Between teaching, being a mother and meeting members outside of the synagogue for much-needed chats, Rabbi Katie Greenberg is really bridging some gaps in the community.
As the new engagement and programming director at the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale, communication is very important.
“I am enhancing the amazing work CSAIR is already doing,” Greenberg said, which includes a number of programs like adult education, volunteerism, and simply finding ways to connect members with each other. And she’s hasn’t wasted any time, working to meet as many CSAIR members as possible, whether it’s in her office, at a coffee shop, or even at their home.
Although Greenberg is a Bronx girl, Riverdale was always left unexplored for her growing up in Kingsbridge. As a kid, she attended Kinneret Day School and the Bronx High School of Science. Her upbringing allowed her to receive what she described as a stellar Jewish and secular education. And now she’s serving the Bronx Jewish community in what is nothing more than a 10-minute walk from where she grew up.
Greenberg is thankful to CSAIR for being such a welcoming space, not just to her but also to marginalized groups. The Conservative movement has ordained women for more than 30 years, and Greenberg is proud there are 350 female rabbis who are part of the Conservative movement’s rabbinical assembly.
“Half of my class that I was ordained with were women,” Greenberg said. “I am also proud that the Conservative movement has been accepting LGBTQ rabbinical and cantorial students into its schools for the past 12 years.”
Although she started in July at the West 250th Street synagogue, Greenberg doesn’t have any specific programs brewing just yet. But there are projects on the horizon, which she believes will feed the congregation spiritually.
“I am currently in the process of working with the other clergy on providing pastoral care to new parents in the first few months after a child is born or adopted,” Greenberg said. “We already bring them meals the first few weeks and help them welcome their child into Judaism, either through a bris … or a baby naming. It can be a very difficult time emotionally and spiritually, and we are figuring out how we can be even more present for these families as a synagogue.”
Greenberg has worked in nearly all aspects of Judaism throughout her time as a rabbi. Before returning to the Bronx with her husband and young child, she spent three years in Israel studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. She also worked at the Israel Religious Action Center, focusing on issues like anti-discrimination in Israeli society.
When she returned to New York, Greenberg worked as the program coordinator for the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue. After that, she moved to the T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights to work with Holocaust survivors.
However, Greenberg’s love for teaching goes way back. Since she was old enough to grab a job, the rabbi worked at sleep-away camps where she was given the chance to teach and mentor young people.
Greenberg earned her certificate in pastoral care and a master’s in education at JTS. She then graduated from Oberlin College with a Jewish history and environmental studies degree.
“Holy work as a rabbi is to help (people) deal with the challenges of life,” Greenberg said. “Learning how to have those deep conversations is rewarding.”
Greenberg takes her role as a rabbi a step further, inviting congregation members out for coffee or lunch in order to connect with them better. When it comes to bonding with members of the congregation, Greenberg finds the assembly to be very diverse.
Synagogues are some of the few places in society where people of different ages, political beliefs and lifestyles can come together in the same place, said CSAIR’s long-serving rabbi, Barry Dov Katz.
“I think that is a very valuable thing, and so anything we can do to increase people’s ability to feel comfortable here so they can have that experience is really powerful,” he said.
CSAIR is a vibrant place, especially on Saturday mornings and holidays, Katz said. Over the last 21 years, he’s noticed more and more active young families and children coming to CSAIR.
“There have been many changes that are still part of the synagogue,” Katz said. “A congregation where people want to be Jewish and are happy to be here, and the kind of people who love the synagogue and are supportive of the clergy. (Those are) all the things that I inherited, and I am happy to have inherited those things. I am happy some things haven’t changed.”
Greenberg, however, is a breeze of change for the synagogue. In addition to her official duties, she also is a lover of fiction, Broadway plays and “The Great British Baking Show.”
At the core of her CSAIR job, Greenberg is a built-in friend. Someone once told her that part of being a rabbi meant “loving the heck out of everyone you meet.”
“I definitely feel like that’s what I’m doing here,” Greenberg said, “making people feel respected and loved as soon they walk into a synagogue.”