After more than two years without a rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom of the East Valley will welcome a new spiritual leader next month, bringing closure to a period of healing.
The Conservative congregation was suddenly left without a rabbi on March 23, 2010, when then-rabbi Bryan Bramly was arrested in the synagogue parking lot on charges of raping and sexually abusing a 7-year-old girl in New York 10 years earlier. The criminal charges were dismissed later that year, on Sept. 25, but Bramly never returned to the TBS-EV pulpit.
"It was a time of grief," said Debora Bloom, who is starting her second term as TBS-EV president, "Now I feel like we are on the road to a whole new beginning."
Rabbi Ken Leitner will lead his first Shabbat service at TBS-EV on Aug. 3.
With assistance from The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the umbrella organization for the Conservative movement, the Chandler synagogue initially found an interim rabbi, Rabbi Yaacov Rone, to serve the congregation for six months and lead High Holiday services in 2010 and 2011.
After Rone's departure, synagogue lay leaders helped provide continuity through services and daily activity at the shul. Isaac Levy and Alan Ziv led Shabbat services and oversaw lifecycle events such as baby namings, funerals, unveilings and b'nai mitzvah services. "Life still goes on," Levy said. The synagogue's Exploring Judaism course, a conversion class, was put on hold and lay leaders were unable to officiate at weddings but local Conservative rabbis, such as Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky from Beth El Congregation and Rabbi Micah Caplan from Congregation Or Chadash of the Northeast Valley, stepped in when needed, Levy said.
"Through the efforts of many congregational volunteers, we've kept the business of the synagogue going, both in administration, maintenance and necessary improvements to our property," Bloom wrote in an email to Jewish News. Marc Krell was hired as the synagogue's religious school director last summer; he also teaches Hebrew High classes and, along with other members, adult education classes.
"I really do have to sing the praises of this congregation because it's really amazing how well everyone has done," Bloom said. "A lot of people put in a huge effort to make everything run smoothly."
Even before going without a rabbi, the congregation had a "strong culture of volunteerism," Bloom said. Members participated in services, taught classes, tutored b'nai mitzvah students and ran the temple office.
In spring 2010, the congregation's membership had 180 family units, reported a Jewish News article that year; now it has about 130 family units, according to Bloom. Not having a rabbi did affect the synagogue's membership, both among existing and potential members, Bloom said.
Bloom said she appreciates the support from the other synagogues in the area, as well as from the East Valley JCC. "There's been more community interaction and cooperation on events. ... It feels like a very supportive atmosphere that I think can only get better."
TBS-EV will hold an open house from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 5. Visit tbsev.org.