Jessica Lowenthal Weber
A Rabbi with a Hornstein MA/MBA
“Eight years in graduate school is a lot,” laughs Rabbi Jessica Lowenthal Weber, who was ordained into the rabbinate in May. That’s two years at the Hornstein Program, and six years at the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College. “If I had to go to grad school for eight years, these would be the two places I’d want to be,” she confirms.
In early August, Jessica will begin work at Temple Beth Shalom in Melrose, Massachusetts where she will serve as both rabbi and education director. “It’s a congregation of 90 families,” she says. “My goal for this synagogue is to get people to want to be part of this community. I want to get to know everyone personally and be someone they can turn to.”
Jessica’s eyes are merry. “I think I'll be energized by the work and by meeting people,” she says. “Relationship building is definitely a part of the rabbinate but I think that’s true for a lot of communal work. It all comes down to relationships.
“Plus I'll have a lot of coffee dates to perk me up if I’m tired! I think the content of the work is exactly what I need. It feels much lighter to me than being a student,” she says, recalling graduate school.
Going into the rabbinate, Jessica’s personal goal for herself and her family is to find nice work-life balance. “At Hornstein we talked a lot about the struggle for a work-life balance,” she remembers. “While I love my community and certainly do not have a 40-hour work week, it is important that my family is central,” says Jessica. “Thankfully, I have found a community that supports placing family as my number one priority. I hope that through modeling my own balance I can inspire others to create boundaries and hold to them, and remember that Judaism is all about community and family.”
Jessica knew she wanted to be a rabbi after she graduated from Hornstein in 2012 and went to work for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Boston. “Working at ADL should have been my dream job,” she says. “I was working with partner organizations on important legislation and advocacy, creating meaningful programs for the Jewish community and putting my values into action.”
If you called the ADL in Boston to report an anti-Semitic incident back then, Jessica would have answered the call. “One of my jobs was to take incident reports,” she recalls. Many of her friends didn’t think there was much, if any, anti-Semitsm in the US, and what did exist, they thought, targeted Israel. She was often at odds with her friends on this topic, having grown up hearing the news of the Jewish world from her father, who was at the time director of the American Jewish Committee in Boston. He shared that kind of stuff. Working at ADL only confirmed what she’d heard from him.
Still, the prevalence surprised her. “It was shocking to learn that every week there was at least one swastika found or vandalism that had occurred in a cemetery. We were training police how to recognize the various dog whistles and language from white supremacists groups.”
Anti-Semitism in the U.S. may not have been as widely recognized by the public a short decade ago, but it was there. “We just didn’t hear about it out loud like we heard about Islamophobia and anti-immigration attitudes. But it was there,” says Jessica, “waiting to exert itself at a larger scale.” ADL reports that in 2018 they recorded the third-highest number of incidents since they began tracking them four decades ago.
As much as Jessica appreciated the work she was doing, something was missing, she says. “I wanted to be talking about Judaism explicitly, not just as general values, and I missed teaching. I missed ritual. When I looked at everything together, I realized my ultimate dream was to become a rabbi and incorporate everything I love about the nonprofit world with the synagogue world.”
One year out of Hornstein, Jessica applied and was accepted to the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College. In May she realized her dream to become a rabbi.
Today Jessica is the only staff person at her synagogue, which, she says, “has been mostly lay run for its 60-year history and has relatively few systems in place. Part of their decision to hire a full time rabbi was the realization that if they want to grow, they needed to become more organizationally competent. Part of my job is to bring the congregation into that mindset. Most synagogues today are doing way more than weekly services — they are running programs, advocating in their community and innovating what it means to “do Judaism.”
As nonprofits in the Jewish community, synagogues share much with other nonprofits. “We share similar issues and problems. We all struggle with budget issues and volunteers and staff burnout. What I learned at Hornstein is so clearly applicable to the synagogue,” she says.
Whenever Ellen Smith learns that a prospective student is wavering between a Hornstein dual degree or rabbinical school, she sends them to talk to Jessica.
“Hornstein has given me the tools I need to succeed,” she says, referring to her work at Temple Beth Shalom. “I am a huge believer in the MBA dual degree program. I truly believe that an MBA will be applicable in most organizations.
“If you are unsure where you want to be in the Jewish world, but know that you want to make an impact, Hornstein will help you,” she says. “The degree is applicable in so many different areas, and always well respected. Even if you might end up in rabbinical school, it is worth it!”
“Sure, eight years in grad school is a long time,” she says laughing. “They were good years. And now I’m looking forward to the next good eight years!”
In Her Own Words: An Interview with Jessica Lowenthgal Weber
“After seeing the ins and outs of the Jewish nonprofit world my whole life, I knew there were many ways our systems could be improved. I wanted to get my Master of Business Administration to help these organizations create best practices and become more efficient, leaving more time for the important work they are doing.”
Rabbi Jessica Lowenthal Weber, MA/MBA'12