BRATTLEBORO -- When Kate Judd first decided to study Judaism about 15 years ago she had no idea her studies would eventually take her to the bimah, which is the raised platform in a synagogue from where the spiritual leader guides the congregation.
But that is exactly where she will stand following an installation service Sunday when the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community names her as the new spiritual leader.
The community event will be held Sunday at 4 p.m. at Congregation Shir HeHarim at 151 Greenleaf St. in Brattleboro.
Judd grew up in Marlboro, Vt., the daughter of a college professor who came from a Christian background but who was "adamantly atheist."
Judd married a Jewish man and in the mid-1990s the couple made plans to visit the man's son who was living in Israel at the time.
Judd says she was always spiritual, even as a little girl, and spent part of her time as a grownup searching for religious meaning.
As she studied Judaism she said the more she learned the closer she felt to wanting to convert, but it took a little while for her to make the very personal decision.
The trip to Israel was powerful, she said, and over the next few years she became involved with the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community.
Growing up in Marlboro Judd sang in the Community Chorus under the direction of Blanche Moyse and eventually Judd would train as a classical singer.
In 2002, a few years after the trip to Israel Rabbi Noah Kitty asked Judd to sing during the Kol Nidre service on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish Year.
Rabbi Kitty was the former leader of Brattleboro Area Jewish Community but she was leading a service that year at The Friends Meeting House in Putney after she had broken from the Brattleboro congregation.
That evening, as Judd sang the sacred words that have been sung for thousands of years, by millions of Jews all over the world, Judd said she felt the presence of God in a way that she never had before.
As a trained classical singer, when singing in church choirs, Judd said there was always a separation between her breath and music and the congregation she was singing too.
"Chanting Kol Nidre, I felt a connection with Something or Someone I thought I had long ago lost," Judd wrote in a sermon she delivered during this year's High Holy Day service. "There was no discontinuity between my voice, my breath, my bone and muscles, and a vast Presence. I was not performing, I was not thinking, I was being, and my being seemed to be in control of some greater Being. This was my first glimpse that G_d might not be, for me, something I would know with my intellect, but rather, like Job, something I experience in my flesh."
The following year Judd converted to Judaism at a ceremony which was held at South Pond in Marlboro.
She continued singing, and continued to study Torah, then, in 2007, she decided to enroll in the Cantor Education Program at Hebrew College in Boston.
A cantor leads the Jewish congregation in prayer and song.
Over the next few years Brattleboro Area Jewish Community had a number of Rabbis and spiritual leaders come, and eventually leave, and over that time Judd became a more steady presence as the cantor-in-training.
In 2012 when Rabbi Tom Heyn left, Judd was named interim spiritual leader.
The Brattleboro Area Jewish Community Board of Director members began looking for a new full time rabbi, deciding early in the process that they wanted an ordained rabbi who was affiliated with the Reform movement, which the Brattleboro congregation is affiliated with.
A number of rabbis came to visit, and at some point during that time support for Judd grew among some of the members.
The search grew contentious, with some long term temple members deciding to leave.
Eventually Judd was chosen and she signed a two-year contract to lead the Brattleboro congregation.
Board member Michael Knapp said that while the process was difficult, the enthusiasm that built for Judd was impossible to ignore.
"The groundswell from the community was staggering," Knapp said. "It was beautiful what people wrote and said."
The Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipper, which just ended, are a time when Jews reflect back over the previous year and look forward to the next.
It is a time when they ask God for forgiveness for past mistakes and start the new year, resolved to do better.
Knapp says it is the perfect time for Judd and the congregation to embrace and accept her installation and move into a new year.
"I really believe we have someone who is amazing," he said. "Her commitment and dedication and knowledge and her singing voice are all very special and that is why our community was so adamant about considering her."
Judd says she is humbled and honored by her new position, though she has been too busy to feel overwhelmed.
She just finished the High Holy Day services, she has 10 young students who are preparing for their b'nai mitzvah, and she is continuing her studies in Boston, which she hopes to complete in 2015.
"For most of my life I have been looking for some kind of a spiritual home, and I never imagined that I could be a spiritual leader," she said. "I hope I can stay here for a long time. This is my home. God takes you where God takes you."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext. 279 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard @HowardReformer.