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Rabbi returns to Miami Valley roots

New Springfield rabbi

Marshall Weiss
The Dayton Jewish Observer


Among the joys of leading Temple Sholom in Springfield, Rabbi Janice Garfunkel says, is seeing her parents — Drs. Erika and Felix Garfunkel — several times a month.

“I have two little kids and my parents are in Dayton. My younger brother is in Cincinnati with his wife and two kids similar ages to mine, so it’s nice to be near your family,” she says.

Garfunkel took over at the 80-household Reform congregation — Springfield’s only synagogue — two months ago.

Photo: Marshall WeissShe comes to the temple following the death of its previous rabbi, Marianne Gevirtz, who passed away Dec. 12, 2003 of lymphoma.

“It’s going to be a year of mourning,” she says. “I won’t even say healing because that isn’t the right word. I think, on the one hand, people are still mourning, and on the other hand, people are really eager to move forward.”

Born in New Jersey, Garfunkel and her family moved to Beavercreek when she was in second grade.

“And then we moved to Dayton in second grade, between Philadelphia and Main Street,” she says.

She attended several schools in the Dayton area, ultimately finishing the first half of her senior year at Centerville High School when her parents moved to Washington Township.

Garfunkel went to Israel for the second half of her senior year as part of a National Federation of Temple Youth work-study program.

An active member of Temple Israel’s youth group, she says her experiences at Carleton College, a small liberal arts school in Northfield, Minn., led her to choose the rabbinate.

“I was very disappointed to find out there was not much happening there Jewishly,” she says. “And I ended up being president of Jewish Students of Carleton my freshman year.”

By her sophomore year, she had 30 students signed up to eat a kosher meal every Friday night at the Jewish student house.

She did have some misgivings about becoming a rabbi.

“I actually took a year off after college to come back to Dayton to think about it,” she says.

During that time, she volunteered at the Dayton Free Clinic and Counseling Center near United Theological Seminary. There, she met a female minister from UTS who allayed some of her concerns, especially the image of clergy as models of perfection. She had never met a woman in the clergy before.

“Amazingly, from that conversation, when I left there, I said, ‘I want to do it,’” she recalls. “It was really just seeing — here’s a woman and she’s doing it and she doesn’t have to be a pioneer.”

Garfunkel was ordained in 1988 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. She then served as assistant rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Worcester, Mass. After a few years in Israel, she held an interim position at Princeton Hillel and went to Washington D.C. where she was director of the Jewish Studies Center, an adult education institute.

From there, she served six years at Congregation B’nai Abraham in Hagerstown, Md.

Garfunkel took the past year off to stay home with her second child, Eliana Rose, now 18 months old. Eliana Rose and her older sister, Aliza Gabriella, age 5, were conceived in vitro.

“Being single, and getting up in years, I decided that if I was going to have children it was now or never, so I just went ahead and had them on my own,” she says. Garfunkel used a reproductive endocrinologist in Israel.

“My girls have brought me lots of joy and this congregation has been very embracing of my family,” she says.

Garfunkel adds that being a mom has helped her come up with good family programs.

“I’m very aware that kids need to go to bed on a school night,” she says. “And that’s why our services are so early.”

She says there are also advantages to developing programs for this small religious school of 24 children.

“You can do things with a small school that you can’t do with a big school, like have the whole school visit three sukkot and do an activity together. You can come up with an activity where siblings do something with their parents all together — it’s just a really fun day for the whole family.”

©2004 The Dayton Jewish Observer

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