Rabbi Ariel Greenberg Platt, 37, has been the director of J Life at the JCC of Greater Baltimore since the program’s inception one year ago.
Prior to that, she spent several years working at Beth Israel as the director of education and engagement and was responsible for creating several educational initiatives there. She studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary, majoring in Jewish thought, and was ordained as a Conservative rabbi in 2015.
Platt lives in Owings Mills with her husband and two children, with a third on the way.
Where did you grow up?
My husband and I both grew up in Baltimore. I grew up going to Beth El Congregation, and my husband grew up going to Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
When and why did you decide you wanted to become a rabbi?
I always had a love for my Jewish roots. I was really connected through the holidays. My family’s holiday celebrations were always really meaningful to me. … I liked having Shabbat dinner. But what made me really want to become a rabbi was something that happened in my senior year of college. I had a moment of inspiration as I was crossing the street one day walking to my dorm room that it was something that I wanted to do, which really surprised everyone. I loved Judaism, but I had never shown much of an interest in it beyond the holidays and Shabbat dinner, so it was a big day of growth.
What truly inspired me to become a rabbi is that I love making connections with people, and between people and their spiritual side. Pieces of religion can lift us up, because there’s so many pieces that can be a part of people’s life cycle events and the big moments in people’s lives.
What made you make the transition from working at a synagogue to working at the JCC?
I was the director of education and engagement at Beth Israel. I love engaging people and creating deeper, meaningful relationships, which I also did at Beth Israel, but I wanted a more hands-on opportunity. The JCC has a much larger scope, so it gave me that opportunity.
How would you describe J Life to someone unfamiliar with the program?
J Life is about building community by creating joyful Jewish experiences for everyone. Through experiential learning and joyful Jewish expression, J Life programs are a safe place to explore and connect with Jewish tradition and other families. There are a plethora of J Life programs from large-scale events like the Harvest Festival, Illumination and Run for Remembrance for everyone in the community, to more intimate programs, such as Babies, Books, and Bagels; Hands on Holidays and Tot Shabbat at the indoor and outdoor pools for families. There are also programs for different departments within the JCC, such as Shabbat Playdates with the Early Learning Center, and a special Shabbat dinner with the Middle School Leadership Council.
What do you find most rewarding about your work at the JCC?
I love seeing relationships grow between people and building a community.
Do you have any plans for your work in the future?
Relationship-building is a big job that never ends, because relationships can grow and grow and grow. And there’s so many ways we do that [at the JCC]. There’s so much great programming that we do that facilitates relationship-building, and I look forward to bringing each [program] to the next level.
This was the first year of J Life in action, and I am very excited to see how it will grow and expand now that we have our menu of programs and are continuing to grow.
Aside from J Life, which of the JCC’s offerings do you like the most?
I love the Early Learning Center, where my children go, and it’s really been an amazing part of their lives. They love going to some of the Gordon Center shows. I took my daughter to see “Beauty and the Beast,” and that was her first show ever, and just seeing her eyes light up with so much joy and magic was really special. I’m going to see “The Little Mermaid Jr.” … and we’re super excited about that. I love that, and also the fact that my kids have gotten to do sports and activities. My daughter likes learning how to dance, and I love to swim, so it’s great that the JCC offers access to a pool. It’s pretty amazing. The pools here are phenomenal.