New rabbi starts at historic Huntsville Jewish synoguage after year-long search

WAFF 48's Megan Plotka reporting
Published: Jul. 12, 2023 at 11:53 AM CDT

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A new rabbi is working hard to revitalize a local synagogue.

Temple B’nai Sholom went without a full-time rabbi for over a year, leaders say they struggled to find the right fit during a nationwide rabbi shortage.

Rabbi Scott Colbert served as an interim, part-time rabbi to help keep the reform congregation spiritually alive during the rabbinical search.

Rabbinical search committee members say they found the right match in Rabbi PJ Schwartz. He’s been a practicing rabbi for a decade, in congregations across the country. He most recently served as the head of youth education programming at a California congregation but he’s ready to move back to the South.

Rabbi Schwartz says he’s already experiencing Southern hospitality, his new congregation has been .stepping in to help him move in.

WAFF 48's Megan Plotka reporting

“They have embraced me and my family with open arms and had hundreds come to our house to help us unpack and move bookshelves and books and help troubleshoot plumbing issues and whatnot and that’s a very rare thing,” says Rabbi Schwartz.

Committee members say his experience is part of why they chose to bring Rabbi Schwartz to lead Temple B’nai Sholom. They’re looking to breathe new life into Sunday School and other youth activities.

Rabbi Schwartz just led his first service on Friday night and many congregants said they were engaged with his humor, insight and spirituality.

As a modern rabbi, he also has to handle the rising rate of anti-semitic incidents in the United States. The third anti-Semitic act in Huntsville in recent years happened just a few months ago in February.

Rabbi Schwartz says he believes the way to combat anti-semitism is through education. He wants to partner with other organizations to educate the community on the impacts of anti-semitism.

“It is far easier to live in fear and in anxiety and concern than it is to live in joy and opportunity and welcoming and as long as we live in fear and hate, indifference continues to win.”

Rabbi Schwartz says he feels ready to confront these issues with his new community.

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