July 7, 2021

New Rabbi at The Jewish Center Welcomes Jews of Diverse Identities

By Anne Levin

Rabbi Andrea Merow can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to serve Judaism. “It’s a calling,” she said on Monday, just a few days after officially beginning her tenure as new rabbi of The Jewish Center Princeton.

Most recently on the rabbinic staff of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, Pa., the Philadelphia native has an impressive background and approach to her faith that ended the nine-month search to replace Rabbi Adam Feldman, the much-loved spiritual leader who died suddenly in December 2019 while on vacation in Hawaii with his family.

The Jewish Center finalized Merow’s appointment last February and announced it formally last week. In a joint statement, the congregation’s president Alexandra Bar-Cohen and immediate past president Randy Brett said, “Rabbi Merow emanates ruach [breath, or spirit], spirituality, musicality, and joy, even over Zoom. She brings with her dedication to a vibrant, inclusive vision for our congregation, and will welcome interfaith individuals and families while creating space for innovative, inclusive rituals. We are excited to learn and grow with Rabbi Merow.”

Merow has moved to Princeton and is getting to know the community. In succeeding Feldman, who led The Jewish Center for more than 14 years, she knows she has the proverbial big shoes to fill.

“This community had a beloved and wonderful rabbi,” Merow said. “I knew him. I was friends with him and his wife. I believe that the challenge for me is to honor his memory. This is a community that loved its rabbi, and it’s very sad.”

From the time she was a small child attending services with her family, Merow loved to sing along — even if she didn’t know the right words to the prayers. A few years later, she saw a slide show about Camp Ramah in the Poconos, a Jewish summer camp, and asked her parents to send her. “It was there that I found that I wanted to serve God and the Jewish people,” she said. “I just knew that was what I wanted to do.”

After graduating from Columbia University, Merow was ordained in the Conservative movement in 1997 at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She currently serves on the executive committee of the Board of Rabbis of Philadelphia, and has been on the boards of several other Jewish organizations. She was president of the Mid-Atlantic Region Rabbinical Assembly, and served on the International Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly.

Her first priority at The Jewish Center is to “listen and understand the culture,” Merow said. “Then as a community, I want to respond in diverse ways to the period of history that we find ourselves in. We have gone through many watershed events in world history and Jewish history, and they are all coming to a head right now. I see that as an opportunity to create what the emerging Jewish communal organization will look like.”

Merow loves the idea of the synagogue as a community center. “It’s a place of gathering,” she said. “This is a place for Jews of diverse identities to gather and do good in the world. The Jewish Center has always seen itself as a diverse place, so it’s poised to fill that role for people, and find meaning in their Jewish identity. I believe they have always been ‘big tent’ and open to lots of ideas and practices.”

Over the nine-month search process for a new rabbi, The Jewish Center received more than 20 applications. Merow was among the three finalists invited for a virtual visit that allowed them to meet with members of the congregation as well as the search committee.

“I think synagogues should be a place where we can show kindness to each other, and practice fixing the world,” she said. “One of the most important phrases is in a song that Rabbi Yaakov Rosenberg [at Congregation Adath Jeshurun, where her family worshipped] used to sing in a song: ‘I am a servant of the holy one of blessing.’ I don’t think that applies to rabbis and cantors only, but to all human beings who want to see themselves that way. My goal is to help people find their path. I’m lucky to get to do it here in a synagogue that is vibrant, warm, loving, and thoughtful.”