Rabbi Deborah Zuker, who grew up in Ottawa, is delighted to be back in the city as the new ritual, education and outreach director at Agudath Israel Congregation. She will continue in the newly created position when Agudath Israel amalgamates with Congregation Beth Shalom to form a new Conservative congregation later this year.
“I haven’t really lived here since high school,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of new development in Ottawa, but it’s nice how familiar it is. Listening to the traffic report on the radio, I know where everything is.”
Growing up, her family were members of Temple Israel, Ottawa’s Reform congregation. She was active in the FROSTY youth group, attended Camp Gesher, and has fond memories of Akiva High School.
“I think I had a great start at Temple,” she said. “I went out into the big wide world and went in a different direction, but I have great respect for my colleagues in the Reform rabbinate.”
She graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, then spent a year in Israel before going to New York to earn a master’s degree in social work and Jewish studies through a joint program offered by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) and Columbia University. In 2006, she began the five-year rabbinical program at JTS, a Conservative institution, graduating with smicha as well as a master’s degree in Talmud and Codes in 2011.
From 2011 until this past fall, Rabbi Zuker served as the first spiritual leader of Temple Ner Tamid, a Conservative congregation in Peabody, Massachusetts.
Creating engaging family programming and fostering community collaboration are important to her.
“I’m having a couple of town halls for parents of young children six and under, whether they are affiliated or not,” said Rabbi Zuker, 35. She wants young families to “come and be in conversation with each other about what we want.”
The town hall meetings – to be held at Agudath Israel – will be on Wednesday, February 10, 8 pm, and Sunday, February 21, 3 pm. Childcare will be provided during the Sunday afternoon town hall.
“I hope to create an incubator to keep the discussions going that have already started,” she said.
In her new position, she also does some torah reading, and helps congregants prepare to take on ritual responsibilities.
“For outreach, I’m meeting people and finding out what families and youth are looking for in the new shul. I’m focusing on both outreach and in-reach,” she said.
“Our institutions are only as good as we make them,” she said. “When we bring ourselves to the conversation, my generation is beginning to blossom and to create what we need, and the things we want and need for our children.”
Rabbi Zuker is the mother of two young sons: Joey, who is almost three, and five-month-old Daniel, and looks forward to connecting with other families in the community, renewing old friendships and making new ones.
“I’d really like to meet more young moms and to have play dates,” she said. “And there are many old friendships that I want to renew.”
Rabbi Zuker may be contacted at Agudath Israel at 613-728-3501, ext. 238.