On Friday, May 10, come celebrate Rabbi Diana Fersko’s seven magnificent years at Stephen Wise – and wish her luck as she prepares for the next step in her career. Please RSVP in advance here so we know how much food to order!
We sat down with Rabbi Fersko so she could tell us what she’s loved most about serving the Stephen Wise community.
Q: What brought you to Stephen Wise Free Synagogue?
A: I had the privilege of serving as an intern here when I was a rabbinical student. I was immediately impressed by the community at Stephen Wise — the members were so sophisticated and kind. When the assistant rabbi position became available a few years later, I jumped at it.
Q: Would you tell us about one of your biggest accomplishments over the past seven years?
A: Part of what I’ve loved most about being at Stephen Wise is the freedom I’ve had to invent new things or reimagine existing programs. When I started, we had no formal conversion program — and maybe three students at a time. But I knew there was a real demand for a structured path to conversion, so I started Pathways to Judaism, one of the most rigorous conversion programs in the city. It’s been a true honor for me to share Judaism with people as they make important life decisions.
Q: Are there any other programs you helped to start or reimagine?
Lots of things! For example, I started #ShabbatAfterDark for 20s and 30s. We wanted to reach out to millennials and welcome them into synagogue life. At each #ShabbatAfterDark, we welcome hundreds of 20- and 30-somethings into the synagogue, for services, wine, Insomnia cookies, and fun.
I also developed our Refugee Relief Mission to Greece and Germany in May 2017, tracing the route refugees from Syria’s civil war took from the moment they came ashore on the island of Lesbos to their resettlement in temporary camps to their eventual absorption in Berlin. It was amazing to see how the entire community engaged with the mission from very young children to our most senior members. In fact, our former ECC director, Lori Schneider, just returned to Lesbos to volunteer at the Nest, a play space for refugee children. The feeling of doing some good in the world is unparalleled.
Q: So what have you loved most about being a rabbi here?
A: Everything! I’m not going to play favorites, but teaching the Adult B’nai Mitzvah students over the past few years has been such an honor. There is nothing like learning Torah as an adult. I love watching accomplished professionals be amazed at the insight that Torah has to offer our world. Studying Torah is a challenging and rich endeavor — truly nothing can compare. And we have the best students: serious, fun, intellectual, and curious.
But I’ve loved everything. Just being with congregants and hearing about their lives is tremendously meaningful to me. It’s hard for me to believe how much I’ve been able to do here — overseeing our Israel engagement and outreach programs, working with the Religious School, playing with children in the ECC, and collaborating with the Women’s Organization. It’s all been a blessing. I’ve gotten to really be with people — both during their joyous simchas and through difficult times. I am so grateful.
Q: What have you most enjoyed talking about from the bima?
A: Speaking from the bima is a great privilege and challenge. I love having a platform to speak frankly about urgent issues that impact the Jewish people. I am trying to craft my remarks for May 10 — it’s so hard to capture all of my intense feelings of profound gratitude!
Join us for Erev Shabbat services on Friday, May 10, followed by a special oneg for Rabbi Fersko featuring wine, delicious food, and great company. Please RSVP in advance so we know how much food to order!
Childcare will be available for children ages two to 10 during services (advance registration is required by Friday, May 3).