Concluding a nearly three-year search, Temple Beth David is welcoming Rabbi Jesse Charyn to Snellville to serve as the congregation’s newest spiritual leader. Charyn, or “Rabbi Jesse,” as he likes to be called, stepped into the role July 1. And despite high expectations from such a long search, he is not letting that pressure bother him.
“I’m not worried or nervous about the expectations because I just have to be me. I love Judaism, and as a rabbi, it’s what I do 24/7. It’s so vast and varied that there’s always something to learn.”
Charyn’s journey to TBD is a long one, full of many twists and turns and each step defined by that learning he cherishes so much. Out of high school, Charyn traveled to Israel to educate himself firsthand on a place that was so central to his Jewish identity as a child.
“I grew up with this idea that the entire Jewish community had this obligation to build and protect Israel in whatever way we can, so when I was 18, I followed my brother to the Young Judaea Year Course program,” he said.
Making many close Israeli friends, he loved discussing politics and what he saw firsthand while in the country with them.
“They said, ‘we appreciate all your ideas and information, but we’re going to be conscripted to the military and this is what we have to do,’” he recounted. “When they said that, I realized it was my country too and I feel a sense of belonging to this place. I thought, I’ll also volunteer.”
While serving in the military, Charyn met his wife Shira. He was in Gaza during the pull-out in 2005 and was discharged shortly before the beginning of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. While Charyn loved Israel, he felt a longing for the United States.
He returned to school at Arizona State University, during which time he thought for the first time about becoming a rabbi.
“I was working at a Conservative shul, teaching seventh grade, … religious school. The rabbi asked me, ‘Have you given serious thought to becoming a rabbi?’” Charyn remembers, “I started to realize that it was something I could do.”
Following his 2011 graduation from ASU, Charyn enrolled in the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.
“It was very long, and I was on many different journeys,” he said. “I transferred to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia; I was reading Mordechai Kaplan’s book and thinking about Judaism more as a civilization than a religion, and then I learned in a yeshiva in Israel.”
Ultimately, Charyn was ordained at the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute in 2018.
“It’s a nondenominational program that was the culmination of all my years of learning,” Charyn explained. “People ask me, ‘What kind of rabbi are you?’ I self-identify as a post-denominational rabbi, or just a rabbi.”
Last month, Charyn was on his journey across the country, driving from Arizona to his new home in Snellville, explaining that the process was as much about reflection and mindfulness as it was about getting from one place to another.
“I have my four-legged companion with me, Mr. Shimmy. My dog is my copilot. But it’s also about properly preparing and having the right headspace,” he said. “You can really see the transitions from the desert to the flatlands of Oklahoma, to the greenery – and humidity – of Georgia.”
In terms of his goals for the congregation he now leads, Charyn explained that his initial focus is on building a community identity.
“I want to make it that TBD is not just a place to go and pray, but a place where people feel like it’s a home away from home,” he said.
TBD board president Barry Nickelsberg shared some of the challenges that finding a new rabbi created for the congregation.
“It took us some time to figure out what we really wanted in a new rabbi,” he said. “We’ve had great rabbinical leadership and we were looking for someone who could combine the best of our former rabbis all in one.”
Nickelsberg explained that Charyn’s energy and ideas were evident from their very first interactions.
“We asked every candidate, ‘what do you bring to the table,’ and he seemed to have it all in one,” Nickelsburg said. “He’s very interested in outreach, and the question he keeps asking out loud is, ‘What is it that TBD is not doing?’ and he’s filling in the blanks.”
Charyn will be installed July 12. On Saturday, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary will perform. Tickets are available online, $18 for adults and $9 for children. For more information, visit bit.ly/TBD-Peter2019.