Rabbi Jonathan Katz hopes his successor will share his love for the community.
When he’s not cracking jokes and leading Temple Beth Israel, Rabbi Jonathan Katz has been active in the community and lobbying for various causes, but after eight years at the temple, he’s leaving this summer.
Katz notified the temple last spring that he will not renew his contract, which expires at the end of July.
“We’re staying in Sarasota, but I’m exploring other professional opportunities,” Katz said.
On April 29, 2008, Katz was unanimously voted as the new rabbi of Temple Beth Israel, replacing the retiring Rabbi Michael Eisenstat. He became rabbi Aug. 1, 2008 and is leaving almost exactly eight years later.
“Many of the duties that Rabbi Katz performs are obvious to everyone,” Temple Beth Israel President Kathy Brooks said. “He conducts services, writes sermons, officiates at life-cycle events, writes a column for the newsletter. These are all things people actually see him doing. However, it is the things you do not see him doing that have made such a difference to our temple.”
Brooks said throughout his eight years, Katz has arranged speakers, created programs, planned cabaret, comedy and musical nights and arranged trips to museums.
Since he moved to the Sarasota area in 2008, Katz has stood for causes he is passionate about, including a proposal for a new town center at Avenue of Flowers in 2009 and the ongoing push for sign reduction along Gulf of Mexico Drive and throughout Sarasota County.
“Rabbi Katz is a person of action who gets involved with social issues that he feels passionate about,” Brooks said. “He steps up to the plate.”
More recently, Katz suggested a potential petting zoo at Five Points Park, in Sarasota, in September, and last year, he spearheaded the effort to sponsor a Southeastern Guide Dog with the other Longboat Key congregations. He also a member of the advisory board of the Salvation Army and the development council of Southeastern Guide Dogs.
“I found it very rewarding to share my vision both of spirituality at the temple and through my involvement in the greater community,” Katz said.
Katz said his decision to leave Temple Beth Israel did not come easily, but he knew it was time.
“The temple is like a boat, and I felt privileged to be able to steer her to different ports,” Katz said. “But sometimes, having a new captain is good.”
The search for a new rabbi is ongoing, and no announcements have been made. If no new rabbi is found before Katz leaves in July, the temple has others who can take the place of Katz in the meantime.
“There are plenty of people who can fulfill the capacity of rabbi because they’re retired but willing to help us out for a bit,” Executive Director Isaac Azerad said. “We want to make sure it’s the absolute best decision. We want someone who will be a good fit, so we don’t want to rush it. We’re excited to bring some new energy to the temple.”
Katz hopes his mark on the temple is positive, and he believes his replacement should love the temple and the community as much as he does.
“We need someone who can draw on the strengths of the congregation to keep it vital, someone who will be able to project the value of the temple, so the Jewish community won’t ever take the jewel that is Temple Beth Israel for granted.”
Although Katz is choosing the leave the temple, he believes his time there was fated.
“My birthday is June 5, my wife’s is April 6, and my daughter’s is Dec. 7,” Katz said. Those three add up to 18, which is Judaism’s lucky number. It also directly corresponds with Temple Beth Israel’s address, 567. It’s an element of b’shert, or destiny, that I’ve been here. I truly believe that.”