For the past four months, Mathew with wife Marie has been enjoying all that Greenville has to offer. “I love this town. It’s small enough of a city where it’s manageable and user friendly, but it has the amenities and culture of a larger city.”
Rabbi Marko was raised as a cultural Jew, meaning his family celebrated many Jewish holidays and customs at home, but only attended services for the most important religious holidays, the Jewish New year, Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Sounds familiar? Hint: Easter and Christmas.
Young Mathew learned how to read Hebrew while preparing for his Bar Mitzvah by using cassette tapes and was often naughty during Hebrew school, commonly ending in a trip to the principal’s office. He never planned on being a Rabbi. As a matter of fact, he majored in acting and minored in Hebrew. After visiting Israel several times throughout college and after, he stayed on course and pursued an acting career in Florida, New York City and eventually Los Angeles.
Once in LA, Mathew met his current wife Marie, who was born Christian but became Jewish by choice. He inherited a garage full of woodworking tools from her family and soon after turned his hobby into a paying job. His passion for carpentry shows and became profitable through his new business, Serious Wood. Perhaps another trip to the principal’s office is due?
When asked "Why did you decide to become a rabbi?" he quickly points to his wife and says “It’s Marie’s fault, you can blame her.” Mathew explains that Marie wanted a Jewish marriage, not just a Jewish wedding. This was the push that led them to join a congregation and where the Markos meet game-changing mentor and friend, Rabbi Dan Shevitz at Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, California.
After a couple of months, a vacancy opened for a Torah reader (not an easy task by any means) and Mathew was confident that with his background he could fill the void. “I learned to read Torah literally faster than anyone ever should.” He quickly became a lay leader and was being approached by people with questions he wasn’t comfortable answering. “I didn’t know anything. I looked like I knew what I was talking about because I knew Hebrew, but that was about it.”
Fast-forward 4 years. Mathew agreed to shadow a student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. By the end of the day, he was hooked. Marie said, “It’s about time. I’ve known for years.” Mathew was accepted and returned to school full-time for the next 5 years.
Rabbi Mathew graduated the seminary in May 2016, just as a Rabbi position opened here at Congregation Beth Israel (CBI), the conservative synagogue located in the North Main Neighborhood. While he had offers to work elsewhere, he felt a connection after working for 5 years at a summer camp in Northern Georgia. Plus, how can you NOT fall in love with Greenville?!?
What is the Torah?
It’s the first 5 books of Moses, which is the first part of the bible for both Christians and Jews.
Don’t touch! The Torah is hand-written on parchment by Soferim (expert scribes) using a quill. It is a masterpiece of labor and skill and can take up to a year to complete. In order to not damage the handwritten letters, the reader follows using a pointer called a “YAD” which means hand in Hebrew. If used regularly and treated properly, the scrolls can last for hundreds of years.
In case you haven’t heard, the synagogue just celebrated their Centennial Anniversary and was recognized with a South Carolina State Historical Marker.
Governor Nikki R. Haley proclaimed October 22, 2016 as Congregation Beth Israel 100th Anniversary Day. In the Governor’s Proclamation she says “…throughout the 100-year history of Congregation Beth Israel, members have played vital roles in all area of growth and development of the Greenville community.” She finishes by “…encouraging all South Carolinians to celebrate the many contributions and rich history of the synagogue and its congregation.”
Yep. Greenville’s Jewish Community, while small in comparison to larger sister cities such as Charleston, Charlotte and Atlanta has been a vital part of our area for over 100 years.
“The dedication of the historical marker, that is permanently located on the grounds of Congregation Beth Israel, is a permanent reminder of the courage, drive and desire that our founding fathers had 100 years ago.” Mindy Levy, Board President
What is the job of a rabbi?
Much like the spiritual obligation of a ministry, the role of a rabbi is to inspire, lead, and perform lifecycle rituals. “I need to watch and listen and help the congregation become the best they can be. I can’t make them be what they’re not. Only help them become the best version of themselves.”
Did you know?
At the end of WWII, it was discovered that Hitler had collected thousands of Torah scrolls in order to start the proposed “Museum of an Extinct Race.” The Prague Jewish community, which largely perished, rescued nearly 1600 Torah scrolls and brought them to Westminster Synagogue in London.
The Memorial Scrolls Trust was founded to repair and loan these scrolls as a message of hope and resilience throughout synagogues and memorials. You can find them around the world, including the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, the US Naval Academy in Maryland, as well as in over a thousand synagogues.
Mindy Levy, current president tells us “He’s a bright light who brings enthusiasm, spirituality, and optimism for the future of Congregation Beth Israel. We are absolutely thrilled to have him here to lead our congregation into the next century.”
Rabbi Mathew is a truly unique individual.
Keep your eyes open for him... You might see him sometime catching a show, grabbing a veggie burger at the Drop Inn Store or driving his motorcycle up Bennett Street.
If you do, don't forget to say SHALOM!