Rabbi Jeremy Master broke from Long Island, New York, to follow his Hebrew calling
Rabbi Jeremy Master grew up on Long Island, in the heart of the world’s largest Jewish population outside of Israel. Roughly one-third of the American Jewish population lives in the New York City area, according to a recent study from UJA-Federation of New York.
His Jewish faith was a centerpiece of his childhood, but it wasn’t until he arrived at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and took an introduction to Judaism course that his passion was truly sparked. There, he decided he wanted to become a rabbi, continuing his education at Hebrew Union College, a rabbinical school.
He spent a year studying in Jerusalem, where he met and fell in love with his wife, Alana Wasserman, also a rabbi. After the pair served five years as assistant rabbis for New Jersey synagogues, they made the move to Greenville with their young daughter, Peri.
Master didn’t set out to lead a synagogue in the buckle of the Bible belt, but there are only so many open positions every year, which is why he applied for the rabbi position at Temple of Israel. While he was used to being part of the largest Jewish community in the United States, here in South Carolina only 0.3 percent of the population is considered Jewish. “I understood there would be challenges in leaving New York,” says Master, 35, “but in talking with people, the reality is, as Greenville has grown people have come here from all over the country and the world.” So he accepted the job and headed south, leaving New York, the only place he’d ever really called home.
Temple of Israel started in 1913 as a group of six families meeting in homes. Now the congregation includes 190 families gathering in a large building on Spring Forest Road in Greenville, complete with an Early Childhood Education Center and a recently constructed Family Life Center.
A typical day for Master includes visiting congregants in the hospital, preparing his weekly sermon, and singing Jewish songs with pre-schoolers. Not only does he deliver the sermon during Friday night services, but he also leads worship, playing guitar and singing. His objectives for his weekly sermons are lofty. “The goal is to inspire people with the wisdom of Jewish tradition, that people should feel transformed by Jewish tradition,” he says, “that Jewish tradition speaks to their lives and values.”
Although he’s spent more than a decade studying Hebrew texts, it’s a quote from the Talmud that he says epitomizes the heart of Jewish ethics and his life’s mission. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And, if I am for myself alone, then what am I? And, if not now, when?” Quite simply, it means that we must focus first on the self as a compass for our life. “However, we must also recognize that we cannot be solely concerned with ourselves, as we are responsible for others,” explains Masters. “We cannot wait, we must get busy with changing ourselves and our world right now.”