Phoenix Board of Rabbis launches Community Relations Council

Rabbi Jeremy Schneider has just begun his fifth year as rabbi of Temple Kol Ami, a Reform congregation in Scottsdale. He and his wife, Rachel, a teacher at Pardes Jewish Day School, have three children, Ezra, Micah and Naomi.

Rabbi Schneider has a long history in social justice advocacy. In 2008, he was one of six Americans selected for a US Dept. of State-sponsored interfaith study tour in Egypt and Syria. That same year his grassroots work in durable peace-building earned him the “Citizen Diplomat – Peace Award Quilt” from the National Peace Foundation.  He was the keynote speaker at the Islamic Society of North America Convention in 2010. In 2012 the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, DC, chose him as a Brickner Fellow to be a more effective social justice advocate. In spring 2014, he completed a year-long Interfaith Fellowship Seminar designed to inform Arizona faith leaders to be advocates for sound public policy and social justice.

Now as president of the Greater Phoenix Board of Rabbis (his two-year term began in May), he is poised to share that expertise with his fellow rabbis in the Valley. We asked him about both the rabbinic board in general and about the board’s recent grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix to create the first Jewish Community Relations Council in the area in almost a decade.

The Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix 2015 discretionary grants included a $54,000 planning grant for the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix to re-establish a Jewish Community Relations Council. This one-year planning grant will allow the board of rabbis to hire an employee to oversee development of a JCRC.

The Board of Rabbis

Q: How many rabbis from which movements are on the Greater Phoenix Board of Rabbis?

About 35. All are welcome although there is a separate Orthodox Rabbinical Council.

Q: What do you consider the board’s primary role?

The Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix is an organization serving the Phoenix metropolitan area. Its membership consists of rabbis who have joined together for professional and social interaction and support, religious and educational enrichment. The members are committed to the ideal of K’lal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish community, in fulfilling the purposes and goals of Judaism in a way that is beneficial to all concerned.

Q: Are there any existing board programs of which you are especially proud or that you feel have a significant impact on the community?

Yes! Obviously this project with the JCRC.

Last year, we brought the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning to Phoenix/Valley. We were successful in bringing two adult classes to town and plan to launch two more cohorts this fall. We have a paid staff member and the Board of Rabbis oversees the program.

And two years ago, we started communal Tikkun Le’il Shavuot Night of Learning events that have brought hundreds of adult learners together.

Q: Does the board currently have any paid staff?

We employ a staff person to oversee the Melton program. We have been given a grant for the JCRC staff person as well.


Q: Given your extensive background in interfaith relations and social justice, were you the driving force behind the Board of Rabbis grant application to re-establish a Jewish Community Relations Council?

No, Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman has been instrumental in the grant application.

Q: I understand the former JCRC was a program of the Jewish Federation, which is fairly common. Are you aware of any other JCRCs that are affiliated with a board of rabbis?

There are none to our knowledge. And we are also the first to ever run a Melton School as well.

Q: Will being a program of the Board of Rabbis provide any advantages or differences in the council?

Absolutely, and I would encourage you reaching out to Rabbi Sharfman on this one (see below), but the obvious advantage  is we are not a fundraising organization so we won’t be constrained by those considerations when we/JCRC determined what issues we would like to address and how we would like to address them.

Past President Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman:  It is important to remember that this is a one-year planning/capacity building grant.

The re-establishment of this very important council  will be more successful because of the backing of the BRGP. The community often looks to its rabbis for support, advice and direction and thus we have stepped forward to serve as convener or facilitator for this critically important community organization. Board of Rabbis sponsorship will provide the JCRC with the backing and legitimacy it deserves for it to thrive.

The BRGP is invested in serving as ‘convener’ or ‘facilitator’ for the community to mobilize on critical issues for Jewish life in Phoenix. This current request and project is a logical extension of our work based on current events and needs.  We are responding to what we have seen in our world, and our belief that our community is now ready to step up and get involved in learning, unifying, and advocating in this important way.

I was immediate past president at the time of the grant application and am now serving as secretary, in addition to being the rabbi of a 7-year-old synagogue community, Congregation Kehillah in North Scottsdale.

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