Westborough community members who see Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz at the supermarket or elsewhere around town should say hello.
The new senior rabbi of says she welcomes the interactions, part of Westborough's "small-town feel."
"In my last place, I knew that if I went to Trader Joe's, I'd bump into all of my congregants," Gurevitz said during an interview in her office last week.
"Here, it doesn't matter where I go. I bump into my congregants. It's small enough that everybody's everywhere.
"Actually, I really like that. I like bumping into people and having those sort of on-the-fly conversations, where sometimes people are more comfortable asking you something or telling you something when they're not having to step into your office to do it."
Gurevitz joined B'nai Shalom on July 1 after six years as associate rabbi at Congregation B'nai Israel in Bridgeport, Conn.
B'nai Shalom is her first senior rabbinate since her ordination from Hebrew Union College in 2006.
“Westborough really jumped to the top of my list very early on. Like the congregation I just came from, it is very down to earth. It’s got a very good volunteer spirit here. People really love their community. And so, there was a lot of really good potential here," Gurevitz said.
“I heard the congregation talking about things that they wanted to strengthen. They wanted to strengthen their role in the community at large. They wanted to strengthen some of the bonds between people within this congregation.
"And those are two primary components of life in a spiritual community that really are important to me. Especially the one about being present and reaching out to the community at large. It’s a very important part of what I want to be doing: to not just be the rabbi of a closed-up little congregation within the walls of this building, but to really be very present in the wider community.”
B'nai Shalom is a Reform congregation consisting of about 400 families from 12 communities, Gurevitz noted.
"For many of those families, their kids might be one of the only Jewish kids in their class," she said.
"They realy feel the pressure of their kid growing up Jewish in a non-Jewish environment. Then their kids show up here on a Sunday morning, and there's this buzz of hundreds of other Jewish kids just like them."
Overall, B'nai Shalom is “a very young congregation," Gurevitz said.
"It’s unusual to find a 400-family congregation with 400 kids in religious school," she said.
"Usually, when you have 400 families, it’s more like 200, 250 (kids). The demographics of this area is that people move out to this area to raise families because the schools are great, and the cost of living. It’s a very good quality of life here."
Gurevitz said congregants have expressed interest in having "someone who can bring a different kind of approach to how we do a lot of different things."
Social action and social justice -- "finding ways for more people to be involved and to feel like they're making a difference" -- is the one example that has come up so far, she said.
"I certainly have brought a lot of ideas as to the culture we want to bring to what we do," Gurevitz said.
Gurevitz also wants to participate in interfaith clergy activities here. She did that in Bridgeport, she said.
Westborough has a "very active interfaith clergy group," she said.
"I have a lot to learn about what already exists here and what's been done. One of the things about my interfaith work in (Connecticut) is it was much less about having clergy people be speakers at events, and it was much more about creating forums for local people of different faith traditions to sit together and get to know each other. I did that with both adults and teenagers," she said.
Gurevitz earned her Ph.D. in cultural geoegraphy from University College in London, and taught at the university level, before becoming a rabbi.
"During that period, I was getting more involved in my own spiritual seeking and doing a lot of freelance teaching of Jewish music and spirituality workshops. And at a certain point, I looked at that and said, 'I'm getting a lot more out of my hobby than I am out of my day job," Gurevitz said.
"So, I finished my Ph.D. program. I had real clarity that this was definitely what I wanted to do with my life.
"For me, the academic life was activating that part of me that loved the intellectual, the study and the research and the teaching. But the other side of me, which is the piece that's interested in spirituality, does things very creatively with ritual and liturgy, that was feeling starved just being in an intellectual space. This job really gives me a sense of balance."