Every summer, Jewish congregations throughout Connecticut prepare to welcome new clergy. The Ledger caught up with this year’s group of four rabbis and one cantor as they were packing up and heading our way from as close by as Westchester, N.Y. and as far away as Santiago, Chile. We introduce three of the new clergy here, and will present the other two in an upcoming issue.
Rabbi Stacy K. Offner
Temple Beth Tikvah, Madison
Rabbi Stacy K. Offner will become the fifth rabbi to lead Temple Beth Tikvah, succeeding Rabbi Claudio Kogan, M.D. She is currently interim rabbi at Adath Emanu-El in Mt. Laurel, N.J.
A native of Great Neck, N.Y., Offner lived most of her adult life in Minnesota. She has wanted to be a rabbi ever since high school, though there were no women rabbis at the time. “Fortunately, that
didn’t hold me back from dreaming,” she says. “I was drawn by the communal nature of Jewish life, the intellectual expression of Jewish life, and the call to social justice.”
Offner graduated magna cum laude from Kenyon College and earned both her MA and Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where she was ordained.
In 1988, Rabbi Offner became the founding rabbi of Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis, helping to grow a small congregation of 40 families into a 400-family synagogue, a congregation driven by its mission “to include, honor, and respect every individual and family seeking to grow Jewishly.”
Offner worked with Shir Tikvah for 20 years to establish excellence in education, secure the temple’s financial strength, and create a spiritual and vibrant congregation, and was honored in 2008 as the congregation’s Founding Rabbi Emerita.
She served as vice president of the Union of Reform Judaism from 2008 to 2010, where she shared her love of congregational life with the 900 URJ-affiliated synagogues and led a restructuring to better focus on direct support of congregations.
“I am a rabbi whose greatest passion in life is people,” says Offner. “I believe that God is profoundly present in our interactions with others, particularly during times of transition. I love engaging people through Judaism so that human beings can feel support, growth, purpose, belonging, and connectedness. I love to build community through teaching, worship, music, informal events, counseling and social justice efforts. It is a privilege for me to help guide a congregation through its efforts to reshape itself and prepare for the future.”
Offner says that she was impressed by the congregants of Temple Beth Tikvah. “They strike me as thinking, open, caring individuals who are thirsting for Jewish meaning in their lives,” she says. “I envision a congregation filled with people of all ages singing, laughing, praying, learning, and supporting each other through life. I hope for TBT to be an indispensable presence on the shoreline, in
conversation with communities of other faiths and making civic contributions to the larger community.”
Rabbi Offner and her partner, Nancy Abramson, have two children. Their son, Charlie Abramson, is completing his residency in emergency medicine in Chicago. Their daughter, Jill Abramson, is senior cantor at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y. and is married to Jonathan Malamy, rabbi at Jewish Home Lifecare in Manhattan; they have a one-year-old son.
Rabbi Offner is a practitioner of Bikram Yoga; among favorite activities, she lists cycling, hiking, and drinking strong coffee.
Assistant Rabbi Evan Schultz
Congregation B’nai Israel, Bridgeport
Assistant Rabbi Evan Schultz will replace Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz, who is joining Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough, Mass. as senior rabbi.
Schultz received his ordination in May from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and will join B’nai Israel in early July. He and his wife Jenny Goldstein have a one-and a half-year-old son, Koby.
Born in Queens, Schultz grew up in New Jersey and Philadelphia before his family settled in the Boston area.
After graduating from Brandeis University in 2001, he worked at Central Synagogue in New York City as assistant director of curriculum and full time educator before entering rabbinical school. Schultz served as student rabbi in High Point, N.C. He was a unit leader at Eisner Camp and a song leader at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn and Shaarey T’filah in Manhattan, where he co-led the monthly “Shabbat Unplugged” service for 20- and 30- somethings. He received numerous prizes and awards while in rabbinical school, including for overall excellence, creativity in
worship, and community service.
Schultz says that it was an early love of Judaism that influenced his career path. “A great deal of my childhood was spent in transit; through all of the new schools, friends, and playgrounds, I felt at home in the synagogue,” he says. “The rabbis of my childhood had a profound impact on my life, sparking my love for being Jewish.”
He has sought out diverse Jewish communities throughout his life and in his work. “I love to travel and meet Jewish communities all over the world,” he says. “As a year-long volunteer for the
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Izmir, Turkey, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in a 500-year-old Sephardic Jewish community. During my year as a Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow at MIT Hillel, I spent Shabbat with Jewish students of all denominations. The vibrant, creative summer community at URJ Camp Eisner is what drew me to the Reform Movement. I enjoy meeting communities that are creative, engaging, dynamic, and love to sing.”
Schultz was inspired to apply for the position at B’nai Israel by several fellow rabbinical-school students, who had served as summer interns at the synagogue. “They spoke quite highly of Rabbi Prosnit and the entire B’nai Israel community and staff,” he says. “The community is visionary, dynamic, and shares a sacred purpose. I am sure that Rabbi Prosnit will be an excellent mentor as
I begin my rabbinic career, and the lay leadership is excited and ready to partner on new initiatives and ideas. My family and I have already been welcomed with open arms into the community. We too are excited for our son, Koby, to begin his Jewish journey at B’nai Israel.”
“As a rabbi, I seek to be a guide for my congregants on their Jewish journeys home,” Schultz says. “I seek to build sacred relationships with my congregants through study and prayer, together envisioning the ways in which Judaism can permeate our lives in a profound and meaningful way. Judaism is a conversation, and as rabbi I am lucky enough to engage in that conversation full-time!”
During his first year as assistant rabbi, Schultz intends to build relationships with congregants and staff, so as to understand views of and hopes for the B’nai Israel community. “I am excited for the opportunity to begin teaching students of all ages and to build partnerships in the larger Bridgeport community,” he says. “I also love to sing and play guitar, so I hope for many chances to
sing and pray through music!”
An avid runner, Schultz is in training for his first New York City Marathon, in November, and will be running to support American Jewish World Service.
Prosnit says that the search process brought several highly qualified candidates to the synagogue. “All involved on the committee came away enthused not only for the future of B’nai Israel, but for the Reform movement in general,” he says. “The caliber of rabbis being ordained is exceptional and these women and men will serve the Jewish people well. All who met Evan were impressed by the warmth of personality and the deep commitment to help foster strong Jewish connections at every end of the age spectrum. Impressed by his intellect and teaching abilities, his insights and humanity, the search committee made Evan its unanimous choice.”
Rabbi Marcelo Kormis
Congregation Beth El, Fairfield
Rabbi Marcelo Kormis replaces Rabbi Daniel Satlow. Kormis is a native of Santiago, Chile, a country whose Jewish community comprises some 15,000 members. While the majority lives in Santiago, there are also some congregations in the northern and southern parts of the country. The Jewish community is the result of two waves of immigration, Kormis says: the first from Russia, Romania, Turkey, and Yugoslavia in the early 20th century, and the second from Germany, Poland, and Hungary before the start of World War II. Kormis’s grandparents escaped from Germany and arrived in Chile in 1939. Ever since, his entire family has lived there.
Kormis credits Camp Ramah in Chile with his decision to become a rabbi. He first attended at age eight. “There, I had my first deep contact with Judaism,” he says. “Being a chanich [camper], I discovered a whole hidden world, filled with values and teachings that were to guide my life until today. Then, when I become a madrich [counselor], I realized how important it was to transmit
these values and traditions to other people. I learned the value of education and how it can often make a deeper impact in my congregants. At age 17 I decided I wanted to have an even more profound contact with Judaism. So I left my country, my family, and my friends to start my rabbinical studies in Argentina. This training was strengthened with my years of study in Israel, which still generates a huge impact on my life.”
Kormis studied at the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires from 1994 to 1996, earning an elementary and high school teaching certificate from the Abarbanel Institute. Founded in 1962, the Seminario is the academic, cultural, and religious center of the Conservative movement in Argentina and Latin America.
The following year, Kormis moved to Israel and earned a BA in Bible and Jewish Thought from the University of Haifa in 1999. He returned to Argentina to complete his rabbinical studies at the Seminario and was ordained in 2003. He went back to Israel, where he completed a Masters of Jewish studies at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. He completed his studies in 2004, in the Senior Educators Program for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at the Melton Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
After graduating, Kormis served as head of Judaic Studies for two years at the 1,300-student Instituto Hebreo, the only Jewish day school in Santiago. “I learned that, when you motivate and guide the youth in the right way, learning becomes a thriving process,” he says.
He then worked for six years as an associate rabbi at the Circulo Israelita, the first and largest Conservative congregation in Chile, with 900 affiliated families. Kormis initiated several new programs and projects, including a “Beit Midrash Kehilatí” (communal house of learning) with new weekly classes; a “Tikkun Olam” project that involved the family of each bar- or bat-mitzvah; a men’s Chevra Kadisha with more than 10 volunteers; and new spaces for family prayer and study. Together with other Conservative rabbis, Kormis helped establish Arkava, a joint project for
Conservative youth in Santiago.
Kormis’s Jewish identity has been shaped by his involvement in these diverse Jewish communities. “The experience of being Jewish in Chile and Argentina is very different from the one in Israel,” he says. “In the Diaspora, our Jewish identity is modeled by being a minority. You have to live your Judaism surrounded by different cultures and values. Chile opened the door to hundreds of Jews who were escaping from the war, and it is a very tolerant country, even though there is always someone who reminds you that you are Jewish.”
For example, Chile is home to the largest Palestinian community – 350,000 individuals – outside of the Middle East. In addition, many Nazis who escaped from Europe have been living in the southern part of the country. “On the other hand, living in Israel gave me the sensation of being home,” he says.
During his visit to Beth El in February, Kormis was greeted by warm and inviting congregants who treat the synagogue like their second home. “I discovered a significant group of religiously skilled laypeople strongly committed to Jewish spirituality, ritual, and learning,” he says.
In addition to cultivating significant internal educational initiatives, Kormis was impressed with Beth El’s commitment to Israel and involvement in the larger Jewish community, from the Thriving Jewish Community Initiative to the regional Jewish day schools and Merkaz Community High School for Jewish Studies.
“These elements attracted me to accept the position at the congregation, together with the fact that the congregational project fits excellently with my own rabbinical project and vision,” he says.
As a rabbi, Kormis says he has the opportunity “to inspire, guide, and attract the Jewish people to their Judaism.”
“I envision my rabbinate as a vocation,” he says. “The rabbi must be accessible to all and approachable by all of his congregants. He should be a source of comfort and support. Along with being passionate and inspiring, I think one of the most important tasks of the rabbi is being an educator. Learning cannot be just an intellectual exercise or a social activity. It ought to be a transformative experience. A congregant may not be the same when he or she exits the synagogue or the congregation as when he or she enters – something must change inside the person.”
Kormis’s leadership philosophy was deeply influenced by Prof. Michael Rosenak, one of his teachers at Hebrew University.
In his article, “Educated Jews: Common Elements,” Rosenak proposes that the best way to educate the younger generation is through the teaching of Jewish values. “These values are timeless, applicable to life, and show that Judaism has much to contribute to a 21st-century, illuminated Jew,” Kormis says. “As a rabbi, I have incorporated the teachings of Rosenak, who argues that, to profoundly impact our congregation, we must meet two requirements in the teaching of these values: authenticity and relevance. I learned that not only the values must possess these characteristics, but also the person who teaches them must be authentic and relevant. The best teaching you can give is through example.”
At Beth El, as in Santiago, Kormis will connect his rabbinical work to the creation of a meaningful and significant community. “In my view, a congregation should create a sacred Jewish congregation – a Kehila Kedosha – where individuals and families can find meaning for their lives from serious engagement with the texts, wisdom, and celebrations of Judaism,” he says. “A congregation has to perpetuate and affirm Judaism by strengthening the faith and encouraging the religious development of its members.”
As Shimon HaTzadik wrote in Pirkei Avot, a congregation should be established on the three pillars of Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Chasadim, Kormis says.
“‘Torah refers to connecting members of all ages in significant Jewish learning. A congregation should appreciate the role that learning plays in increasing the bonds of community and enriching the Jewish spirit. ‘Avodah’ refers to celebrating together the mystery, splendor, intensity, and passion of life through communal prayer. We are tied together in the pursuit of holiness to be found in the blessings, songs, and rituals of our sacred tradition, shared during the week, on Shabbat and Festivals, and at the important events of our life. And finally, ‘Gemilut Chasadim’ aspires to personify Judaism’s deepest values: enriching the quality of human life and to mending our world by speaking out and taking action where our religious tradition demands that we do so. Embrace our Jewish responsibility to care for the needy – in our synagogue, in our city and nation, and all over the world.”
In addition to his rabbinic skills, Kormis brings two extra talents to his new community.“
“As a good representative of the Latin American culture, I am a decent soccer player,” he says. “And my barbecues have an excellent reputation.