Sutton Place Synagogue was founded more than 100 years ago, in 1902, as Congregation Orach Chayim, but its roots extend back even before the dawn of the 20th century. That’s when a small Jewish population in the eastern portion of Manhattan’s Midtown area – a neighborhood populated mainly by people of German and Irish ancestry – banded together as a community in order to perpetuate the Jewish life they had left behind in coming to America.
While no one has been able to substantiate the rumor that the first quarters of the new synagogue were located in a loft above a pool hall, suffice it to say that Sutton Place Synagogue has evolved from truly humble origins!
As Sutton Place Synagogue celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, it has evolved a bit further when it selected Rabbi Rachel Ain to serve as its new spiritual leader. Since joining in July, Rabbi Ain — the only Conservative Female rabbi currently leading a conservative congregation in Manhattan — has hit the ground running! The life of a 21st century Rabbi requires the ability to connect with congregants and minister to them through traditional Jewish rituals and customs like bar and bat mitzvah’s, weddings and funerals, but it also requires a modern spiritual touch in this age of social media and on the go lifestyles.
Rabbi Ain arrives at her new congregation well prepared. She and her family (who her avid New York Jets fans!) are excited to be back in New York City again where she attended Barnard College and then the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) receiving two Bachelor’s degrees followed by an MA in Jewish Education and Rabbinic Ordination at JTS. Rabbi Ain was commissioned as a Navy Chaplain during rabbinical school, serving one summer at the Merchant Marine Academy. Before joining Sutton Place Synagogue, she was also the first woman rabbi to lead a synagogue in Syracuse, New York.
A peek behind the scenes of a day in the busy work life of Rabbi Ain demonstrates the importance she has placed on making herself accessible to her congregants wherever they happen to be – whether face-to-face, via social media (Rabbi Ain has a Twitter feed and Facebook page), hosting lunch and learns at a Law Firm, sSchmoozing about current events at the new Whole Foods cage that opened in the neighborhood or leading Jewish Parenting classes for parents with children who are of nursery and school age.
Here is behind the scenes look at how Rabbi Ain spent a recent Friday in early September tending to the needs of a large and growing spiritual community:
8 AM: Attending morning minyan (refers to the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations) and connecting with congregants participating in the daily morning service. This is an important part of Rabbi Ain’s calling, because it affords people the opportunity to say kaddish (a prayer for those in mourning) for their loved ones that have passed away.
9 AM: Greeting nursery school children who attend Kaplan Nursery School which is housed within the synagogue and later watching the children play on the rooftop playground.
10 AM: Meeting with the leadership of the congregation to discuss the direction of the synagogue.Visiting congregants at Cornell-Weill Medical Center
11 AM: Meeting with the Synagogue staff professionals and leadership of the congregation to discuss and the direction of the synagogue.
plan upcoming programming.
Noon: A working lunch writing sermons and prepping lessons for upcoming adult education courses.
1 PM: Meeting with a synagogue member looking to get more engaged spiritually.
1:30 PM: Puts the finishing touches on a Jewish Woman International (JWI) Clergy Task Force report on Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community. JWI is a group of prominent clergy committed to promoting Jewish responses and resources that end violence against women.
2 PM: Updatinge Twitter Feed and Facebook page
2:30 PM: Meeting with Jewish professionals at New York based organizations such as UJA Federation or the Jewish Outreach Institute to discuss how Sutton Place Synagogue can partner with exciting initiatives throughout the community
3 PM: Speaking to a young professional in the community about how the congregation can be a spiritual address for those in their 20s and 30s
3:30 PM: Visiting and getting to know students and their families attending the Jackson Religious School
4 PM: Helping her own family (her husband who is also a rabbi and two children) get ready to host a shabbat dinner with members of the congregation
5 PM: Preparing for Shabbat Services
6 PM: Officiating at Shabbat Services
Rabbi Ain will officially be installed at Sutton Place Synagogue on November 4, 2012. You can follow Rabbi Ain on Twitter at @RabbiRachelAin or visit the Sutton Place Synagogue web site at http://spsnyc.org
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