The Wheel Goes Round and Stops at a Pulpit


Rachel Brown had a lot of time to think while she rode her bicycle around the United States for eight months in 1989.

Brown had started a joint program that combined architecture at the City College of New York with religious studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, but dropped out of JTS after three years.

She finished at CCNY, going on to work in the field of building design.

"I love looking at how people interact in space," said Brown, 39, offering an explanation of the links between spirituality and her first chosen profession. "I still love architecture. I think that the way we feel about ourselves is really influenced by the space that we're in."

As she pedaled and pedaled on her journey, the native New Yorker thought about her frustrations with the Jewish community. Most important, though, she thought about her relationship with God.

"I was done with Judaism," said Brown, now the rabbi at Congregation B'nai Jacob in Phoenixville. "I didn't like the environment. I was just done."

She went on to make the distinction, however, that she "never lost faith in God, but lost faith in organized religion."

Her bike ride led her up and down the East Coast, then to Alaska where she worked briefly at a fish cannery, and finally to San Francisco, where she lived with a family as an au pair, helping with the family's three children.

But after almost five years away from active Jewish life, she decided to teach at a Hebrew school to earn some extra money. The students questioned her on why they should study Judaism and why God should be a significant part of their lives.

Brown, who had been pondering these types of questions herself, came to a realization.

"People are attempting to connect," she explained. "I think Judaism gives anyone who wants it a way of connecting to themselves, connecting to other people in the community, connecting to a past and a future, and connecting to God."

After realizing that teaching should be her life's work, Brown went back into rabbinic studies, taking courses at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. She was ordained in May.

And after meeting with the leaders of B'nai Jacob, Brown knew that Phoenixville was the place for her.

"I felt that when I met the interview committee of B'nai Jacob, they were just wonderful," she stated. "When I came here for my visit, I felt that this was such a great community."

Although she's had many different careers over the years, Brown feels settled in rabbinics.

"I can't even imagine not doing what I'm doing," she said. "I honestly feel like this is what I was put on this planet to do, and while I could do any number of things and do them well – and do them happily – this is what I'm here to do."


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