Rabbi Meeka Simerly never intended to move to the United States. The Israeli native, now 57, came to America on vacation when she was 30 years old and had completed her service in the Israel Defense Forces. But she decided to stay in the country to attend college, and later, rabbinical school.
Fast-forward to just before the High Holidays 2022, when she became the rabbi of Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace. She now lives in Whiteford with her husband, David.
Simerly’s parents grew up in Israel when it was a new country that had just achieved statehood and were not particularly religious. Simerly grew up in a secular home, celebrating national and Jewish holidays but not really attending a synagogue.
When she served in the IDF, she spent her service working on a kibbutz on the border of Jordan. Sometimes, she would patrol the borders; other times, she would milk cows and tend to the kibbutz’s field. It was here that she discovered her love of working with children, something she would carry throughout her life when she became a rabbi.
“[My husband and I] do not have biological children, but we have many, many children of different ages at the congregation. As rabbi, I consider them family,” she said.
Planning a congregation trip to Israel
When she got to America, Simerly first came to California, where she attended Cabrillo Community College in Santa Cruz. As a music education major, she was looking for ways to practice her craft and happened upon an opening for a youth choir director at Temple Beth El Jewish Community Center, where she worked while attending school.
After graduating with a degree in music education, Simerly moved on to enroll in cantorial school at the Academy for Jewish Religion California. However, she soon changed courses.
“Three years in, I was still feeling that I had not finished my studies,” she recounted. “So I embarked on the next step, which was going back to school to finish my rabbinical degree and my second math master’s.”
Before she even graduated, Simerly was hired by Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne, N.J., and traveled to the East coast to serve as its spiritual leader. While there, she discovered she was very drawn to that part of the country in a way she was not to her previous home in California. When she completed her contract there, she acquired a placement with the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), which is what brought her to Maryland and to Adas Shalom.
“I felt a very immediate strong connection with this small and growing congregation,” said Simerly of why she started working at Adas Shalom. “For a variety of reasons — their culture, the fact that they’re still growing, and the fact that there’s a preschool with so many families and young children, which I absolutely adore. And, above all else, they’re a group of lovely people. And I thought to myself that would be a great community that I would be completely honored and so joyous to be a part of.”
Simerly has only been rabbi there for a few months but already has big plans for the congregation. She is about to start teaching adult-education classes. Her pet project, though, is a tour of Israel she is planning with fellow congregant Terry Weiner. With her Israeli experience and background, she hopes to provide a new perspective on the country and imbue her congregants with a new appreciation for it.
“My family is in Israel,” she stated. “I don’t agree with everything Israel does politically, but I will always defend it. As an Israeli American, I love going there, talking about Israel and introducing the beautiful aspects of our homeland.”