Rabbi Amanda Lurer has a lot on her plate right now. She's starting her fifth year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, is working toward her master's degree in Jewish education at Gratz College, and she's also just taken over the reins at the Bristol Jewish Center in Bucks County.
She knew from an early age that she would wind up in rabbinical school. Growing up in South Florida, she was a member of Congregation Ramat Shalom in Plantation, and then headed off to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in Judaic and Middle Eastern studies.
These days, the 26-year-old Lurer also works at several synagogues as an educator, including Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim in Wynnewood; Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen; and the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College. But after visiting another rabbinical student at the Bristol Jewish Center for a Shabbat service, she decided to apply for the position at the Conservative synagogue.
"I liked the place and they liked me," she said, "and they hired me for the coming year."
The 100-year-old-plus synagogue has formed a tightly knit congregation over the course of its history.
"Some have been members for 50-plus years," said Lurer. The same, steady group of people come to services each Friday night and one Saturday morning a month. Lurer presides over half of the services, with student rabbi David Katz taking over the remainder. "It's a small community; everyone has really taken me under their wing," said Lurer. "And it's the same faces every time. We really have a consistent community, and they're just fabulous. I'm really lucky to be here."
Many members of the congregation also attend services at other area synagogues, but keep coming to Bristol because of the well-established ties.
"There's a real sense of ownership with most members of the community," said Lurer. "This is their synagogue."
The congregation welcomes all Jews, as well as interfaith families and gay couples. "Anybody who wants to come is welcome," insisted Lurer.
The congregation is also taking advantage of the recent revitalization efforts in Bristol; it is looking for new members, and looking to bring younger people into the community. "There's so much that Bristol has to offer," stated Lurer. "It's kind of in a rejuvenation mode right now."
"A lot of people don't even know Bristol Jewish Center exists. It's a small, little synagogue that's been there forever, and it often gets overlooked."
For now, the synagogue is simply trying to get its name out into the public consciousness.
"We're trying to make our presence known," said Lurer, "because we're one of the best kept secrets in Bristol."