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October 11, 2011
'Brief' Israeli Vacation Led Straight to Rabbinical School
Kehilat HaNahar, the Little Shul by the River in New Hope, had, until recently, known only one rabbi.
Sandy Roth founded the synagogue in 1994 while still a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, and watched the community grow from a few families to a thriving congregation. She died in March, three years after being diagnosed with lung cancer and just a few weeks after the congregation renamed the sanctuary in her honor.
Many congregants are still struggling with grief, acknowledged Rabbi Diana Miller, who in August became the synagogue's new religious leader.
Her challenge, she said, is to honor Roth's legacy while steering the synagogue, now with 130 families, on a new course.
"I'm focused on getting people strongly on board toward the future," said the 43-year-old recent RRC graduate who is single.
It's been a hectic first few months. She has already officiated at two Bar Mitzvahs, a wedding, a memorial service and Rosh Hashanah services.
She is working to bolster the Shabbat experience by holding more services, particularly on Saturday mornings. She's also adding adult Torah study to the Saturday mix.
She said she is hoping to strengthen programming for adults to make it equal with the current focus on children.
Miller graduated from RRC in June. Like many of her classmates, the rabbinate is not her first career.
Though she had a master's degree in social work and a background in community organizing, Miller spent the better part of a decade as a yoga teacher in New York City. In 2004, she left for what was supposed to be three months in Israel. She wound up staying a year and a half, enrolling in an ulpan to study Hebrew and learning at several egalitarian yeshivot, preparing herself for the rabbinate.
The Ohio native and Barnard College graduate noted that she had little formal Jewish education growing up; she knew no Hebrew and had never had a Bat Mitzvah.
"I think I've been wanting to go to rabbinical school for a really long time," she said. "It just took a while."