Path to Service

Rabbi Avram Reisner
Rabbi Avram Reisner

Rabbinical student Emily Barton was selected, through the Gladstein fellowship in entrepreneurial leadership, by Chevrei Tzedek Congregation to replace Rabbi Avram Reisner, who is retiring in August.

The fellowship, which is run by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, seeks to provide outstanding students with practical experience in community development.

“Chevrei Tzedek are gracious hosts and think deeply and honestly about areas of success and challenge,” Rabbi Lisa Gelber, associate dean of the rabbinical school of JTS, said in a written statement. “The knowledge and leadership — both spiritual and otherwise — that the Gladstein Fellowship
fosters will serve the community well.”

Barton, who grew up in a nonreligious and nonaffiliated family in Vermont, became more involved with Judaism as an adult. She also had a natural affinity of compassion toward colleagues going through challenging times and felt her spirituality deepening as well. Then, after working several years in Seattle as a pastry chef she had a realization.

“I woke up and I didn’t want to go work so I asked myself, ‘if I could do anything in the world, what would it be?’” said Barton. The answer came to her: “I wanted to teach and study religious text, use music and build community.” This led Barton to explore becoming a rabbi.

Her friend suggested she try hospital pastoral work as a test run before committing to rabbinical school, and Barton landed a part-time internship at a hospital despite having a nontraditional background. She was eventually offered a full-time position as a resident chaplain and left about a year later to enter rabbinical school.

Barton is the first of three rabbinical students who will be leading Chevrei Tzedek in the six years the congregation will participate in the Gladstein fellowship. During her time as the congregation’s leader, she will live in Riverdale, N.Y, and make monthly trips to Baltimore in addition to staying in regular contact with the congregation.

After interviewing several candidates and hiring Barton in March, Chevrei Tzedek is pleased with the work Barton has done thus far.

“Emily Barton has not even officially begun, and she’s already energizing our community,” said Debbie Steinig in a written statement, co-chair of the Chevrei Tzedek rabbinic search committee and the newly minted Gladstein liaison committee.

Chevrei Tzedek’s congregation, although small in size, is highly engaged according to Reisner.

“One of the wonderful things about them is that they are a very intellectually active congregation,” said Reisner. “In the course of a month, I saw all of my membership in shul, which usually isn’t the case.”

Reisner is nationally known for his work on bioethics, helping spearhead Magen Tzedek, the conservative movement’s ethical certification of kosher food and for co-authoring the responsum that paved the way for ordination of gay rabbis in the Conservative movement, as well as liturgy for same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Although Reisner does not officially retire until Aug. 15, Barton has already begun engaging the congregation and larger community. When Krieger Schechter Day School students visited JTS this year on a trip to New York, she showed them around the campus.

At the end of August, Barton will spend Shabbat to meet and visit with congregants, and in September she’ll be in town for the High Holidays as well.

“My personal values and the values of Chevrei Tzedek are a great match,” said Barton in a written statement. “The congregation is committed to meeting people in the places they are in their lives without judgment — a value I also hold dear.”

This is the first year that Chevrei Tzedek has participated in the fellowship and the excitement of a relationship between the congregation and JTS is mutual.

“We are thrilled to partner with Chevrei Tzedek,” said Ned Gladstein in a written statement, chairman of the Committee on Institutional Partnerships and also a member on the board of trustees and executive committee at JTS. “The congregation’s demonstration of shared personal support and level of Jewish engagement create an excellent environment in which our fellows can develop their professional and community building skills. We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship.”

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