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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


July 13, 2018  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Rabbi Simon delighted to be back ‘home’

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Rabbi Joel Simon, who has assumed duties as senior Rabbi at Congregation Schaarai Zedek, with wife Jacent and their children Eva and Judd. Rabbi Joel Simon, who has assumed duties as senior Rabbi at Congregation Schaarai Zedek, with wife Jacent and their children Eva and Judd. For Rabbi Joel Simon, a return to Congregation Schaarai Zedek is a homecoming of sorts, a return to the same bima where he got married and to congregants he knew for eight years before he left his post as associate rabbi to become senior rabbi at a temple outside Philadelphia.

He and his family are delighted to return to Tampa, but he is keenly aware this time around will not entirely be like his last time here.

This time he is assuming the post of senior rabbi as Rabbi Richard Birnholz retires after 31 years at the Reform congregation and assumes the title of rabbi emeritus.

Rabbi Simon, 37, said he is happy that Rabbi Birnholz – who officiated at his wedding – will still be around in retirement; he considered him a great mentor and expects to still seek his advice.

But now that Rabbi Simon has had three years of experience in being a senior rabbi, he says he knows that role is different from the one he had here before – that this time he will be the one folks will come to for guidance.

Rabbi Simon said he enjoyed his time leading Congregation Shir Ami in a Philadelphia suburb, but said he when he heard Rabbi Birnholz had announced his retirement, “It was too much to pass up” and he let the leadership at Schaarai Zedek know of his interest in returning.

Rabbi Simon was not the only candidate for the position. Congregation President Richard Eggnatz said there were a variety of candidates – young and old, men and women – and there was a multistep process in evaluating and interviewing the candidates. He said for himself, the fact that Rabbi Simon is a family man was a plus, as the congregation under Rabbi Birnholz was very family oriented and multi-generational.

“There is an amazing staff and congregation and it is a dream community to be part of with two small kids. It is the congregation we knew we wanted to be a part of,” Rabbi Simon said.

When he came to Schaarai Zedek in July 2007, it was his first rabbinic job and he stayed here, first as assistant Rabbi, then as associate Rabbi, until June 2015.

“What was great about being Rabbi Birnholz’s assistant was he let us work in all aspects of the rabbinate,” Rabbi Simon said. His focus was with the 20s-30s group. “A lot of what we did with that, in and out of the temple, I hope to apply to other programs, both social and learning. Temple programming can happen in restaurants and parks or in our building,” he said.

When Rabbi Simon left Tampa with his new wife, Jacent, they had no children, and now they have returned with daughter Eva, who will turn 3 in September, and Judd, age 1.

So he now brings the perspective of a parent to the job rather than a single or newlywed. “Before, I offered a lot of advice to parents and grandparents and tried to offer a perspective from my own background and learning, but there is a difference when you have lives that are dependent on you,” Rabbi Simon said.

It will be good not only to renew old acquaintances, but also to learn how those folks have grown and changed and for them to learn the same about him, he said. Rabbi Simon also pointed out that in his absence about 200 new families

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