CANTON Rabbi Leah Herz may be the only rabbi who received her AARP card and ordination in the same week.
Herz, who assumes the pulpit this month at Canton’s Temple Israel will succeed Rabbi John Spitzer, who has held the post since 1981.
“I think I have always wanted to be a rabbi,” she said. “There have always been pieces and elements in my life pointing in that direction.”
The “second career” rabbi was ordained three days after her 50th birthday in 2005.
She had been an assistant rabbi in Seattle and, before that, a successful stockbroker in Chicago.
Like many Jewish women, Herz didn’t have her bat mitzvah until 1992.
“When I was younger, girls didn’t have bat mitzvahs,” she explained. “When I had mine, the floodgates opened for me. I’ve always been observant, but I fell in love with the Hebrew language and the Torah.”
At her son’s urging, Herz quit her job of 13 years, sold her home, and enrolled in Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati at 45. It was five-year regimen that included a year of study in Israel.
“Six weeks after I got there, the Intifada (Palestinian uprising) started,” she said. “It was a challenging year, but it was an amazing year.”
FALLING IN LOVE
Herz’s first assignment after rabbinical school was at Temple DeHirsch Sinai in Seattle as one of three assistant rabbis serving 1,400 families.
“I always knew I wanted my own congregation,” she said. “I came to Canton in January and fell in love. There’s a Yiddish term, ‘bershert,’ which means ‘intended one.’ ”
Herz said second-career rabbis have a disadvantage in that they don’t have 40 to 50 years to serve like a traditional rabbi, “But what they lack in energy, they make up in life experience.”
The most liberal of the three main branches of the faith, Reform congregations such as Temple Israel began accepting women rabbis in 1972. Conservative Judaism started accepting women rabbis in the 1980s. Orthodox Judaism does not.
Herz noted that because half the current rabbinical students are women, concerns have been voiced about the “feminization of the rabbinate.”