By Cindy Mindell
CHESHIRE – Congregation Kol Ami’s Rabbi Joshua Ratner may be newly ordained, but he brings a long Judaic track record to the position. A San Diego native, Ratner attended Jewish day school through eighth grade, an experience he credits for “an incredibly positive foundation for my Jewish identity, instilling in me a love of Jewish study and tradition,” he says. He also attended Camp Ramah in Ojai, Calif. and the Ramah Seminar summer in Israel.
“Ramah was instrumental in showing me that Judaism could be fun and inspirational,” he says. “The ruach with which we experienced Shabbat at camp… was my first taste of praying with kavannah, with spirit and transformational intentionality. Moreover, my time with Ramah Seminar established a love of Israel that remains a central part of my Jewish identity.”
Ratner went on to earn a double undergraduate degree from Columbia University in comparative religion and international politics. He then studied at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, and returned to the U.S. to attend Columbia Law School.
“I chose to become an attorney because I was inspired by the notion of being an advocate for justice,” he says – a natural fit after studying political science, moral philosophy, and human rights at Columbia. But studying law and practicing at a large Manhattan firm are two different things, Ratner says: as a junior associate, most of his work involved assisting in discovery and other aspects of contemporary corporate litigation. “I found, over time, that while the work was intellectually stimulating and quite challenging, it was not fulfilling,” he says. “At the same time, I felt that I was constantly struggling to find time for Judaism. My employers were quite gracious about giving me time off on Shabbat and the Jewish holidays, but it was hard to focus on spiritual expression when I was worried about the brief I had due the next day. I also had no time for Jewish study, something I had grown to love during my time at Pardes and which I now missed dearly.”
“I came to understand that I did not want to have my Jewish life atomized from the rest of my life; I yearned instead to integrate Judaism with my work-life. Eventually, I realized that becoming a rabbi would be the perfect way to find more meaning in my work, to have Judaism permeate multiple dimensions of my life, and to continue to advocate for issues of social justice and tikkun olam.”
During his time at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Ratner was a Joseph Neubauer Fellow and earned a Master’s degree in Midrash and a certificate in pastoral care. He served as a rabbinic intern at the JCC of Harrison, N.Y., and was a public-policy fellow for the Rabbinical Assembly and a rabbinic fellow for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. He received his ordination in May.
At Kol Ami, Ratner was taken with the level of enthusiasm and commitment he witnessed among members of the congregation. “I was frankly blown away by the degree of participation and volunteerism I encountered,” he says. “Because of this, Kol Ami feels like a blend of a neighborhood havura and a traditional synagogue, a place where everyone feels comfortable being engaged but also an institution thinking strategically about long-term stability and growth.”
Ratner plans to continue Kol Ami’s strong history of engaging religious services and enriching religious-school instruction. Using a model of congregation-based community organizing he studied during rabbinical school, he hopes to empower congregants to expand their religious, intellectual, and cultural interests through tailored new programs. He will use his background in pastoral care to incorporate regular one-on-one pastoral visits with congregants.
“I also aspire to expand Kol Ami’s presence beyond the physical walls of the synagogue,” Ratner says, reaching as many members as possible through in-home programs, community activities, and digital content. “I believe that, to be effective as a rabbi, I must be able to meet my congregants where they are, both physically and spiritually,” he says. Outside of his professional pursuits, Ratner remains an avid surfer, and is an ardent fantasy-football player who has won several leagues.
Rabbi Ratner is married to Dr. Elena Ratner, a leading gynecologic oncologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital. They have three children, Dimitri, 9, Eli, 6, and Gabriella, 2. The family lives in Woodbridge.
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