As a toddler in Haifa, Israel, Meeka Simerly grew up in a secular Jewish household.
“What it means is that we by no means actually did something non secular in any respect apart from celebrating the staple holidays,” Simerly stated.
Due to this, she felt like one thing was lacking for her. When she turned 30, Simerly moved to the US and commenced attending a Reform Jewish synagogue for the primary time in Santa Cruz, California.
“The minute I stepped into the synagogue, and I might sing in Hebrew and in English my soul simply began to soar,” she stated. “I felt so extremely fulfilled. [on] so many alternative ranges.”
This was the start of a path for Simerly, which ultimately led her to grow to be the latest rabbi at Temple Adas Shalom, a Reform congregation in Havre de Grace.
“It actually does really feel so good and so proper to be right here,” stated Simerly, who will lead her first Rosh Hashana service at sunset Sunday at Adas Shalom. Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish New 12 months.
The synagogue, celebrating its 67th anniversary subsequent month, attracts households from Harford County, japanese Baltimore County, Cecil County and northwest Delaware. It serves roughly 140 Jewish and interfaith households.
A part of what Simerly drew to Temple Adas Shalom is its openness to LGBTQ+ rights.
“I am dying to marry a homosexual couple,” she stated.
One other draw for her is with the ability to work with kids. On Thursdays, she leads kids in songs in each Hebrew and English to evangelise tolerance of all faiths whereas taking part in her guitar. The youngsters attend the synagogue’s Early Studying Heart, a preschool open to the overall group.
Simerly has an intensive background in music. Whereas in Israel, she performed in punk, rock and bluegrass bands. She additionally studied music schooling in faculty. She stated she enjoys how music permits individuals to be foolish with themselves.
“There’s something that permits our spirit to actually soar with the music,” she stated, “with the best way that individuals are so snug with each other with out being judgmental.”
When she performs guitar, Simerly communicates rather a lot along with her facial expressions, she stated, “as a result of I am holding the guitar and I can not actually direct or conduct or say, so I emote with my physique. I emote with my facial expressions … generally the youngsters imitate me and I see what they do and it appears to be like actually humorous.”
On a latest Thursday, Simerly additionally blew the shofar, a ram’s horn used throughout Jewish holidays, significantly Rosh Hashana. The youngsters had been served grape juice and challah bread, and Simerly went round to every youngster to supply a fist bump and a “Shabat Shalom,” a want for a peaceable Sabbath.
A gig main a youth choir is what first introduced her to the synagogue in Santa Cruz and Reform Judaism. A voice stored telling her to go additional, she stated, so Simerly grew to become a cantor, who sings whereas guiding congregations via prayers throughout non secular companies. Simerly studied to get her grasp’s in Jewish music, after which she and her husband, David, moved to San Jose, the place she served as a cantor at a synagogue for about 10 years.
Simerly realized she needed to proceed her schooling and grow to be a rabbi. As soon as she grew to become one, she moved to Wayne, New Jersey, to function rabbi at Temple Beth Tikvah for about six years earlier than coming to Temple Adas Shalom.
When Rabbi John Franken left Temple Adas Shalom earlier this yr to maneuver to Israel, Simerly was discovered by a rabbinical search committee made up of the synagogue’s congregants, together with Ashira Quabili.
“I actually really feel like we’re blessed to have discovered somebody who aligns so nicely with who we’re as a group as a result of [Simerly is] real and full of sunshine and love, and that’s precisely the religious chief that we needed,” Quabili stated.
The remark practically introduced Simerly to tears. She known as it “bashert,” the Yiddish phrase for future, for her and Temple Adas Shalom having discovered one another.
“No person’s pretentious right here,” Simerly stated. “There’s a stage of kindness right here and sincerity and welcoming that basically would not exist wherever else.”
Simerly, who lives in Whiteford, stated she has acquired that very same welcoming feeling from the Harford County group.
“It is like dwelling in a kibbutz [a communal style of living],” she stated. “Though right here, each farm and each household unit actually takes care of themselves, there’s a sense of group regardless.”
Whereas Simerly hasn’t been with the synagogue very lengthy, having began as rabbi Aug. 10, she already matches in nicely.
“It has been great,” stated Mark Wolkow, Temple Adas Shalom’s president. “It hasn’t been very lengthy… however positively refreshing.”
Simerly didn’t all the time see herself on this path, nonetheless.
“When you requested me 30 years in the past, what am I going to do once I develop up, and also you instructed me, ‘I feel you are gonna be a rabbi,’ I might simply, like, roll on the ground laughing my tuchus off,” she stated.
As a toddler, she hardly ever stepped foot in a synagogue, partially as a result of she didn’t need to be separated from her father since women and men are historically aside in orthodox synagogues.
“When one leaves a spot to go and reside some place else it means that there’s some unrest and agitation from the within that basically strikes us in the direction of our path,” Simerly stated.
Reform Judaism permits for extra of a person path for an individual to take and likewise permits for better liberty with gender equality and total inclusiveness in ways in which orthodox Judaism doesn’t, she stated.
Simerly stated that Reform Judaism in Israel at present could be very small. The principle two sects of Judaism are secular and orthodox.
“It is actually a dichotomy in Israel,” Quabili stated. “You will have secular Jews and you’ve got non secular Jews, and there is not a lot of a center floor there.
“There’s all of those alternative ways to be Jewish in America, and so it’s much more accommodating to search out your self a path to your personal Jewish id.”
Simerly has 4 targets in her new position as rabbi: caring for her congregants; reaching out to the better group; connecting with native interfaith representatives; and connecting with hospitals, retirement houses and different organizations to supply “religious and emotional care,” with the assistance of her de ella guitar and her de ella Bernedoodle, Oreo.
Heading into the Jewish New 12 months, Simerly hopes to see individuals coming collectively once more. She’s seen how individuals have been vastly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and he or she hopes to see individuals start to maneuver ahead from it.
“I am actually hoping that individuals will actually let go of their concern of coming collectively,” she stated. “My hope is that these which can be actually terrified will really feel a way of solace on their inside one way or the other.”
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If individuals nonetheless do not feel snug returning to synagogue, Simerly hopes they’ll “tell us how we can assist to help them so they do not really feel remoted anymore.”
She additionally hopes that individuals who have been pushed aside resulting from political variations can discover their means again to 1 one other.
“It’s individuals earlier than politics, all the time,” she stated.
Simerly stated her congregants know her humor she cracks herself up. As an example, occasion, she flapped her arms like a chicken when discussing having to fly from New Jersey to Los Angeles as soon as every week whereas in rabbinical college.
As a pacesetter, she tries “to not come from a spot of being a pacesetter.
“For me, it’s about educating everyone and giving completely different opinions,” Simerly stated. “My job is to just remember to make your personal educated choice. And that is how I lead.”