warmest, most hospitable group of people," she said.

In January, Benezra fell, leaving her unable to move around her house. During the afternoons, when her husband was at work, fellow congregation members would take turns bringing her lunch and spending time with her.

"For 12 weeks, everyday, I could expect someone at my door," she said. "They went out of their way to check in on me."

Reform Judaism, the largest denomination of Judaism in America, is made up of 1.5 million members, Gallup said.

This branch of Judaism, Nagel said, is also referred to as "progressive" Judaism.

"We learn about traditions, but adapt the traditions to fit our lives while maintaining a sense of Judaism," she said.

In her first year at Beth Chaverim, Nagel plans on adding another Friday night service and help the congregation find a permanent home. It currently worship at different buildings through out Loudoun County.

"I hope to be a spiritual presence to members as well as Loudoun County residents," she said.