By Michael Jacobs | firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Kerbel, who has served as associate rabbi at the Conservative synagogue in East Cobb for 12 years, will move to one of Long Island’s largest Conservative congregations July 15. He will join Senior Rabbi Alan Lucas, who has been at Beth Sholom for 21 years, and Cantor Ofer Barnoy, who has served the 725-family congregation for 14 years.
“With the appointment of Rabbi Paul Kerbel as associate rabbi we have completed an outstanding leadership team,” Rabbi Lucas wrote in an email.
Rabbi Kerbel’s wife, Melissa, will stay in the Atlanta area through the summer to wrap up her job as development director for the Jewish Educational Loan Fund. Etz Chaim will hold a farewell event for the Kerbels in August.
The couple’s two sons and daughter-in law and Melissa Kerbel’s mother live in Manhattan, so the move will put them a short train ride away.
Etz Chaim revealed last year not only that its senior rabbi, Shalom Lewis, planned to move to emeritus status in 2017, but also that Rabbi Kerbel would be leaving.
The son of a Jewish communal professional, Rabbi Kerbel said he looked at jobs around the nation in agencies such as Federation, Jewish community centers, Hillel and the Jewish Theological Seminary, but “I really love being a pulpit rabbi.”
The New York position is the third in a row in which he will serve as the No. 2 rabbi at a congregation, after four years in Cleveland, Ohio, and his time in East Cobb, totaling 16 of his 30 years in the rabbinate so far.
“It’s a comfortable role for me,” Rabbi Kerbel said, adding that at Beth Sholom, as at Etz Chaim, his job will include leading the religious school and adult education.
Being a congregation’s associate rabbi also has afforded Rabbi Kerbel the opportunity to become a communitywide leader.
“Rabbi Kerbel is authentic. I have known him since our USY days” in Florida in the 1970s, said Jay Kaiman, the executive director at the Marcus Foundation. “He cherishes the pulpit and embraces community. It has always been a calling for him even as a teen. We were lucky he pursued this calling and did not give up on us. His most important lesson to us is the way he lives his life and touches lives.”
In the general Jewish community, Rabbi Kerbel was one of the leaders of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association, which he helped strengthen through increased professional development and Jewish learning and a partnership with Emory University’s Tam Institute of Jewish Studies. Programs such as an ARA pastoral study day at Jewish Family & Career Services, a community workshop on bullying, and a hunger summit positioned the association to receive a grant from the Marcus Foundation.
Rabbi Kerbel became heavily involved in the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. He chairs the Rabbinic Campaign and serves on the Campaign Cabinet and board of trustees. He recently was named the chairman of Federation’s Israel outcomes committee, overseeing Federation’s funding for the Yokneam/Megiddo region of Israel; core support to the Jewish Agency for Israel and Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; and involvement in religious pluralism, security and social welfare programs in Israel.
Rabbi Kerbel helped develop Etz Chaim’s collaborations with AIPAC, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and Federation and promoted a strong connection between his congregants and the people and land of Israel.
At Etz Chaim, Rabbi Kerbel has supervised the religious school and youth programs and coordinated adult learning. He said he is proud of the synagogue’s USY chapter, which has produced at least two dozen regional officers and six international officers during his time there.
“I am so proud of our youth leaders and hope that I have played a small part in their Jewish education and love for leadership and creating vital teen programs,” he said.
The international officers include USY’s current international president, Hailee Grey, and two of his own sons, Sam and Judah.
The adult and family programs Rabbi Kerbel created at Etz Chaim include Shabbat in the Park; Friday Night Live; Coffee, Cake and Torah; Emory at Etz Chaim; and, with adult education chairwoman Elyse Shaw, Lilmode adult classes.
“I remember when he gave his interview sermon at Etz Chaim, and he knew I was a member, and he gave me a big shout-out. The only problem was I was not there in the pews,” Kaiman said. “I know I was not his best congregant, but we both know we will continue our wonderful long friendship.”
Rabbi Kerbel said, “My goal as a rabbi was always to connect my congregation to the world of Jewish learning, Jewish action, and care and support for the people and land of Israel and Jewish communities in need and distress around the world.”