Fredericksburg’s New Rabbi Brings A Diverse Background to a Unique Congregation
By Susan Larson
Jeremy Weisblatt headed to Penn State in 2004, ready to tackle pre-med. Before the end of the first semester, he’d changed course, and that decision eventually brought him to Fredericksburg.
Weisblatt, whose father Jeffrey J. Weisblatt had been a rabbi, was active in Jewish communities growing up, so it was natural that he’d jump right in volunteering with Penn State’s Hillel chapter, The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
“I looked at myself in November [of that first semester] and said, “What am I doing?” Weisblatt realized his passion was not pre-med, but serving the Jewish community. “From then on, I knew I was meant to be a rabbi.”
Weisblatt started July 1, 2014, and was officially installed in November as Rabbi of Fredericksburg’s Beth Sholom Temple. It’s a unique position.
Beth Sholom is the only synagogue within 50 miles, and it serves people north to Washington D.C. and south to Richmond. That means people come from all over the area and from all different religious traditions.
“Having grown up in the Reform Movement, in the Conservative Movement, as well as a little bit in Orthodoxy, I’m able to bring those gifts and experiences to this congregation, which, although we affiliate proudly with the Union for Reform Judaism, has members from all traditions,” Weisblatt said. “We have to be aware of that and reach out to that. Beth Sholom members are all over the spectrum and so is my background.”
A Diverse Background
After graduating in 2008 from the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University with a triple major and a minor (Interdisciplinary Honors in Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Jewish Studies, and a degree in International Politics with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies) Weisblatt decided to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York City, one of the academic and spiritual centers of Conservative Judaism. “Even though Reform Judaism was at my heart, I felt that I needed to go in a little more traditional direction at the time,” Weisblatt said.
While in Israel during his third year at JTS, he had another shift in direction. “I realized the kind of rabbi I wanted to be wasn’t exactly the same vision the seminary had, and that was okay,” he said. “I’m forever grateful for what I learned from JTS, especially how to dive into Jewish texts in a way that will be a life-long gift for me.”
He transferred to the Reform Seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Manhattan to complete the last three of his six years in seminary. He was ordained there in 2014. It’s the same place where his father had been ordained.
He and his then fiancé Marissa (now wife — they were married on June 8, 2014) began a cross-country “journey of rabbinic placement.” Beth Sholom in Fredericksburg was their first stop. “We fell in love with it,” Weisblatt said. “I knew right away.”
A few weeks later, still on the rabbinic placement journey, an offer came from Beth Sholom. “Marissa and I said yes together,” Weisblatt said. “I would not be here without her support through that whole process.”
Serving in Fredericksburg
“I grew up in smaller towns and my family has always belonged to smaller synagogues, so I always sensed I’d live in a smaller town,” Weisblatt said.
“This community [Beth Sholom] is active, thriving, growing and transforming. I wanted to be a part of it. It also fits my spiritual life, where I am religiously. I believe that we’re a beautiful match for each other, the congregation and I.”
Weisblatt said the congregation endeavors to reach out as best as possible to meet the varying needs of its community. “Hopefully we can reach the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox within our ability, while still maintaining our Reform identity of being an egalitarian synagogue where men and women are equal,” Weisblatt said.
“In the words of my teacher Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman, we’re creating a covenantal community. We’re bound by covenant with each other. It means we’re in a covenantal relationship with each other and the Divine. It means we’re thriving and growing with each other based on a very old rabbinic saying that, “The world is sustained by three things Torah, which is study, Avodah which is prayer, and Hasidim, which are acts of loving-kindness. Together these frame our vision for our covenantal community and where we’re going.”
The congregation consists of about 145 families. “We’re growing,” Weisblatt said. “I am very blessed to have a board and a congregation open to change and open to new ideas, so long as they fit within the covenantal mission.”
One of those changes is a new High Holy Day liturgy for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “It will be accessible to Jews from almost every background because the text is transliterated,” Weisblatt said. “Those who struggle with Hebrew will be able to have a voice they may not have had.” It’s part of the Rabbi’s desire to involve everyone of every age. “We are trying to meet each person’s needs by worship, social action and education.”
‘We seek to make the sacred drama come alive so that when you leave the walls of this building, you are transformed into a greater self that’s always been there.”
“Everyone is welcome. That’s part of our mission,” Weisblatt said. There are opportunities for those who are not Jewish, including Introduction to Judaism and Talmud classes, meditation and Torah Yoga. “If anyone is interested, just contact us. Then we see where his or her journey is taking them.”
Beth Sholom Temple is located at 805 Lyons Blvd. in Fredericksburg. The telephone number is 540-373-4834. You can also visit their website at http://www.bethsholomtemplefredericksburg.org/ and Facebook page at Beth Sholom Temple Fredericksburg Virginia.
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