Rabbi Joseph Prass became Congregation Ner Tamid’s spiritual leader Aug. 1 after Rabbi Thomas Liebschutz retired from the West Cobb synagogue this summer.
A native of Minneapolis and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Rabbi Prass served Temple Emanu-El in Houston for eight years and has been the Jewish community engagement manager at the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, a job he is keeping.
He has served as a regional director for NFTY and said in an interview that Jewish youth groups had a large influence on him.
“My first exposure was through youth groups,” Rabbi Prass said. “Eventually that led to involvement with Reform camping. Eventually that led to my position as a regional director and as an assistant camp director.”
Rabbi Prass moved to Atlanta six years ago, and while the city itself is no longer new to him, his congregation is.
“What attracted me to Ner Tamid was the opportunity,” he said. “It is just 10 years old. The people there are tremendous, and they have grown so much in a very short period of time. They’re an incredibly tight, close-knit community.”
Rabbi Prass said he was drawn to Ner Tamid’s startup mentality. He cited the manner in which every member is invested in the expansion of the congregation.
He said members of the Reform congregation spoke to him “about finding a spiritual lifestyle — to help make Judaism relevant to their lives. I want to help them grow, both in numbers and as a congregation. We’re on the verge of that next phase of growth.”
Rabbi Prass said he has been inspired by what he has seen from the congregation, watching members volunteer for duties from teaching Sunday school and serving on committees to helping set up before and clean up after services. “Everyone is so personally invested in this community.”
A smaller community does present some challenges, Rabbi Prass said. “Distance is the most obvious issue, both physically and mentally. They are coming from a farther distance away, and that also means they don’t see each other as much outside of the congregation.”
His main responsibilities consist of leading services, working with families in the b’nai mitzvah process, working with the religious school and helping the congregation become a larger part of the Marietta community.
Rabbi Prass also believes he has a large role to play in helping the leadership and the community through some of the struggles that come with growth. “There’s tremendous potential,” he said. “They’re looking for me to step up, as someone who has been in other synagogues, to help them actualize everything they want to achieve.”