Jewish congregation welcomes Augusta’s first female rabbi

For many who follow career paths into the clergy, there’s a sense of a calling.

But it wasn’t an “aha” type of moment that led Rabbi Remy Liverman, Augusta’s first female rabbi, into her chosen field.

“My experience was not a sudden calling, but the culmination of a lot of aspects,” said Liverman, who took over at the Congregation Children of Israel on Walton Way earlier this month and led her first service July 14.  “I had worked as a medic in Israel for a while right out of college. I had hoped to apply to law school. I worked as a Guardian Ad Litem. All of these jobs that I had they came back to this one constant in my life, specifically Kabbalat Shabbat – Friday service – with the tradition and the music.”

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Other jobs included teaching kindergarten.

Growing up in Toronto, Canada’s Temple Sinai, Liverman was inspired by her mother, a social worker, who instilled in Liverman a sense of caring and compassion for the well-being of other people, firmly rooted in the tenets of her Jewish faith.

Liverman said both of her parents are Jewish and there was an intentional focus to bring her and her two siblings up in the traditions of the generations before them.

Among the principles Liverman holds fast to are social justice and interfaith dialogue, and these are two of the things that the members and board at Congregation Children of Israel also espouse. Their commitment to those issues “resonated so strongly with me,” she said.

When she came to interview for the position, she felt a connection to the city even though she’d never lived in Augusta. She has lived in the state, however, spending some time in Atlanta.

Rabbi Remy Liverman with her dog, Murphy. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

“The people who brought me here – I could feel their heart,” she said. “I interviewed in Florida, Georgia and in the Northeast. No place felt like Augusta.”

Liverman is settling into her new home and plans to create her own path yet still follow some of the way forged by her predecessor Rabbi Shai Beloosesky, who recently moved to New York. He also championed social justice and was on the forefront making interfaith dialogue connections. 

He also promoted the female presence within his congregation, she said.

The tradition of a bar mitzvah, a coming-of-age ceremony for 13-year-old males has been a longstanding one in Jewish circles; however, the observance of a bat mitzvah for Jewish girls is only a recent phenomenon.  

Prior to the pandemic, Beloosesky held a bat mitzvah for some of the adult women within the congregation because they never had that opportunity when they were younger.

Jewish women have made strides in the past 50 years. The first female rabbi in the Reformed denomination – of which the Congregation Children of Israel is part – was Sally Priesand who was ordained in 1973.

Even after Priesand was ordained, women held limited roles, according to Liverman. They were expected to perform support roles. Having a place on the bimah (what Christians might refer to as the altar or pulpit) was not something they could aspire to for many years. And being a solo rabbi – as Liverman is — would have been unheard of in the early days.

Liverman said it took a lot of “brave people” to bridge that gap.

While she realizes she’s an anomaly in a traditionally male-dominated field, she doesn’t focus on it.

“Most often the response I get is curiosity,” she said. “It’s not the most typical job.”

For some who have never met a Jewish person, they may not even know what a rabbi is to begin with, she added.

Liverman said she’s looking forward to growing with the congregation and hopes that she can be an inspiration to young and old alike.

“I hope I send a message to little girls or to women in a generation or two older than me who see something and feel that there’s still time and a chance,” she said.

Liverman said she plans to continue with some of Beloosesky’s initiatives especially with the interfaith group. She’s already part of the Progressive Religious Coalition.

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She does have a few ideas of things she’d like to implement. As the Jewish High Holidays approach with Rosh Hashanah beginning on Sept. 15, she plans to bring back a blessing of the pets.

Liverman’s furry companion is a Shih-Tzu named Murphy. He’s also helped her carry out her work on another issue near to Liverman’s heart – mental illness.

Liverman wrote her capstone on mental illness and has served in a variety of capacities to help those dealing with depression and other issues. Murphy is an emotional support animal and loves helping people too, she said.

“I used to take him with me to support groups,” she said. “If someone was crying, he’d jump into their lap.”

He just seemed to know when something was troubling someone, and he helped them.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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