It has been a bittersweet week at Congregation Or Hadash, as Rabbis Analia Bortz and Mario Karpuj announced that they are preparing to make aliyah and will be leaving the synagogue by the end of 2020. They announced that transition in a letter to congregants Aug. 22.
“With G-d’s help, in the next 18 months we will celebrate our respective 54th birthdays — our third round of chai years. … As we approach, G-d willing, our fourth round of chai years, we have decided that it is time to realize our lifelong dream of making aliyah so that we may live our next chapter in the State of Israel,” the letter read.
Or Hadash President Ben Nadler explained that he first found out about their intentions just over a month ago.
“We sat down to talk about contract extensions, and iron out the details, and they said, ‘This is very hard for us,’ and I knew right away what they were going to say,” Nadler said, emotions clearly running high.
“There has been a lot of sadness and joy at the same time,” Or Hadash Executive Director Scott Allen said of staff reactions to the news. “I think a lot of people expected them to wind up in Israel at some point. We’ve always expected that would be in their future.”
The rabbis were careful to note, in speaking to the AJT, that they deliberately left time to make the transition smooth and that their focus would not be shifting from the day to day.
“We really expect this process to be as organic as possible because we are not leaving tomorrow,” Bortz said. “This motivates us to bring even more energy to everything that happens in the next 18 months to make the transition even better. Our personality is to be committed until the last day.”
Karpuj added that while the next few days would likely involve a lot of discussion of the next steps, they have to return to business as usual, at least for the time being.
“We expect we’ll be talking about it a lot over the next four or five days and then we have to get back to preparing for the High Holidays,” he said. “We’re not leaving any time soon.”
Nadler explained that the expectation would be that a job posting for the next rabbi would go up in the late fall after gathering community sentiment.
“We want to spend a few months getting input on what they’re envisioning in our future spiritual leadership and what they want us to prioritize,” he said. “Nothing will be finalized until we hear from our congregants.”
Bortz and Karpuj are the congregation’s first rabbis and have been instrumental in building Or Hadash since its early days. They have seen transitions from the basement of Sandy Springs United Methodist Church to their own space at The Weber School and now into their newest home, a space of their own.
Karpuj said that the original idea to form a congregation “was a crazy idea from a crazy small group…”
“Of dreamers,” Bortz interjected.
“Crazy dreamers,” Karpuj said, laughing, “with two crazy rabbi dreamers with them. I think if you didn’t know anything about us and you ask how long Or Hadash has been here, it would be a surprise to learn it’s only been 17 years.”
Bortz agreed and noted that the fine details are where she sees the biggest difference.
“The president of our shul is someone who we married and did his baby namings and saw his kids growing up,” she said. “It changes you forever and becomes a part of who you are, seeing the whole lifecycle of a family.”
Nadler noted that the growth of lay leadership has been one of the biggest changes since the congregation took off, something Bortz echoed.
“It really has gone from a rabbi-centric community to a kehillat-centric one,” she said. “That really was the best change in the last 17 years.”
When asked what they would miss the most about their congregation, the tears began flowing.
“This is our home and our family and we will miss them in every way,” Karpuj said, clearly emotional.
“I have never seen this guy cry so much in one week,” Bortz joked.
As far as what accomplishments they are most proud of, Karpuj explained that pride wasn’t the word they would use.
“I’m thankful in ways I cannot express, blessed and rewarded,” he said. “This is hands-down the most rewarding experience we’ve had in our working lives.”
Bortz explained that their choice 17 years ago to take positions at Or Hadash was not an easy one, but one for which they remain grateful.
“I always said that this congregation is like sifting for the gold of the Jewish people,” she said. “I have never met a better congregation.”