Temple B’nai Abraham Rabbi Lauren Werber tries to engage her community in Elyria.
“It’s a very tight-knit community and very much a family,” Werber said. “The way the community comes together is a little different when you’re a small community, among a lot of people who aren’t Jewish. So the needs are a little bit different.”
Werber has long advocated for issues that she deems important, both locally and nationally.
“Over the years it’s been different things,” said Werber, noting she’s lobbied for gun violence awareness, common sense gun laws and local criminal justice reform.
She has also spoken on topics such as reproductive rights and appeared on local television to discuss safe and legal access to abortion, the #MeToo movement, as well as immigration reform.
“And I try to be involved with poverty and homelessness issues as much as I can, as well, locally,” Werber said.
Explaining her parents did volunteer work throughout her youth, Werber said, they were “always very open about how they felt about issues and (made) us very aware that we were among the fortunate ones and that meant that we had an obligation to other people.”
Although she said, “I wouldn’t put a date on it,” Werber recalls attending a march in Washington, D.C., in support of Russian refuseniks during her childhood.
“I really remember going to Washington and marching with friends at that point,” she said.
Werber also marched for reproductive choice during those years.
She credits her early volunteer work to her synagogue. Noting she “grew up in (Temple) Emanu El,” Werber said, “They were very social justice oriented.”
Werber knew she wanted to be a rabbi in high school. She said she realized how important Judaism was to her after transferring to a new school in the 11th grade “that had far fewer Jews.”
“Because that’s when I had to make a decision to stand out and to practice,” Werber said. “I really tried to think of other options as well as the rabbinate, but social justice was the biggest draw for me.”
Her work as a rabbi allows her to explore social justice work while also being intimately involved in people’s lives, teach and be part of a community.
“It was a whole lot of things in one job that really appealed to me,” Werber said. “It didn’t seem as great to do one of those things when you can do it all in one job.”
Relationships Werber has cultivated with local clergy in Lorain County have led to interfaith services and community action, particularly in the areas of mental health and addictive behaviors, as well as women’s issues.
After the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, Werber organized and led a Solidarity Shabbat service at her temple, which was attended by over 250 people. The evening of two consecutive terrorist shooting attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, she spoke on the steps of Cleveland City Hall as part of the vigil held by the Islamic Center of Cleveland.
And to address the immigration crisis, Werber spoke at an event aimed at stopping ICE raids and family separations.
Noting there are many ways to be socially conscious, Werber said, for her, her family, her community and Judaism encouraged activism.
“I think our teachings are very clear,” she said. “Judaism is fundamentally about how we act in the world, and how we help to perfect the world, and how we help to treat every person with dignity and honor. We think of religion as a spiritual endeavor, and it is that, but Judaism is also really practical and really concerned with how we create a just society.”