Since arriving in Maryland from California, Daria and Josh Jacobs-Velde have been moving non-stop. They’ve been unpacking their belongings in their new home in Silver Spring. They found a school for their two children, ages 8 and 5, and they’ve been busy celebrating the Jewish High Holy Days at Oseh Shalom, where they are both rabbis.
“It’s like a minister having to celebrate Easter a week after Christmas,” Josh, 41, said, of arriving to celebrate Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot at Oseh Shalom in September, as well as several minor holidays, Daria added.
Ideally, a new rabbi arrives in the summer, Josh said, but that was not possible for the Jacobs-Velde family. They arrived the end of August, taking over the reins of Oseh Shalom from Rabbi Doug Heifetz, who retired to focus on jewelry making. What was possible, however, was the splitting of their duties – both at home and at Oseh Shalom.
“We’ve enjoyed doing this,” Josh said. “We have different strengths and skills but both of us are really passionate about our work and our life.”
The two are able to adjust their duties as rabbis with their duties as parents, they said, taking turns as needed, from being at the synagogue to running the children to school. They offer their congregation a chance to talk with whomever they feel most comfortable.
“It’s job sharing,” Daria, 44, said. “Judaism really speaks to our hearts and who we are in the world.”
While both have Jewish backgrounds, both had “completely alienated” themselves from the faith by their teenage years, they said. Each traveled a different path back to Judaism.
Daria was raised in Boston and has lived in Israel and Japan, always questioning, “Why be Jewish?” she said.
“It was uncomfortable to be Jewish and sometimes dangerous, “ said Daria, who ultimately found the answer to her question by finding her “roots.”
“The Jewish framework roots us in time and place in the world and to others,” Daria said. “We need to be connected and Judaism gives us tools for that. If we continue to build connections that root us and connect us, we create a vibrant web of relationships.”
Josh grew up in St. Louis and received a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of California-Santa Cruz. He began a “spiritual search” in his 20s he said, that had him dabbling in Zen Buddhism. It was then he discovered Jewish mystical traditions that “spoke a language not so different than Zen,” he said.
“I grew up in suburbian Judaism and had not been exposed to this,” Josh said. “I never knew about it. I discovered Judaism had a lot to say about social justice and planetary needs.”
The two met in Philadelphia in a synagogue while celebrating the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah. They were married in 2005. Both attended the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; Daria was ordained in 2009 and Josh in 2011. They started working together as a team in Ohio at the Congregation Obev Tzedek. Most recently, they were in California at Zmanim.
Having two rabbis at a synagogue is different, but having a married rabbi couple is more so, according to Andrew Maayan, senior administrator at Oseh Shalom.
“They’ve done it in a number of different places before as a team,” Maayan said.
“They have a range of talents and abilities they bring to this spiritual table that really distinguished them from other candidates,” said Brad Sachs, a member of the search committee at Oseh Shalom. “They do inhabit one position. It is one position occupied by two.”
Sitting under the sukkah — an outdoor dwelling created by members of Oseh Shalom for the celebration of Sukkot - the couple was enjoying the warmth of the morning sun and the shouts from the playground where a preschool uses some of the synagogue’s rooms during the week.
“They are very committed to family life and really live a Jewish life,” Sachs said. “They are also very connected with nature.”
“We had a much smaller congregation … many people were involved with the community,” Daria said of their time in California. “The challenges and opportunities here … many commute. We have streaming for many different things, but it is very different than being in person.”
They were impressed during their interviews, however, with the congregation of about 240 families.
“The people we met throughout the process, were really caring, thoughtful and down to earth,” Daria said.
“We were looking for someplace where we see ourselves being for awhile,” Josh said.
Shelly Sypes, a member of Oseh Shalom for 11 years, said the rabbis were “very friendly. I like their services.”