Philly Faces: Faryn Borella

Faryn Borella. Courtesy of Faryn Borella

Faryn Borella, 29, of Philadelphia is looking to effect change on a systemic level.

The rabbinical student grew up in Londonderry, Vermont, and studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote. In August, she’ll start work as the eco-Judaism rabbinic intern at Oseh Shalom Synagogue, a Reconstructionist congregation in Laurel, Maryland.

In this new role, over the next 10 months Borella will assist with Shabbat services, lead the children’s Sukkot and Tu B’Shevat activities and organize a congregational camping trip. The goal is to offer more outdoor programming and opportunities for ecological Jewish education at the synagogue.

So why did you want to do this internship?
Rabbi Daria [Jacobs-Velde] and Rabbi Josh [Jacobs-Velde] had a vision that came out of their previous involvement in Wilderness Torah in the Bay Area in California. I was involved in different Jewish farms and Jewish outdoor education programs and came from a similar world and just really value both reclaiming more ancient Jewish practices that are rooted in natural cycles of time and in paying attention to the outdoors.

And I also just generally find the outdoors to be a place where I get my spiritual resource and want to share that resource with other people
as well.

What are you looking to accomplish in this internship?
I’ve done work in synagogues, and I’ve done work doing Jewish outdoor education, but that’s never been the same work. And when I was interviewing, what everyone on the committee and I felt really excited about was, what does it look like to bring the outdoors into the synagogue?

This is something where you’re introducing outdoor Jewish programming to an existing community that might not be asking for it or looking for it. And what does it look like to bring that with a humility and a reverence, to what the community has already built together?

What was it like growing up Jewish in rural Vermont?
There was a synagogue, fortunately, that was about 20 minutes away from the town I grew up in. It served a pretty wide geographical area, and it just really felt like home to me. We were just integrated into this really small Jewish community and it was so central to our lives, but I didn’t really know that there was more to Judaism than that, like I didn’t know about Jewish summer camps or Jewish Federation or these larger Jewish networks.
Judaism is this beautiful small community that I get to be a part of. And I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for being really empowered, but also held close in my Jewish upbringing.

So why do you want to become a rabbi?
I started tossing around the idea in my early 20s when I was getting really involved in activism from a Jewish perspective. And I was in the process of discerning and ultimately decided no, but simultaneously became a Jewish educator, and started leading a lot of Jewish rituals, both in movements, and also in synagogues, and also outside of institutions.

And I was falling into a lot of spiritual care type of roles.

And I was just noticing all the work that I’m already starting to do, community organizing, emotional support and spiritual care, ritual leadership — those are all roles I could hold as a rabbi. And to be a rabbi is to be trained to hold that and so much more.

How do you see yourself as a Jewish person, and how do you express that?
I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of reflections lately, that I feel like a bit of a paradox, because there’s a lot of parts of me that are very interested in stringency and obligation and that notion of being really bound. But then I also am very politically progressive and really also embrace cultic practices of ancient Israel that might not fit within the stringency of Judaism as we see it today. But I love praying the full liturgy but doing it lying down or dancing and really pulling what’s traditional with what’s really innovative and new.
And so I feel like I embody this, this paradox of being in love with what’s old, but also wanting to bring my whole self and my whole body to it and all of its complexity. l

Eric Schucht is a staff writer at the Washington Jewish Week.


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