Photo: Rabbi Jeremy Schneider, RJE.
The congregants of Temple Kol Ami received a surprise announcement from the President of the Leadership Board of Trustees, Russ Palay, during his “state of the temple” address on Rosh Hashanah.
Russ announced that Rabbi Jeremy Schneider, RJE, had been awarded a lifetime contract by the temple. The announcement was initially intended to be shared at TKA’s annual gala, but that was canceled due to the coronavirus, and then in dealing with the pandemic, the news just kept getting pushed to the side.
After six months of bonding through this challenging and difficult time as a congregation, reaching out and being there for each other, it seemed appropriate to share the news for the new year.
“Utilizing that theme of l’chaim ‘to life’ can also mean l’chaim ‘for life’ – everyone can feel confident of what we have at Kol Ami, because it’s not just to life, it’s for life,” says Schneider.
Usually, rabbis are presented with contracts lasting three to seven years, so this contract for 25 years is a statement of confidence from the congregation that they agree with the rabbi’s vision from the past, present and into the future.
“My vision of ‘doing Jewish’ is what this community wants,” says Schneider. “I want to be here for life. This is a place where I want to raise my children. It’s a place where I want to be part of my congregation’s life, all of their lifecycle events.”
He continues, “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. It’s a place where not only do I want to be a rabbi, but it’s a place that I would have been a member. I love this community, and I love what we’ve created.”
Rabbi Schneider joined TKA in 2011. When he began, membership was around 100 families and today, they are at 400 families. Before COVID, they were pushing their space’s physical limits, programs had full rosters and the preschool had a waiting list.
Through their online services and weekly programs, Rabbi Schneider has noticed that their engagement has quadrupled.
“Quantitatively, we’re engaging more people. Qualitatively, I would suggest that we’re not connecting, because being in-person is much more meaningful,” he says. “I’m in the business of inter-personal relationships and to quote the famous line from the movie ‘Toy Story,’ ‘The first thing you got to know about me is I’m a hugger.’”
Rabbi Schneider shares that it’s been quite the adjustment to convey his style online, and he hopes that some of it comes across on the screen, but he feels it’s definitely better in person.
He hopes to begin some of that in-person connecting soon.
The rabbi plans to have very restricted, in-person, socially distanced bar/bat mitzvah services outside on the patio in October. A small group can join the student while the service will be live-streamed for other family members.
“As we know, people plan and God laughs,” he says. “Week to week, things can change, and we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
Another thing the pandemic disrupted was the United Arab Emirates Forum for Promoting Peace Muslim Society. Although half a world away, Schneider has a strong connection.
In December 2019, Rabbi Schneider attended the Fifth Assembly of the Forum for Promoting Peace held in Abu Dhabi. That was his second trip to the UAE. The first time, he was part of the original cohort of the American Peace Caravan that went to Abu Dhabi three years ago to begin the process of broadening relationships between the UAE and the Jewish community.
He talks about the momentous occasion that happened on that first trip. “A minyan of Jews celebrated Chanukah in the UAE for the first time in 100 years. We said blessings and lit the menorah with Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah.”
The rabbi continues, “They are doing amazing things as a Middle East leader and opening up relationships with everyone.”
The pandemic has connected us all as a city, state and world community.
“People understand where we are as a community, and we understand what we have to do to be safe right now. So there’s bittersweetness,” says Schneider. “The congregation is resilient, but people are sad. The High Holy Days underscored how much we miss being in person.”
For more information, visit templekolami.org.