Temple Shomer Emunim celebrates retirement of Weinstein, welcomes new rabbi in Kaufman

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Jul. 4—Sylvania's Temple Shomer Emunim is welcoming a new rabbi.

And northwest Ohio is, too: As David Kaufman has begun to acquaint himself with his new congregation this week, he said he's also looking forward to settling into his new community in the broader sense and to continuing the outward-facing work he began in Des Moines, Iowa.

"The congregation has a wonderful staff and great resources and wonderful congregants," he said, speaking with The Blade by phone just before his move across the Midwest. "I look forward to working with the congregation and being a part of the community."

Rabbi Kaufman arrives to succeed Rabbi Samuel Weinstein, the respected and long-serving clergyman who had long been anticipating his retirement at the end of June. Rabbi Weinstein had been head of the Reform congregation since 1992; he also served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve for more than 27 years, retiring from the military in 2009.

Rabbi Weinstein declined an interview, preferring to keep his retirement low-key, but shared some thoughts on what he described as "passing the torch" with the Toledo Jewish News.

"I did it my way, and someone else will come and do it their way," he told the community newspaper. "I fulfilled my responsibilities diligently. I learned to adjust my preferences to keep familiarity in the congregation. ... I believe life goes forward. You can't move forward unless you close the door behind you."

Rabbi Weinstein said his immediate retirement plans are to remain in the area.

His successor said he appreciates the big shoes he's stepping into, and said that, in a way, they were part of the appeal of Temple Shomer Emunim. Since 1934, the local congregation has gathered under just three senior rabbis, an impressively low turnover that Rabbi Kaufman said suggests a stability and commitment in which he sees "a lot of opportunities to grow and strengthen the congregation and to help in the broader community."

"The congregation has a great history," Rabbi Kaufman said. "Three rabbis in [87] years is a pretty good track record, with all of them retiring in the pulpit. It's hard to beat that."

Rabbi Kaufman comes to Sylvania from Des Moines, where he's headed Temple B'nai Jeshurun since 2003. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a graduate degree from Duke Divinity School, where he said he'd initially enrolled with plans to become a college professor.

He instead went on to rabbinical school at Hebrew Union Seminary in Cincinnati, deciding that as a congregational rabbi, he had an outlet for many of his interests; he'd at other points in his life considered going into law, business, and political advocacy.

"I ended up deciding to be a congregational rabbi, because I enjoyed working with people, and I was still able to do the teaching that I loved," he said.

Rabbi Kaufman was ordained in 2001. He first took an assignment as an assistant rabbi in St. Louis, where he'd grown up. By 2003, he was in Des Moines, where he has spent the majority of his ministry. In a reflection of what he hopes his involvement to be like in this region, he said he was heavily involved in the community there beyond the walls of the synagogue, including in advocacy and interfaith work, including within the refugee communities of Des Moines.

He also taught continuing education classes to the community through Drake University.

Rabbi Kaufman is a co-founder of We Are for Israel, which he described as a centrist advocacy group calling for a two-state solution that brings peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.

His community involvement was among the characteristics that drew the Shomer Emunim search committee to Rabbi Kaufman, according to co-chair Denise Horwitz. Likewise his experience in the pulpit, his scholarship and his connection to a youth summer camp that's familiar to the congregation as a popular destination for families with children.

"He seemed to appeal to the wide variety of members of the committee," Ms. Horwitz said, and he rose to the top out of several interviewed candidates with whom they connected through the course of the search process.

Jeanine Huttner, a member of the search committee who has since been installed as the congregation president, spoke similarly. She pointed specifically to their confidence in his "ability to enhance our multigenerational congregation, meeting the needs of our youth and their families."

The search process was entirely virtual due to the coronavirus, the women noted, although they took care to involve as much of the congregation as possible through virtual town halls and the like. Rabbi Kaufman recalled his virtual tour of the synagogue before he accepted the position.

The rabbi is now settling into his new community in Sylvania, alongside his wife, Julie, with whom he has three young-adult children: Hanna, at the University of Iowa; Ellie, at the U.S. Naval Academy; and Avi, soon to begin at the University of Iowa.

Among his early priorities at his new congregation is to prioritize youth and young adults programming — another point that caught the attention of the search committee, Ms. Horwitz said.

"As much as we want adults to have great educational opportunities, our focus is always on the kids and the youth," she said of the congregation, which counts more than 400 families. "That he liked those age groups and liked working with them was certainly attractive."

But Rabbi Kaufman said his immediate goal for the coming weeks is even simpler — "just to get to know everybody," he said.

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