Rachel Ain

Year Ordained: 2004
Position: Sutton Place Synagogue, New York City

What were you doing in the two or three years before you began your studies at JTS?

I was studying at both List College and Barnard College through the Double Degree Program. I knew I wanted to be a rabbi, so I applied directly to The Rabbinical School my senior year of college.

What is your current title and what role(s) do you serve?

I am the rabbi at Sutton Place Synagogue, a Conservative synagogue in midtown Manhattan. I knew I wanted to teach, work with people of all ages, and foster community. The congregational rabbinate and this synagogue in particular allow me to have a very diverse set of experiences (pastoral, educational, relational, religious, communal), while allowing me to be a part of one community.

Is there a text or Torah portion you studied in your time at JTS that has been a go-to text for you, or that guided you in your work?

Yes! There is a midrash that basically says, if God can get His hands dirty, as it were, by going into to a place in order to provide comfort to those in need of healing, then we, too, need to do our sacred work despite any personal discomfort we might feel. It has helped me understand the importance of teaching the mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim[visiting the sick] and that we should not be uncomfortable going to hospitals or other areas of healing.

How did your JTS education help prepare you for the work you now do?

First and foremost, JTS taught me how a rabbi does not live or work in isolation. The internships in a variety of areas (youth, chaplaincy, education, organization, and pulpit) helped illustrate for me how interrelated the Jewish community is. Furthermore, JTS taught me that everything is about context and critical thinking. I learned from my professors that you could examine the text critically in class and still have a spiritual experience on Shabbat, that there were religious messages in the fact that "the seams showed" in the text.

What is a spiritually demanding or difficult part of your work?

How to continue to grow Jewishly myself, not just serve as a teacher and role model for others. I work hard to live what I teach. I have found that the easiest time to do this is during the High Holidays; I spend so much time preparing for the services that I can't help but delve into the ideas themselves.

Can you name a prayer that has come to speak to you in recent years, and why?

I find Birchot HaShachar one of the most compelling prayers of tefillah. The fact that we say it every day, that it comes from the Talmud but has been augmented in more recent years to fit modern sensibilities speaks to the idea for me that the siddur is a mirror into the soul of the Jewish people. This prayer, in particular, is powerful because it allows us and forces us to be grateful. It's a wonderful way to start the day.

In what ways is your work holy service?

Becoming a congregational rabbi was my way of maintaining a connection to our tradition and our community, something I valued from my childhood. Being with people at every age and stage of their life, experiencing their joys and sorrows, and relating Judaism to those moments is holy service.

What is a pressing concern for the people you serve?

How we can simultaneously engage those who are automatically drawn to what the Jewish community and Jewish tradition already offers and at the same time engage those who either don't know what we offer or already believe that what we offer won't speak to them.

Who should consider entering the rabbinate today, and why?

Someone who loves and believes in the Jewish people, Jewish tradition, and the Jewish community. Someone who enjoys a challenge. Someone who understands that the world in which we live is constantly changing.

What gives you great joy or satisfaction in your work?

I absolutely love to teach and engage others with Jewish text and tradition. I am also humbled that people have allowed me (and Judaism) into their lives at their most profound moments. 

Rachel Ain