The Temple’s new associate rabbi, Rabbi Sam Kaye, sat down with us before he assumed his new role last month. Kaye, who replaces Rabbi David Spinrad, shared how he’s a second-generation rabbi and a board game aficionado, why he’ll be taking some advice from his predecessor, and what will likely be his favorite coffee shop in Atlanta.
Tell us about yourself. Did you always want to be a rabbi?
Well, I married my wife Taylor in January. I’m from Colorado, and she’s from Montreal. I went to a liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, and fought being a rabbi with everything I had. My dad is actually a rabbi, but I had a lot of good reasons to do something else.
So what was the turning point?
I went on Birthright and had a powerful spiritual experience. It was during Havdalah, and I was standing on the roof of Hebrew Union College watching the city of Jerusalem come back to life. I made a promise that I’d make my way back to Israel. A week later, I was back in Chicago but still thinking about Israel. I watched Shabbat come in through the big bay windows of where I was working at the time. It was at that point I decided I wanted to do something else. I left for Israel shortly thereafter, where I studied for two years.
How did you land at The Temple?
I interviewed at several synagogues, and rabbis coming right out of school have a multi-round matching process. I felt an instant and very real connection with Rabbis Berg and Lapidus, but the rest of the team at The Temple was something special as well. A genuine kindness and enthusiasm radiates from all the clergy team and faculty. I’m extremely excited by this opportunity!
What has your experience been with The Temple as you ready yourself for the position?
Spinrad has given me some great advice. I was nervous and overwhelmed at how much there is to do, and David sat me down and explained that I just need to teach what I know. The worst thing you can do is show up and pretend to know everything. He said everything you do just has to come from love and the teachings of the Torah. I know Spinrad is really sad to be leaving, but he’s been nothing but gracious as he’s paved the way for me here. He’s also introduced me to Octane, his favorite coffee shop. He knows how to get in the back way.
Rabbi Spinrad ran The Well, the Temple’s young adult monthly service. What do you think you’ll bring to the young adult community?
I actually happen to fit into the demographic of a 20s and 30s young professional, so that’s important. Most of all, I’m looking to build the kind of place that I’d want to pray in something spiritual that touches me and makes me think. I also want to incorporate lots of music. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to work with some wonderful musicians, and honestly, I have no biases coming into the position. I’m open to a lot when it comes to the young adult community.
I also have a philosophy about what it means to support young people who want to engage. I think there’s a misunderstanding. We shouldn’t measure our success by how many people become members. The goal of these young adult programs should be to create positive jewish experiences, especially for a city as transient as Atlanta. My program succeeds when people have community wherever they land.
I also want people to feel open to meeting me in person. My door is always open to meet people in my office, for coffee, or even for board games. I’m a big board game nerd. Anyone looking to play board games, please, knock on my door.