Sometimes, people are called to serve a higher power at a young age. Such was the case for Rabbi Estelle Mills of Temple Bat Yam.
“Growing up, my family was very active in the local Reform congregation in North Carolina where I grew up. I attended Jewish summer camps growing up, then got very involved in youth groups as a teen,” she recalled.
“Then, when I went off to college, I taught in the religious school in the Reform congregation where my college was. I was also working as a counsellor at a Jewish summer camp. I loved teaching, loved Judaism and working with people. It just seemed to combine all the different things that had become passions of mine. It really was a natural transition.”
While Mills began working at the Berlin, Md., temple in July, she was not formally installed until Nov. 30.
She studied to be a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was ordained 27 years ago.
“I was one of the few who went to rabbinical school straight out of college. When I graduated from college, I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
Most of her career was spent in a congregation in Cleveland, Ohio, up until four years ago, when she and her husband moved to Parsippany, N.J.
“We had moved east because all three of my kids had moved out east upon graduating high school, for college, and then they have careers and decided to stay east,” she said.
When her husband passed away unexpectedly, she decided she wanted a change of scene, and found Temple Bat Yam.
“I wanted to stay on the East Coast, and this was a very welcoming community and one that made me feel like it was a very good match for both of us.”
Mills said every congregation has its own unique personality, and Temple Bat Yam is no exception.
“Being near the beach… I’ve never had a congregation where the membership goes up in the summer and down in the winter,” she laughed. “It’s usually the opposite.
“So, it’s got a whole different feel that way, with the spring, summer and fall months being the months of high activity, with a lull in January and February.”
Mills said the winter the congregation is made up of about 130 families and swells in the summer months.
“In my 27 years as a rabbi, I’ve served much, much larger congregations, and also some that have been smaller,” she said. “This is a size I like. I like being in a place where I can know everyone by name, and not only know them by name but a little bit about them. It’s not a new face every week.”
Mills said one of the reasons she became a rabbi was her love of teaching.
“And this congregation loves learning. In that way, it’s been a great match. They really want classes on just about any subject. They like to come out for new learning experiences. During our services, when I take the time, instead of doing a sermon, doing a little bit of teaching, they really seem to enjoy that as well. I’ve found it so nice they’re so receptive to opportunities to learn.”
Mills said she’s excited to join the community and is looking forward to serving it for years to come.
“I just had my installation and have been so pleased with how warm, welcoming and receptive the congregation and community has been to me.”
Temple Bat Yam is located at 11036 Worcester Hwy., Berlin, Md. For more information, call (410) 641-4311 or visit templebatyam-OC.org.
By Maria Counts