Rabbi Susan Schanerman

Rabbi Susan Schanerman

The weeks leading up to the Jewish High Holidays can sometimes feel like a mad dash to the finish line for synagogues and their rabbis. But that’s not always the case. For instance, Rabbi Susan Schanerman, Prescott’s Temple B’rith Shalom’s new rabbi, said she feels “prepared and calm” when it comes to leading her congregation into the new year.

Rabbi Nina Perlmutter, a self-described “loyal and long-term member of B’rith Shalom,” is very glad to hear it. She understands the stress of the season well, given that she’s the part-time rabbi of Congregation Lev Shalom in Flagstaff — though, she’s careful to add, in this job, “part-time” is a misnomer because “you’re always on call.” And she’s been helping out in Prescott with lifecycle events and conversion programs while B’rith Shalom was between rabbis.

“I’d rather have her here for this if she’s willing, and I know she’s willing,” Perlmutter said.

This time of year is significant for all Jews, especially those who feel alienated or just curious, Perlmutter said. After all, some Jews only come to the synagogue for High Holiday services, so it’s important they have a positive experience when they show up. From her recent conversations and years-long acquaintance with Schanerman, she believes Prescott’s new rabbi is more than capable of providing it.

Trudy Steinhauer, temple president, said she, too, is excited about the upcoming festivities and has high hopes for the new rabbi. “This is an exciting time, a time for growth, building strong ties with congregants and ensuring a loving and compassionate home for anyone Jewish in Greater Prescott,” she said, via email.

Schanerman started her new job in late July, the end of the traditional hiring season for rabbis and cantors. Steinhauer voiced confidence in the decision to bring Schanerman aboard. “I firmly believe Temple B’rith Shalom is headed on the right path with Rabbi Susan leading the way.”

Schanerman, too, feels it’s a good match for her and called this her “dream job.”

Though she just started, she already plans “to foster positive relationships with the interfaith community, increase attendance at Shabbat services with music and prayer that inspires and rejuvenates and provide meaningful pastoral care,” she said, via email. She is also looking forward to meeting her congregants and building community with them. Fortunately, it’s something she has a wealth of experience doing.

Schanerman leaves behind a tight-knit community at Congregation NefeshSoul, the Chandler synagogue she founded in 2013. Before that, she was the cantorial soloist of Temple Emanuel of Tempe, and received her rabbinic ordination in 2010.

Jennie Hermey remembers being struck by Schanerman when she first encountered her at Emanuel.

“It was clear to me that the most spiritual person on that bimah was Sue Schanerman,” she said.

Once Schanerman was ordained and decided to start her own congregation, Hermey said, “I knew I would go where she went.” She was part of a small group at Emanuel to tell the new rabbi: “We’re going wherever you go.”

Hermey described Schanerman as “a very personable, congregant-oriented person. She knows everyone.” Therefore one of the rabbi’s goals with NefeshSoul was to create “a small shul where she could maintain that closeness with her communicants,” Hermey said.

However, Hermey noted, as a small and somewhat older congregation, NefeshSoul has few children; it makes sense to her why Schanerman would be drawn to a synagogue with a religious school attached.

“Susan is a teacher,” Hermey said. “She is hardwired to teach kids and we didn’t really have enough kids to have a Hebrew school. Now she can get back to teaching kids in Hebrew school, which is what she loves.”

Schanerman has a master’s in education, a lifetime of teaching experience and was also Emanuel’s director of education from 2000 to 2013.

Steinhauer agreed: “With a master’s degree in education as well as a doctorate in Jewish studies, we are overjoyed to learn how passionate Rabbi Susan is about teaching both adults and children.”

Schanerman said it’s one of the things she’s most looking forward to in her new post and noted that while B’rith Shalom’s religious school “is quite small, there is potential to build a strong and vibrant program for the Jewish children of Prescott.”

Perlmutter pointed out that small cities like Prescott often have difficulty keeping Jewish families, who sometimes feel there’s not enough Jewish education and engagement for their children. Schanerman’s experience in education is something that will be an asset to the synagogue and the community.

It’s all part of the juggling act that being a rabbi in a place like Prescott requires, Perlmutter said.

The rabbi shouldn’t be intimidated by a town with fewer Jews than Phoenix, where its synagogue has to be open to all the Jews there. “Different people learn from and connect with each other in this kind of community and that’s really good but can be a challenge,” she said. NefeshSoul emphasizes inclusiveness, so Schanerman has a head start there.

“Also, Prescott’s a place that wants to engage families and she does,” Perlmutter said. “She loves kids and that’s one of the big reasons she’s coming here.”

On a personal note, Hermey said she’s happy for her rabbi and friend but already feels the loss. Still, she said they’ll keep in touch and get together once in a while for coffee.

“We’ll miss her terribly,” Hermey said. “I wish I lived in Prescott now!” JN

Shannon Levitt is a freelance writer living in Glendale.