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Rabbi Marci Bellows to be installed at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek

CHESTER — Rabbi Marci Bellows will be installed as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek (CBSRZ) in Chester on Friday, Nov. 11.

Before joining CBSRZ, Bellows served for seven years as spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh, New York. Prior to that, she was an assistant rabbi and director of adult programs at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York. She succeeds Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg, who served as spiritual leader of CBSRZ from 2007 to 2016.

“I was immediately drawn to the synagogue in Chester. It seemed to me an extraordinary place,” says Bellows, explaining her decision to accept her new position on the pulpit of the Reform congregation. “People seemed so kind, and down to earth, but also sophisticated and learned. I was impressed with the pride with which they all talk about the building, the love of art, of learning, of tikkun olam. I fell in love with Chester and its shoreline, such a gorgeous place to live.”

The feeling was mutual. Rita Christopher, the congregation’s Search Committee chair, says, “Rabbi Bellows’ warmth, her humor, her passion for Judaism and her enthusiasm for making Judaism relevant to the lives of congregants made a deep impression. We felt she had the combination of outstanding leadership skills and personal magnetism that would be enormous assets in working with our congregation, attracting new members, and leading us as we embarked on our second century.”

Raised in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois, the 38-year-old rabbi was struck with the desire to become a rabbi while a student at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

“There was an epiphany, and an incredible sense of awareness that this was what I was supposed to be doing,” she says.

One of the aspects of Bellows’s career that is of particular interest to CBSRZ is her experience and commitment in the area of interfaith families.

“I became interested in the question of how people adopt a Jewish identity. It all started with a conversation I had while I was a student rabbi, serving a community in Florida. [She flew there on weekends from New York.] I was talking with a conversion student there, and one day she said to me, ‘I know how to light Shabbat candles, I come to Torah study, I feel Jewish in many ways, but I have to tell you I don’t understand Seinfeld.’

“So I was thinking it’s one thing to learn rituals, but how do you get a Jewish sense of humor, a Jewish mindset, a taste for gefilte fish, or falafel. How do you do identity shifts?”

More than that, she has had to counsel couples on the delicate matter of what religious traditions to pass along “One of the most important things I learned about interfaith was that couples have to decide on just one religion to raise the children. The research has shown that when we raise a child as both Jewish and Christian the child doesn’t see it as a choice between religions but between mom and dad – who am I going to disappoint? This is something that has had a direct impact on my rabbinate.”

Rabbi Bellows and her husband Seth arrived in Chester last spring, following the birth of their first child, Spencer.

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