Fine announced last week on his Facebook page that he would be leaving TOA for his and his wife’s hometown of Deerfield, Ill., and Congregation B’nai Tikvah.
“When I started rabbinical school, I always wanted to serve the Chicagoland Jewish community, because that’s really who raised me and showed me what sort of beauty was there was in the Jewish world,” Fine said. “And I really got into being a rabbi because I wanted to go back home and help that community grow or come into the 21st century.
“This community very much is sort of has a Temple of Aaron spirit, which I not only am used to, but I also love dearly. And it’s also the proximity to the sort of opportunities that my family would have in terms of long-term Jewish education, Kosher food, and the like. It’s an opportunity to be supported by family and also have some Jewish opportunities in a new environment.”
Fine will be with Temple of Aaron until the end of his contract on June 30, 2021.
Jay Goltz, the president of Congregation B’nai Tikvah, said that part of the challenge of synagogues is engaging and bringing in younger members, which Fine has done in St. Paul.
“You can’t just do whatever you want to do and expect people to show up, and Rabbi Fine has proven that he’s good at connecting with younger people while still connecting with older people,” he said. Goltz, when asked what he hopes Fine will bring, said it wasn’t about hope. “I’m not hoping anything. I am confident that he’s going to bring his enthusiasm and his good Rabbi skills of counseling and services and all the stuff that rabbis do, in addition to the fact that he knows how to attract younger families.”
Fine said that part of what made his tenure at TOA successful was the growth that the synagogue has seen.
“Whether it’s participation or young families, or in the amount of Israel trips we’ve taken or all those things, we’re really, really proud of that,” he said. “And I think Temple of Aaron has a very, very bright future.”
Fine’s departure means the start of the search to replace him. Barry Divine, TOA’s president, said that the search, because of the pandemic, will take place entirely virtually in accordance with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Rabbinic Assembly rules.
“We don’t know what’s out there,” Divine said. “But we’ll be fine. We’re in good condition, and we’re looking forward to conducting our search with success. He always wanted to get back close to home. We knew it. But he’s done some fantastic things at Temple of Aaron.”
While Fine has been innovative in programming events like Kosherfest and Temple of Wrestling, he said that he’s proudest of the growth of Shabbat.
“There are things that might have more of a shock value, it’s always because of steady Shabbat growth and bringing the community together in person weekly, which had not happened at Temple of Aaron for a long time,” he said. “We really doubled-, tripled-, quadrupled down on our growth on Saturday, both in terms of participation, but also in terms of attendance. And in terms of quality and quantity of what we’re offering. So far and away, I’m most proud of that.”
Fine said the opportunity, not the desire to leave, is what is driving the move.
“This wasn’t the Fines looking for a totally new job; this was sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity. In my home suburb,” he said. “The synagogue is on the same street is that my grandfather is on. And both of our parents will be four minutes away at the furthest.
“We’ve seen a renaissance in the St. Paul Jewish community, that young Jews are moving back to Minnesota, which is so great. And those families are reuniting and I’m so happy for and proud of them. It also weighed on us that we wanted that sort of reunion with our family. And Temple of Aaron has absolutely been our extended family and will remain that way. But you know, it’s not mom and dad.”
Dear Rabbi Fine, I was so proud to be able to listen to your sermon on the Jewish response (perhaps the lack of one is a better description) to the anti-Semitism which surrounds our people. First, let me assure you that you are not alone!
I for one stand alongside you! It’s a sad thing when Jews only understand their potential fate when they are ACTUALLY confronted with it. What a disgrace to our brethren who suffered in the holocaust or our Israeli brothers and sisters who risk their lives EVERYDAY for Eretz Yisroel from people years away or miles away from the real Jewish world. It is necessary for you and others to speak up and; not to cower and to allow our heritage subservient to our far less important desire to become a part of a club or organization.
I, like you, want to talk to my child and grandchildren about the importance and pride of the Jewish experience and would be grateful for any tips that you can provide for talking with them. In the meantime, stay the course and again, know that you are not alone !!
Sincerely, Joel Gershenson.