PEABODY — Being a rabbi has helped Emily Mathis weave together her love of community and her participation in it.
Mathis, a recent graduate of Hebrew College, started her work as the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom this summer.
"What I love about working as a rabbi is working with the Jewish community both for my own growth and the community," she said.
Mathis, 42, grew up in St. Louis, Mo., but spent the last 24 years living in Providence, R.I. Before rabbinical school, her professional life centered on nonprofit work, like teaching children to grow gardens, in the inner city. She recently moved to Massachusetts.
She initially envisioned herself in an urban setting, but through her course work and internships has come to enjoy congregations with a wide range of ages and personalities like Temple Beth Shalom.
"Being with people during life-cycle transitions — marriage, death, the arrival of new children — I loved that," she said.
As she comes to Peabody, Mathis said she was drawn to the synagogue's "very strong sense of community and sense of who they are."
Her goal at the reformed Jewish synagogue is to take the spark of initiative from her congregation and fuel it with her love of faith and rabbinical education.
"I want those texts to be living and alive in the congregation in a way that's meaningful," she said. "I'm not just here to speak on Fridays."
The rabbi said she wants Temple Beth Shalom members to better understand what they do as Jews and how they experience the values of their faith.
Synagogue president Amy Sliva said when they decided on Mathis as their leader, she just stood out.
"She was a star," Sliva said.
The new rabbi is down-to-earth, the president said, and she had already learned about the temple's congregation of 225 and its many facets.