By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Rabbi Julie Roth has been appointed as the next spiritual leader of Montclair’s Shomrei Emunah congregation, following Rabbi David Greenstein, who is retiring after 13 years. Roth will be the first female rabbi in the congregation’s 117-year-old history.

“We are an egalitarian synagogue, which means that we treat men and women equally — or any gender, equally,” synagogue President Miriam Haimes said. “We’re excited to have Rabbi Julie Roth join us. It’s wonderful that she is the first woman for our synagogue, but it’s more about her as a person and fitting our synagogue's needs.”

Roth said her spiritual career began when she attended Brown University in the early 1990s. She said she wanted to be a biology major, and began to get interested in studying religion in her freshman year.

Roth said she became involved with Brown’s Hillel Jewish student group, and found an opportunity to exercise leadership. Roth also wanted to combine her different passions, like music and being Jewish, and joined a Jewish a capella singing group.

Roth said when she graduated college, she wanted to be a Hillel director, and started working for the international organization right out of college.

“Then I decided I wanted to be a rabbi, ultimately, in this moment when one of my students was suffering, and I set a prayer of healing for him,” Roth said. “And I realized that I wanted to bring spirituality and wisdom from the Jewish tradition into my leadership of the Jewish community. And that’s why I decided to be a rabbi.”

During rabbinical school, Roth said, she worked in various jobs, some in congregations. She said when she completed her studies, she was equally interested in being a congregational rabbi or a college campus rabbi.

In 2005, her rabbi career began when a position at Princeton University’s Hillel group opened up, and she became the executive director and Jewish chaplain for 17 years.

She is also the rabbi and co-founder of the Zamru cross-denominational Friday night minyan (a gathering of enough individuals for liturgical purposes, like a prayer service) based at Princeton, where most of each service is sung, sometimes to music accompanied by jazz and flamenco-style guitar. The community for the minyan has grown to more than 300 people.

She is the co-founder of Shabbat Katan, which an announcement of Roth’s appointment at Shomrei Emunah described as a “creative, interactive 5-and-under service that revitalized young family engagement at her local synagogue.”

In 2013, she received Hillel’s Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award, given to professionals who improve campus life for Jewish students. In 2014, Hillel at Princeton, under Roth’s leadership, was given the international organization’s Joseph Meyerhoff Award for Educational Vision.

Roth said that even though she likes working with college students, she made the switch to congregational work to help people in all stages of life.

“I love that Shomrei has a nursery school with 50 kids in it, and it has families with children of different ages, and it has empty nesters, and people who are retired, and older people who we can learn from,” Roth said. “And so, I was excited to be able to be with people for Shabbat holiday services and at times of joy and at times of loss — and to really build deep relationships with this special community at Shomrei where people are so caring, and so passionate, and so curious, and yearning really to be part of a close, vibrant community.”

Haimes said Roth will start her spiritual guidance at Shomrei Emunah in August, and a reception will be held to welcome the new rabbi. Haimes said an event will be held for Greenstein to celebrate his retirement and his work at Shomrei for the past 13 years. More information about these events will be shared in the upcoming months.

“We are thrilled that Rabbi Roth will become our congregational leader later this summer,” Haimes said. “She has a deep passion for Jewish life and education that we are confident will inspire not only Shomrei members but the greater Montclair community. As the executive director at Princeton Hillel, she guided the students on their college and Jewish journeys, and we look forward to having her share her love of Judaism and knowledge with us.”