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Park East Synagogue is still searching for its next leader as another assistant rabbi exits



(New York Jewish Week) — The ongoing search for a successor to Park East Synagogue’s 92-year-old rabbi has hit a fresh hurdle, as the rabbinic search committee has been disbanded and another of the congregation’s rabbis has left his job.

For more than a year, the prominent Orthodox congregation on Manhattan’s East Side has sought someone to succeed Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor who has led the synagogue for six decades. But none of the prospective candidates has yet panned out, while at the same time multiple assistant rabbis have exited the synagogue.

The synagogue suggested in a statement that another of its assistant rabbis could be the heir apparent. But Park East members worry that the turmoil is endangering the future of their storied synagogue, which has hosted a pope and a string of other dignitaries as Schneier has shaped the synagogue into a stage for his human rights activism.

In February, Schneier told the New York Jewish Week, “When it comes to the selection of a rabbi, it is entirely up to the membership.” But multiple synagogue members said the rabbinic search committee disbanded after a top British rabbi withdrew from consideration in February and Schneier is now running the search himself.

“Members feel disenfranchised,” said one Park East member who is familiar with the synagogue’s management and, like others in the community, asked to remain anonymous for fear of ruining their relationships in the congregation.

“It is very difficult,” the member said. “We’ve had Rabbi Schneier here for a very long time and many people do love him very much, and it’s hard for them to imagine someone else taking that place.”

Some are sympathetic to Schneier’s position. Reuven Kahane, a longtime member at Park East who often delivers sermons at the synagogue, told the New York Jewish Week that “Rabbi Schneier has flaws and makes mistakes — like everyone else.”

The Star of David stands atop the Park East Synagogue, March 3, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“But who has done so much for so many?” Kahane asked. “The rabbi literally watched Kristallnacht, then turned that tragedy into saving Jewish lives for 70 years.”

The uncertainty began in late 2021, when the synagogue abruptly fired Schneier’s popular assistant rabbi, Benjamin Goldschmidt, whom Schneier’s allies accused of trying to stage a coup. Four months later, the synagogue announced a search for a “worthy successor” to Schneier. Goldschmidt has since founded his own popular congregation, called the Altneu, in the same neighborhood.

In February, Park East appeared close to hiring Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, who leads a large synagogue in London. But a question-and-answer period at the synagogue following a lecture by Schochet devolved into argument when a member publicly protested the rabbi’s views about same-sex marriage. Schochet eventually withdrew from the rabbinic search.

Now, Rabbi Elchanan Poupko — who has taught at the synagogue’s affiliated day school since 2015, and who has served as the synagogue’s interim assistant rabbi since last year — confirmed that he is leaving the synagogue. Members said Poupko was well liked and was once floated as a prospective successor to Schneier. When he assumed the assistant rabbi role, he posted on LinkedIn, “May it be the will [of Hashem] that … the Divine Presence, rest in our work.”

Both Poupko and the synagogue attributed his departure to his physician wife’s work as a professor of neurology at the University of Connecticut. Poupko said “the schlep is too much” between the two workplaces.

“We wish Rabbi Poupko, his wife Rachel, and their daughters the best in their new home in Connecticut,” the synagogue said in a statement. “Their contributions to our community have been greatly appreciated and they will be missed.”

The synagogue’s statement added that it has asked another assistant rabbi, David Flatto, to serve as “​​acting Associate Rabbi.” Flatto previously served as the rabbi of another prominent Upper East Side Orthodox synagogue, Kehilath Jeshurun, and is a professor of law and Jewish philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

His biography on the Park East website says he is at the synagogue “until he resumes his academic responsibilities at Hebrew University in the fall,” but members told the New York Jewish Week that they understand Schneier wants to keep Flatto on as his successor.

“He is well known and respected by the Park East community having served as our Assistant Rabbi in 2022,” the synagogue’s statement said. “He exhibited warmth and caring in his outreach and pastoral duties during Shabbat, High Holiday services, and during life cycle events.”

Neither Flatto nor Schneier responded to requests for comment.

Two members of the disbanded committee declined to comment, and the synagogue’s statement did not address an inquiry about the committee’s status, saying, “Our search for a full-time candidate is ongoing. We will continue to engage our membership in this process.”

The member who is familiar with Park East management said the search committee “chose to disband themselves” after Schochet dropped out. The member added that the committee members, “frankly, did not feel that they had any more interest in putting more effort based on the fact that the last person didn’t go so well.”

Now, members say, Schneier and a close circle of confidantes are spearheading the search.

“He’s holding on to the last vestiges of power, like an older relative who just doesn’t know when to hang it up,” said another member who is active at the synagogue and who also asked not to be named. “He’s a good man, but this is just pathetic.”

That member and others said there had been a spat between Poupko and Flatto surrounding Shemini Atzeret, the Jewish holiday immediately following Sukkot last fall. Flatto allegedly had “a temper tantrum” because Poupko was asked to participate, the member said, and ultimately refused to lead services. Other members confirmed that account.

“He literally just didn’t show up,” the active member said. “I was ticked because we’re paying him. He acted immature, so he left a very bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.”

Some members say that while they’re impressed with Flatto in many ways, they still place him in the same category where a growing list of rabbis have found themselves during the past year and a half: respected and appreciated but, ultimately, not exactly right for Park East Synagogue.

“He’s a fantastic person, a wonderful intellectual, a great professor,” the member familiar with the synagogue management said about Flatto. “A senior rabbi requires a lot of delicate interactions that I don’t think he is really up to.”

The post Park East Synagogue is still searching for its next leader as another assistant rabbi exits appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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