Rabbi Shira Joseph retires after 27 years as rabbinate, 19 at Hingham
NAME: Sheryl (Shira) Joseph
HOMETOWN: Morristown, New Jersey
IN THE NEWS: Joseph is retiring after 19 years as a rabbi at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham. She has been a rabbi for 27 years.
NOW YOU KNOW: Rabbi Joseph was given the name “Shira” by a friend at camp as a teenager and has used the nickname ever since.
HIS HISTORY: Rabbi Sheryl “Shira” Joseph describes herself as a liberal religious Jew in the Reform movement. She said she felt the call to become a rabbi since she was 9 years old.
She remembers walking down the halls of the Hebrew school and hearing a teacher talk about the Holocaust. She had a sudden “flurry of emotion” and started crying. She ran into Rabbi Z. David Levy’s office.
“He picked me up. I said, ‘How could they do that? How could they kill all those people?’ He said, ‘You know, there are bad people, and you’re safe,'” Rabbi Joseph said. “And I stopped dead, I stopped crying. And I said, ‘I have to be a rabbi.'”
Back then, there were no female rabbis, as 9-year-old Joseph pointed out to Rabbi Levy.
“He said, ‘Well, one day there will be and you will be among them,'” Rabbi Joseph said.
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After 27 years in the rabbinate and 19 years of service to Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, Rabbi Joseph will retire on June 30.
She grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, attended a Jewish camp, and served as a bar and bat mitzvah tutor at her temple.
She graduated from high school in 1974 and Rutgers University in 1977, both a year earlier. She pursued her master’s degree at Lehigh University and became a reading specialist for middle and high school students. She married at 20 and has three children, Shayna, Samantha and Lauren.
“When my little one was 4 and my eldest was 8, I said to my husband, Saul, ‘I think it’s my time,'” she said.
At 34, she and her family moved to Jerusalem so she could fulfill her one-year residency requirement. She left early because of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
She commuted six hours a day from Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she lived with her family, to the Jewish Institute of Religion at Hebrew Union College in New York for four years to complete the graduate program. .
She served as a rabbi at Congregation Shir Ami in Bucks County, Pennsylvania for nine years before becoming Congregation Sha’aray Shalom’s first female rabbi.
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During her time in Sha’aray Shalom service, she traveled to Germany and Poland with congregants to tour former concentration camps and took Confirmation students to Washington, D.C. to learn how to advocate on Capitol Hill. . She said there had been “sader times”, when members of her congregation died, but also many happy weddings and baby christenings.
“You feel so lucky. While I’ve had my share of grief losing people I loved in synagogue, I’ve also had more blessings to fill a cup to overflowing,” Rabbi Joseph said. .
She works closely with other clergy in the Hingham community to educate them about Judaism. She was president of the Hingham Hull Religious Association in 2009 and continues to meet with fellow clergy monthly.
About four years ago, Rabbi Joseph and her husband established the Rabbi Shira H. Joseph Holocaust Fund. The fund supports a free trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, for Hingham teachers. The money can also be used for books, speakers, online Holocaust education courses and more, Rabbi Joseph said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped Rabbi Joseph realize that “life is really fragile,” she said. She chooses to retire after 19 years to be with her family.
“I said to the congregation…19 is actually a full cycle on the lunar calendar. It takes 19 years for the calendar to straighten out again,” Rabbi Joseph said. “So 19 was perfect.”
She will not leave Sha’aray Shalom yet. She will serve as the first rabbi emeritus and fill in during services as needed and possibly teach a class.
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New Rabbi Eric Berk will lead the congregation.
“I believe like I did when I was a little girl,” Rabbi Joseph said. “I believe I have been called and called to serve at Hingham, and I count my blessings each day to be able to do, truly, this sacred work.”
Congregation Sha’aray Shalom is a Reform Jewish community that provides Beit T’Fillah (worship), Beit Midrash (study) and Beit Knesset (assembly) for the celebration and preservation of Jewish heritage and the vision of the founders of the congregation.
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Contact Alyssa Fell at [email protected]