Shai Avny Hired As Mount Zion’s New Executive Director

The search committee tasked with finding a new executive director for Mount Zion Temple could have undergone a long, protracted search to find its new leader. Instead, they kept the hire close to home, promoting Shai Avny, who had been the St. Paul synagogue’s director of engagement, to succeeding Larry Solomon. The transition will begin in August with Avny officially taking over Oct. 18, the day after Simchat Torah.

Something “I always liked in a nonprofit is the people aspect, and also the business side of it,” he said. “It’s a perfect fit for me to lead the congregation with both hats. And I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do it with Rabbi Spilker and the entire community.”

Avny started at Mount Zion four years ago after moving to the United States from Israel. At the time, he was simply looking for a job – and found a good fit using his years of experience working for Israeli non-profits.

“When I came to Mount Zion, and in the past four years, we had creative engagement for our community and it was the center of what Mount Zion is doing. We help people find community,” he said. “And this is something that I’m going to do as executive director.”

The search – even though it centered on one internal candidate, wasn’t an easy one. Varda Nauen, the chair of the search committee, said the intent was to do a longer process. 

“It was early on that we learned that we had an internal candidate, and we went through a lot of due process internally before deciding to interview him,” she said. “I went in very objectively and with intention of doing a bigger search. But I was so impressed with him and his qualifications, and his caring for the community and relationships. He is extremely well-liked by a lot of facets of the organization.”

Avny said the knowledge of the community gained in his four years gives him a leg up in settling into the position.

“I know so many people in the community and I know how the leadership works and the board. And I know how everything is handled at Mount Zion,” he said. “That’s why I want to be at Mount Zion for the future. I know that I can contribute more to the synagogue.”

Avny mentioned the synagogue has very stable staffing, which will also ease his transition to the new role.

“We have people who are working there for 35 years, 30 years, 16 years, 18 years,” he said. “It’s a very, very great group of people who are working together for a long time.”

He also brought some Israeli bluntness to the land of Minnesota nice.

“When I came to Mount Zion, I brought something different because I did shake the boat a bit and brought brand new ideas,” he said. “So what if we did this thing for the past 10 years and it worked? Let’s find out how how to do it in a different way to bring different people to the same event. And I think that’s something that really helped us.”