Rabbi Rebecca Solielle Epstein
July 7, 2009
Rabbi Rebecca Solielle Epstein, who is about to become assistant rabbi at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, said she believes spirituality can be expressed in many forms.
While traditional prayer and Torah study would certainly qualify, there is also room for dance and movement, according to the rabbi, a former choreographer and dancer.
Epstein, who will also coordinate the temple’s religious school, is replacing assistant rabbi and youth coordinator Rabbi Daniel Fellman, who left for a job at Temple Concord in Syracuse, NY, and Rabbi Claudio Kogan, associate rabbi and director of education, who took a job at Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, Conn.
The 600-family synagogue is reorganizing staff and hiring a youth activities director and education coordinator instead of a third rabbi, according to executive director Heather Kibel. The education coordinator will work with Epstein.
“I want to do a lot of experimentation in different ways of leading and conducting services so occasionally I could choreograph an activity for services,” said Epstein.
She also plans to teach a weekly lunchtime yoga course combining meditation and spirituality.” Her duties will include training b’nei mitzva students, working with converts, giving sermons, and teaching adults.
Last year, she did choreography for Avodah Dance Ensemble, a New York-based modern dance company.
By coincidence, Epstein learned the temple’s cantor, Anna West Ott, had invited Avodah to perform this year at Anshe Emeth. “I hope to do something with them,” she said.
The 32-year-old Epstein will not be on the job until Aug. 1 because she and husband, Barak, welcomed their first child, a daughter, Noa, on June 29.
Epstein said she is aware of the deep roots of a synagogue approaching its 150th anniversary. “I’ve heard stories about being the sixth generation of their family to belong to Anshe Emeth,” said Epstein.
A native of St. Paul, Minn., she graduated from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, with a degree in cognitive science and a minor in art history. After college, Epstein moved to New York to study modern dance and ballet. While working as a choreographer, she helped support herself with waitressing jobs.
“I also started teaching Hebrew school, which is something I had done all through high school and college to make some money,” she recalled. “I was co-teaching with another young woman who also just started rabbinical school at Jewish Theological Seminary. She kind of planted a seed.”
Then came the terror and shock of 9/11, “a big factor” in Epstein’s decision to enroll some time later at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.
“From teaching, I realized I could make a big difference in a kid’s life by giving them a place where they could feel safe and be inspired by Jewish values,” recalled Epstein.