2005-02-04 / Community

New West End Rabbi Looks To Challenging Rabbinate

By Howard Schwach

Rabbi Marjorie Slome stands in front of an antique torah in the lobby of the West End Temple in Neponsit.
Rabbi Marjorie Slome stands in front of an antique torah in the lobby of the West End Temple in Neponsit. When Rabbi Marjorie Slome, the new rabbi at the West End Temple, moved away from counseling to go back to the pulpit, she expected lots of challenges, but not the one that she faced on her first day at West End.

“I was scheduled for my first service on Sunday, January 23,” she told The Wave in a wide-ranging interview. “As we all know, the night before it snowed more than a foot. My service was called off and I had to wait to meet my new congregants. It was not an auspicious start.”

Rabbi Slome, who is married to a specialist in anti-Semitism and extremism for the American Jewish Congress and who is the mother of a 13-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, admits that she does not have much experience with Rockaway.

She says that she came to the peninsula and to West End Temple about 17 years ago for a conference following Thanksgiving. She had a date with David Stern, the man who would later become her husband, and she was in a rush to get going.

“I remember telling the rabbi that was running the conference to speak quicker, that I had a date,” she says with a laugh. She does remember, however that Rabbi Joseph Weiss was one of the leaders of the conference and she thinks of him with reverence.

Slome, a Cincinnati native, has been “pulpit free” for many years, working in Brooklyn with unaffiliated families and in an interfaith outreach program. She was the director of the Brownstone Brooklyn Jewish Coalition.

During that time, she authored many articles on Judaism for those seeking to convert to the faith and co-authored a popular book, “Introduction to Judaism,” a book that is often considered as “Judaism 101” by experts in the field.

Lawrence Epstein, the President of the Conversion to Judaism Resource Center said that the book “Provides an excellent gateway to Jewish life, particularly for those who are choosing to become Jewish as well as born Jews who see an adult re-connection to their heritage.”

Slome says that it was time for her to leave that focus and get back to the pulpit, although she says she will still do outreach to the unaffiliated Jewish families in Rockaway.

“I have some strengths in that area,” she said with a smile.

When she was ready to go back to the pulpit, she says, she looked for a “good fit professionally” and adds that Rockaway seems to be that fit.

“The rabbinate is difficult and challenging,” she says, “more so than outreach.”

“Every rabbi defines his or her own focus,” she adds. “Mine not only focuses on unaffiliated families, but teaching and pastoral duties.”

When asked what changes she plans to make at the synagogue, she said, with a twinkle in her eye, that she wanted to change the soda machine from Pepsi to Coke and that she had to ask for a change in the by-laws.

“The temple’s by-laws talk about the rabbi – he,” she said. “We have to change that to reflect the fact that the rabbi can be a she as well.”

Slome replaces Rabbi Melvyn May, who was with West End for about three years. So, was she surprised that West End, which has never had a female leader in the past, chose her for its pulpit?

“I’m really not sure whether I was surprised,” she answered. “Women in the pulpit in Reform Synagogues is pretty standard stuff now. Twenty years ago, it might have raised some eyebrows, but today, I don’t think so.”

“I guess that it’s going to be a little different for some people,” she added, “but I have been treated well be everyone. I have received a very warm welcome.”

“I’m very excited about serving the Rockaway community,” she concluded. “It’s good to get back to the pulpit.”

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