“Leora” is the Hebrew word for “light.” And, it seems that light is just what Rav Leora Abelson hopes to bring to her new job at Congregation Agudas Achim in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
While she finishes coursework toward rabbinical ordination and a master’s in Hebrew Studies at Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts, Abelson will serve as the synagogue’s new rabbi. The 30-year-old, who has elected to go by Rav Leora, hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she grew up with her parents and older sister, Sara. She said she plans to become affiliated with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association upon her ordination.
After getting a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 2007 from Wesleyan University in Connecticut – which included an academic exchange to Nairobi – she spent four years in Chicago working for an international exchange organization that brought high school students abroad to study in the United States for a year, and doing a variety of community organizing and social justice work. In Chicago, she met her partner, Ray-ray Farrales, at a Chicago Childcare Collective fundraiser. Humanitarianism is a big part of both of their lives, and social justice work is a big part of Rav Leora’s vision; she says she hopes to promote social justice within the Agudas Achim community.
“I hope I can bring access to the depth of the [religious] sources, and also a sharp and socially and politically and culturally engaged approach to [them],” she says, ending her thought with the hope that she can enrich people’s lives by doing so.
In 2011, Rav Leora and Ray-ray moved to Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood when Rav Leora decided to enroll at Hebrew College. She describes the curriculum as very traditional, and said that she hopes to apply the principles behind traditional texts to modern communities. Reconstructionist-affiliated Agudas Achim, she says, is a great place to do that.
“I think it’s a good match,” she said. “One thing I can already appreciate about this community is how open and inclusive it is.”
In addition to promoting Jewish social justice, she said one of her specific goals is to make Jewish texts and services more accessible to people who may not have formal training in Jewish studies. “When more people have access to shaping the tradition as it evolves,” she explains, “then the tradition gets enriched.”
One of these traditions is Shabbat. Rav Leora views Shabbat as a time for her to connect with those who are close by, and welcomes it as a [weekly] “interruption to the status quo.” She regularly enjoys celebrating Shabbat with her Jamaica Plain community, where she will live until her ordination. She is looking forward to splitting her time between Jamaica Plain and Attleboro as well as bringing some of her personal Jewish traditions to Agudas Achim.
“I like to celebrate in communities,” says Rav Leora, explaining that her typical Shabbat in Boston includes cooking for people, dancing, feeding and being fed. “I’m really excited about celebrating Shabbat with the community here.”
ARIEL BROTHMAN is a freelance writer who lives in Wrentham, Massachusetts.