For the first time in two years, Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community officially has its own rabbi.
At the beginning of the summer, Rabbi Ari Vernon agreed to serve as the congregation’s Rabbi-in-Residence, and officially started the position on the first of July.
“It’s been wonderful,” Vernon said. “We’ve been having lots of conversations on what we want to do in terms of learning over the course of the next year. With me being hired by them and the school, we’re expanding the amount of work that I’m doing with the congregation.”
Vernon was ordained in 2004 by the Jewish Theological Seminary and since then has been working at CAJE in St. Louis. He also participated in two years of chaplain training.
“I want to help Jews find their place in Judaism,” Vernon said. “I think of myself as kind of a guide when it comes to Judaism. I’ve had the privilege of a wonderful Jewish education and I like to use that to help other Jews find what’s meaningful to them, whether it’s the ritual of services or some kind of learning.”
This is not the first time Vernon led a service for Shir Hadash though. Starting in January, he led numerous Shabbat services and got to know the members of the congregation. Before that, Shir Hadash had student rabbis leading the services.
“He led the morning services and everybody liked him a lot,” said David Roberts, co-president of Shir Hadash. “He knows how to engage people, to involve them and make them feel a part of the community. He’s also a very inquisitve young man and we think he has some substantial teaching skills.”
The congregation had originally approached Vernon, in the hopes of enhancing their services by having a rabbi help lead them. He started by leading one service a month, and later the congregation recommended that he apply for the rabbi position.
Vernon said the post with Shir Hadash was a good fit, not only in terms of leading services, “but also in terms of bringing music to make services exciting and spiritually moving,” he said. “Also, I’m a liberal rabbi and they’re a liberal Jewish community. Particularly it being a Reconstructionist congregation, I think it is really nice because I like seeing the collaborate ways rabbis are with the congregations. Rabbis are kind of the advisor in the process of decision-making.”
In addition to leading services and pastoral duties, Vernon will also teach a few courses on Monday nights. “Soul Searching” will take place in August and September, which will lead up to the High Holidays. He will also teach a course on Reconstructive Judaism called “Evolutionary Judaism” in October.
“Reconstructionist Judaism is a community-based process,” Vernon said. “It gets really involved with the entire community in the life of the congregation. Decisions are made by everyone together, with a look at tradition and deciding how we as a community are going to best live out our values in Judaism that’s both authentic and modern.”
Vernon said he is also looking forward to the Shabbat dinners held at Shir Hadash, and wants to get to know members of the congregation he has not met yet. He does not know exactly how long he will be with Shir Hadash.
“But I could see it being a relationship that would last a long time,” Vernon said.