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Rabbi Julie Jacobs: Leading in Spirit and Song

While her mother might have wished for a Broadway-bound daughter, Julie Jacobs’ special voice led her to an entirely different stage.

Today, she is known as Rabbi Julie Jacobs and proudly serves as the first female Rabbi of Beth David Congregation. Known as Miami’s Pioneer Synagogue and founded in 1912, shortly after Henry Flagler extended his railroad from Palm Beach to Miami, Beth David has been located at its current home on Coral Way and 25th Road since 1949.

Rabbi Jacobs earned her degree in vocal performance at Indiana University. Although the bright lights of the theatre beckoned, she experienced the strong pull of faith and a compelling connection to people.

rabbi2It was while working in her mother’s yarn store in Brooklyn Heights—where she enjoyed meeting many of the older patrons and listening to their personal stories—that she wondered if perhaps she could use her vocal and musical gifts to interact with people rather than to just entertain them. With this realization, she embarked upon a career as a Cantor and joined Beth David Congregation in 2005.

During her 10-year tenure as Beth David’s Cantor, Julie Jacobs became increasingly involved as a spiritual leader. It was during her eighth year that a group of congregants approached her and encouraged her to pursue her rabbinical degree.

As the mother of four children, including one set of twins, time management is a huge consideration. She enrolled in an online program and attained her Master’s degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary based in New York City. In April 2015, she was officially ordained as Miami’s first Cantor-Rabbi.

As the leader of Beth David Congregation, she embraces a universal approach to Judaism. She encourages inclusiveness of other denominations and readily acknowledges that the synagogue serves many interfaith families.

“We try to make Beth David accessible for many people,” she said.

Beth David’s proximity to one of the fastest-growing multi-cultural urban areas in the United States presents opportunities for growth.

“While our services remain true to a traditional foundation, at Beth David we celebrate with a lot of music, conversation and dialogue. Our Friday service is representative of many Jewish cultures,” she said.

Rabbi Jacobs also says that Beth David is embracing a very community-centered dynamic and is doing more outreach.

“We have food drives. We are hosting parenting programs. We bring in guest speakers. We are seeing that people realize they need each other and realize that interpersonal relationships are essential to living a fulfilling life,” said Rabbi Jacobs.rabbi3

“We are trying to find out what people’s needs are, whether it is a Judaism-based discussion or a life-event discussion. One of our educational programs is that we go downtown to different businesses, law offices for example, to conduct ‘Torah in the City’ during lunch.”

As a Rabbi, Jacobs is posing many questions and encouraging conversation within her congregation.

“I ask people to think about how they want to live their lives in front of others.” She muses, “In today’s world, everyone is so disconnected. Everything is done from the phone. How do we get out of our individual unit? How do we connect with others? How do we discuss the importance of faith-based values, morals and ethics?”

Finding balance in this fast-paced society is also a challenge and Rabbi Jacobs realizes this challenge as well as anyone. Three of her four children have unique needs associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, so the education of each child becomes a very individualized pursuit. Motivated as a mother, she started the Center For Autism at the Gordon Day School, which is located on the Beth David campus. Here children in the program are mainstreamed into the Gordon School curriculum.

Rabbi Jacobs is passionate about inclusiveness and building awareness for Autism advocacy efforts.

“One of our programs has the children collaborate in special Mitzvah projects. These in turn help create a support network that they need now and that they will need in the future as adults,” Rabbi Jacobs said.

“I am very lucky. I have a great job. I realize every household has a different situation. I have an amazing amount of support from those around me including my husband and my congregants,” she said. “My kids respect what I do and realize that I am helping the community by serving as a role model. I think one of the most special things my daughter has ever said to me is, ‘Mom I want to be like you.’”