By Stephen J. Kotz
The rabbi of Temple Adas Israel talks about how the temple has evolved, a educational trip to Israel and leaving the temple after 15 years.
We learned recently that you and your family will be leaving Sag Harbor soon. Where are you going?
We absolutely love Sag Harbor, and being the rabbi of Temple Adas Israel has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. My wife, Dasee, and I have always aspired to move to Israel. Dasee lived there for a decade after graduating from college. We’ve each spent a great deal of time there. For the last four years, our family spent the month of February in Jerusalem. Knowing that the synagogue is now strong enough to hire a new full-time resident rabbi, and taking into account how much easier the adjustment would be for our children while they are still quite young, we decided that if we were ever to fulfill our dream of raising our family in Israel, this was the time to do so.
I will be working as a vice president for the Shalom Hartman Institute, a center of transformative teaching and thinking that works both with Israelis and American Jews.
Just after we shared our news with the congregation, we told our kids: “You know how much we love being in Israel and how we have always wanted to live there? Well, we are going to move there this summer.” Tamir, our five-year old son, was thrilled, and then asked, “Will we live there until I’m a grown-up?” We told him that was the plan, but we’d see how things go once we get there.
Most Americans know little about the political situation in Israel other than the external threats facing the country and the basics of the Palestinian situation. What are some of the chief internal political challenges facing the country?
From my perspective, Israel is the most important and the most exciting project of the Jewish people in our time. Returning to our historic homeland after 2,000 years and trying to establish a society based on our highest values is a challenge on every level. We are eager to be a part of Israel’s development first hand—to espouse the ideals of peace, justice and democracy both internally and also with regard to the real challenges Israel faces with its neighbors and with the Palestinians. Life in Israel requires faith, and it requires hope.
You have served Temple Adas Israel for 11 years as a part-time rabbi and four years in a full-time capacity. What changes have you seen at your synagogue in the years you’ve been here?
During the past four years, together with our congregation, we transformed our synagogue into an extremely active, dynamic, year-round congregation. We have added 90 additional families in the last four years, and now number about 250 families. We offer numerous opportunities for engagement and embrace the many ways that American Jews connect with their Jewish lives. We have together strengthened all areas of our synagogue life: in education, in prayer, in promoting the importance of the Sabbath and festivals, in social justice and in caring for one another.
Although you are moving to Israel in June, I understand you are leading a trip to Israel with 20 members of your congregation later this month. What is the purpose of that trip?
Our mission to Israel is a study-trip with the land of Israel as our classroom. The group ranges in age from the late 30s to the 80s. Many are traveling to Israel for the first time. We are traveling together to deepen our ties with the people of Israel, with Jewish history and the place where it was born, and with the future of the Jewish people that is intimately tied up with the State of Israel.
What will you miss most about Sag Harbor?
We’ve made wonderful friends here and built relationships that will continue far into the future. This magical little village was an idyllic place to begin raising and educating our three children. Whether it’s leaving my bike unlocked on Main Street, or all the ways in which our lives are so interconnected here, there is something very special about a small town, particular one as beautiful and interesting as this one. I have also greatly cherished the warm relationships here between the various faith leaders and between our faith communities.