New rabbi installed at Congregation Beth Jacob in Plymouth
PLYMOUTH – Rabbi Estelle Mills had big shoes to fill to take over as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Jacob last summer.
His predecessor, Rabbi Lawrence Silverman, had held the position for over four decades and was an institution in the community.
But Mills has decades of experience and a knack for teaching. Her background in working with children and revitalizing religious schools is a perfect match for a congregation looking to increase membership as it emerges from the pandemic.
The Beth Jacob congregation appealed to Rabbi Mills in July. She will be ceremoniously installed as the Rabbi of the Reformed congregation next week.
Born in New York, Mills grew up in North Carolina and received an Honors BA in Jewish History from the University of Michigan. She was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1992.
For most of his career, Rabbi Mills served as the rabbi of the Kol Chahash congregation in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She was also a rabbi of the Kol Am Congregation outside of St. Louis, Missouri.
She was acting rabbi in Ocean City, Maryland, when she accepted the post in Plymouth.
Rabbi Mills and her husband, the late Rabbi Steven Mills, are the parents of three children, all university graduates and living alone. The couple had already started following their children east when Steven Mils died four years ago.
Estelle Mills was acting rabbi in Ocean City, Md., When she accepted the post in Plymouth.
Her welcoming statement to the congregation speaks volumes, explaining that she believes that strong, high-quality Jewish educational opportunities and programs for all ages – from seniors to younger learners – are essential for strengthening and growing students. congregations today.
“For her, the answer to declining commitment to the life of the congregation is not to dilute the content; rather, the answer is to make Jewish experiences valuable, meaningful and accessible by embracing innovation, ”he says.
In an interview last week, Mills said she would actively seek to welcome new members into the congregation.
“I believe we shouldn’t wait for people to knock on our doors. We need to reach out in the community and have a presence in the community, so people who are on the verge of or are not sure if they want to be affiliated, or if they are new, so the congregation reaches out to them and is welcoming and don’t wait for them to make the first call, ”said Mill.
… and welcoming
She noted the higher rate of interfaith mixed marriages these days and believes the congregation should be welcoming to any family or couple who wish to be a part of the community.
Mills is believed to tap into the creative spirit that has earned her recognition as an innovative programmer and teacher throughout her career. In previous publications, she has been awarded the prestigious Legacy Heritage Innovator Fellowship, a Union Incubator Fellowship for the Reform of Judaism, and is a URJ Belin recipient.
She said she is still getting to know the Greater Plymouth community, but the congregation has been warm and welcoming and very open to trying new things. “We’re very excited about some of the programs I’ve taken in the past and some of the ways I’ve looked at it. Teaching at all ages is one of my strengths and I have a solid background in working with children and revitalizing religious schools, ”she said. “The congregation seeks to increase the number of young families and to make the religious school a little more dynamic… to bring energy to the school.
Mills takes her role as a teacher to heart and has been busy last week giving public presentations on the Hanukkah celebration. Last Tuesday, she spoke at the Carver Public Library. On Wednesday, she gave a presentation at the Plymouth Public Library. On Thursday, she spoke to the community of The Pinehills.
The talks focused on the traditional lessons of the Festival of Light on the miracle of oil. But she also explained that the holiday is about a group who refused to assimilate and abandon their customs, which may make even more sense today.
“In a culture where there is so much Christmas and Christmas lights, remember the message and be proud of our Jewish customs,” Mills said, explaining that one of the reasons the menorah is placed in the windows and outside is to show that pride. “We are proud of our culture and everyone should be proud of their own identity, be respectful and live together in peace,” she said.
Mills will have his ceremonial installation as rabbi of the Beth Jacob congregation this month. Rabbi Sally Priesand, America’s first female rabbi, will be the guest speaker.
Mills said she hopes this marks the start of a long career at Plymouth, but acknowledges that she likely won’t have served as long as her predecessor. She noted that she came to Plymouth a little further in her career than Rabbi Silverman, who started at Congregation Beth Jacob right out of school and served 44 years.
“If I could stay healthy for 44 years, I would love it,” Mills said.