JUF News | Return of the Rabbi – Jewish United Fund

Posted By on August 13, 2021

When Rabbi Jessica Wainer was growing up,she always wanted to be a doctor.

The majority ofher family worked in the medical field, and that was her dream too - until she studied abroad in Jerusalem and interned at a rabbinical school. "Through that program, I realized that what interested me in medicine was the people side of things - being able to help people through situations and walking with people in all their journeys in life," she said. "Irealized Icould findmuch more of thatin the rabbinate, so I decided to go to rabbinical school."

After attending Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati - the rabbinical school she interned with in Israel - and serving congregations in West Virginia, Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio, she found a position in the exurbs of Washington, DC. Now, shehas movedfromNorthern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston, VA,where shewas the Associate Rabbi and Director of Congregational Learning, back to her hometown.

Wainer, who grew up in Oak Park, has taken a positionas theAssociate Rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim of DuPageCounty,whichshewas thrilled to begin in early July.

She was inspired to return because of the opportunity to rekindleoldfriendshipsand"buildconnections with the larger Jewish community of Chicago."Wainer sees Chicago as a "veryheimishcommunity, down to earth, where everybody knows everybody, and people are willing to help and make sure everything gets done."She looks forward tobuilding a "relational-style rabbinate"alongwith RabbiAndreaCosnowsky, Etz Chaim's Senior Rabbi.

"The more I learned about the congregation, the more I thought it would be a really good fit for me and my rabbinate," said Wainer,and she is eager to hit the ground running. She described her priority as "building relationships with as many people as possible, getting to know and understand them, and working together in partnership"to create an enjoyablesynagogueexperience.

She hopes to build on Etz Chaim's social justice workand missions of inclusion and diversity. Additionally, she will bring her experienceproducingprograms for hercongregationin Virginiaduring the pandemic to buildinventiveprograms to appeal to new and old members.

As a rabbi, Wainer had to reframe her training to come up with innovative ideas: "A lot of times in the Jewish world we think about recreating the wheel, and in thepandemicwe were creating the wheel,since it had never been done before," she said.

Wainerexploredhow toforgemeaningful experiences without singing as a group, or even gathering in the same room, developingher sense of creativitytoriseto thechallenge. She now hopes to meet a new challenge in her newrole:What is the best way to serve the entire Jewish community, if different people have different comfort levels with in-person services and events?

"I want to provide equal access to Judaism through online and in-person access points," said Wainer, whois also eager to"getto know the Chicago community as it is now," as the pandemic wanes.

"Coming out of the pandemic, a lot of people are exploring what they want from their Judaism and finding congregations that fit them," Wainer said. She wants to get to know people in the community who haven't yet found their place and help them to do so.

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JUF News | Return of the Rabbi - Jewish United Fund

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