Rachel Ain is rabbi at Sutton Place Synagogue in midtown Manhattan, New York.
1. What story, verse or passage from your faith tradition’s sacred texts has significantly influenced / shaped your life?
There are two passages, both from the book of Genesis, that have absolutely influenced my life.
The first is from Genesis 1:27 where we read “And God created Humanity in God’s Image: In the Image of God, God created Them.” The notion that each of us is inherently sacred has guided my understanding of how I should see myself and others. We should treat ourselves and others with the same respect and dignity that we would treat religious items that seemingly embody God’s presence. This applies to people of all faiths, genders and backgrounds, people with whom we have much in common, and people with whom our differences are vast.
At the same time, Genesis 12 also resonates deeply with me. It is at that moment that God calls out to Abram (later Abraham), to leave his house to go on a journey, to create a people and to connect deeply with a land. The role of Jewish peoplehood and the State of Israel are important values to me. Being proudly Jewish is something that I embody, and I know that it isn’t just a religious identity, but a cultural and communal identity as well. The important work I do as a rabbi is to meld these ideas that one can be unapologetically committed to one’s own faith and simultaneously engaged in the work of speaking up for humanity.
2. Who are three people (other than your family) who have shaped your life and worldview? And why?
The first people that shaped my life and worldview were my congregational rabbis when I was growing up. Their commitment to egalitarian worship, involving the youth and being community-minded showed me that I could have a voice at the table and that Judaism and leadership in and of Jewish communities didn’t need to be out of reach. They set up our synagogue in a way that involved meaningful connections between people of all ages and backgrounds, something that I continue to take to heart.
A second person is a group of people, and they are those who I have counseled during moments of grief. People who have loved and have lost loved ones and still are able to put one foot in front of another are deeply inspirational for me. There are too many to name but watching them emerge from their grief, not unscathed for sure, but in a place where they make their loved one’s memories a blessing is something that influenced how and why I do the work that I do.
The third are my teachers in elementary and high school who taught me a love of learning by using their content – whether in secular or Jewish subjects – to show that I could engage in ideas and continue to learn and grow in many different ways through connection, a sense of inquisitiveness and curiosity.
3. List three of your “desert island” books, movies or TV shows.
This ranges from the spiritual to the sublime.
On one hand, I would want a siddur (a Jewish prayer book) as it would be a practical way for me to engage in my Jewish prayer life and since I believe that the siddur is a spiritual mirror into the soul of the Jewish people that inspire me every day, I would use it to open up my own creative side if I was alone on this island.
The TV show that I would want would be “Law and Order”! I love the drama between the key characters, and I never tire of watching the stories unfold, even though I know the formula.
Lastly, despite how depressing it is sometimes, I think I would want access to the news as I wouldn’t want to feel disconnected from reality.
4. What is one of the most critical issues people are facing today?
I believe that one of the challenges of today is helping people make meaningful connections in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. There are many different inputs into our lives, and we are constantly being forced to react.
The question is how to simultaneously lean into all of the changes so as to not get left behind and yet be able to take a breath to prioritize our values and know what is important and how we can make a meaningful difference.
5. What are a few of your hobbies?
Over the last few years, I have really taken to reading memoirs. I find that the true stories of people’s lives often reflect their strength, their courage, their failures and their accomplishments are meaningful and inspirational.
I have also started enjoying exercise more over the past few years, though I wish I enjoyed it more! One of my favorite “hobbies” is cheering on my sons as they play on various sports teams. I love to see them play, win or lose, as they bring their all to the sport.
6. If you could freeze your life into an already-lived 10 seconds, what would they be?
Watching my family stand together at the Torah at my sons’ bar mitzvahs. Watching each of them take their place as Jewish adults in our community as leaders in their own right, with the love and support of our family are moments that I am truly proud of. We have given them the tools that my husband and I deeply value and, as they continue these traditions, they are reflecting our heritage and making it their own, just as I did when I was their age.
7. Our tagline at Good Faith Media is, “There’s more to tell.” What’s your “more to tell”?
I am blessed with an incredible family – a husband and two sons – who, through partnership, dedication and laughter bring my life meaning every day. I could not do what I do without them, and I am grateful that I am not alone on my personal and professional journey.
Reflection and resources at the intersection of faith and culture through an inclusive Christian lens.