79 year old becomes community’s newest rabbi | Community | jewishaz.com – Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

Posted By on April 30, 2022

The pandemic has been a challenging time, but for Jeffrey Schesnol, ordained madrikh and rabbinic candidate, it expedited the completion of his goal to become a rabbi. I couldnt have proceeded with the ordination until I got my masters degree, he said. Its part of whats required, and luckily I was able to do it in a year and a half instead of three, or more, years.

Schesnol is 79 and admits he had doubts about whether he was ready to become a rabbi. A conversation with Holocaust survivor Oskar Knoblauch alleviated those doubts.

I said to Oskar, who was 93 at the time, Am I getting too old to consider going all the way for rabbinic ordination? and Oskar said, If youre passionate about it, do it. So I said, Well, I have the passion and Im going to follow your advice. So here I am and Im glad for having done so.

He was able to complete his Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership online instead of traveling to Chicago for in-person classes and received his rabbinic ordination from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism on April 22.

Or Adam Congregation for Humanistic Judaism has never had a Humanistic-ordained rabbi and Schesnol has served as their ceremonial and spiritual leader since 2013. Or Adam, Hebrew for Light of Humanity, is planning a celebration for the congregations 35th anniversary and Schesnols ordination at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, where he is the associate director, on May 21.

The congregation feels that this is going to give the whole organization a level of recognition, and I would say acceptance, which isnt always the case when youre dealing with a little bit different approach as Humanistic Judaism is, he said.

He explained the essential tenets of Humanistic Judaism. We feel that its up to each of us as individuals and for us as a community to try and make the world a better place. We shouldnt wait for God or the government or any other individual or organization to do that important work. Its up to us. Its our responsibility to perform tikkun olam and make this world a better place.

Or Adam has been meeting via Zoom during the pandemic, but they will begin a hybrid model of both in-person and virtual services starting on May 21. Schesnol states that since holding services over Zoom the last two years, the congregation has become borderless and now has members in Tucson, Casa Grande, Calif., Illinois and even New Zealand.

When we start our services at 7 p.m. on Friday night, its 3 in the afternoon on Saturday in New Zealand, so weve definitely expanded our horizons geographically, he said.

Schesnol, who admits that he doesnt know the meaning of the word retire, will also continue his work with the Jewish Historical Society. He is a certified PMP (project management professional) and has taken on the role of project manager for the new Holocaust and human rights center. The center will be added to the existing Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center in downtown Phoenix.

I think being a rabbi will enable me to have more opportunities with other organizations, to be able to make what were trying to build even more legitimate, significant and important, he said.

Schesnol noted that Phoenix is one of the few large cities in the country that doesnt have a Holocaust education center and he feels that overall the Jewish community isnt anywhere near as informed as they should be, or could be, about their own Jewish culture and heritage.

He states that the project will take about $15 million and the Arizona Jewish Historical Society has already raised $6.25 million. Their goal at the end of the summer is to be at $8 million. The next step is to have a planning meeting with Gallagher & Associates, an internationally recognized museum planning and design firm whose projects include the ANU-Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia and the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

The next milestone will be raising $10.5 million or 70% of their goal. Reaching 70% means the ability to apply for a grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, which, if awarded, will be $1.5 million.

So, if we get to $10.5 million, then get another $1.5 million from Piper, we will be at $12 million then were in the home stretch, said Schesnol. Well start pulling permits, doing zoning and any variances required. Then we talk in earnest with the city. We have already approached them and asked for $2 million toward this project.

Schesnol said that Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego (who is Jewish) has visited the Arizona Jewish Historical Society on numerous occasions and he points out that most cultural museums in Phoenix have had financial support from the city.

If all these things fall into place, there will be either a groundbreaking or ceremonial groundbreaking in 2023 and the center will be open in 2024.

Its not easy, no, said Schesnol. But you know, you do things in life youre passionate about and you do them because youre really committed. JN

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79 year old becomes community's newest rabbi | Community | jewishaz.com - Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

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