The rabbi plans to bring in thoughtful discussions and speakers to the synagogue.
Stuart Altshuler has a love of Jewish culture and education.
The 68-year old rabbi enjoys many things about his position as a leader in the Jewish community but says he might love making a tangible difference in his community the most.
That love of Jewish culture has accompanied Altshuler to many places, first in his native California and then in England where Altshuler recently finished more than 10 years as a rabbi at a synagogue in London.
Now, that passion for education will be apparent in Sarasota. Altshuler has accepted a position as a rabbi with Temple Beth Sholom. Temple members have already met Altshuler with a warm welcome by attending a celebratory get-together in June. Altshuler had his first official day on July 1 and is excited to see what he and the community will do together.
It wasn’t always Altshuler’s plan to become a rabbi. He decided on the path during his third year at UC Berkeley when one of his mentors — who noted Altshuler had a charismatic speaking style and had a way of working well with people — recommended he pursue the rabbi position to have a career that was enmeshed in the Jewish community. Plus, Altshuler reasoned, there wasn’t anything stopping him from getting his Ph.D down the road.
Altshuler started his career as a rabbi in 1980 after attending school in California, Israel and finally the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He later received his Ph.D in Jewish history from the same research institution.
“That really set me on my course for my life,” Altshuler said.
He lived in Chicago for some time before moving back to California to serve as a rabbi at a small congregation while also teaching at Chapman University in Orange County.
He enjoyed focusing on academia for some time but eventually felt a need to exclusively return to rabbi duties. He spent time studying in London and was eventually invited to serve as a rabbi at the Belsize Square Synagogue.
“I said to my wife (Ella) ‘Let’s see what happens, it could be an interesting diversion in our lives,’” Altshuler said. “I figured I’d be there two or three years and then come back to the States. I ended up being there 10 and a half years.”
Altshuler says he’s proud of his time there, particularly working on building up membership and establishing an educational center.
That emphasis on community and education is something he wants to continue at Temple Beth Sholom. Altshuler was considering between retiring and continuing his career as a rabbi and decided he had too much passion to stop now.
“People are looking for answers and meaning in life,” Altshuler said. “People trying to turn a very difficult year from despair into hope. I do believe it’s going to be a return of institutions like this and churches and mosques that can bring new hope and optimism to a world that needs it.”
He sent in his application to Temple Beth Sholom last November and was eventually accepted. He’s familiar with Sarasota having visited years prior and also has friends in the area.
Altshuler has many plans for his new home and wants to start a series of guest speakers to visit the synagogue to promote education in the local community.
He and staff are inviting writer Thomas Harding — with whom Altshuler is friends — to speak in October as well as planning appearances from Dr. Henry Mendoza with the Henry Jackson Society think tank in London. Altshuler is excited for Temple members to become acquainted with some of these figures he’s become acquainted with during his time in London.
“We’re really going to rock this place,” Altshuler. “We’re going to be the hub of Jewish visitors here (in Sarasota). Special scholars and leaders will be part of this community.”
It feels good for Altshuler to be back in the United States preparing to engage with an all-new community. He recalls times people have come up to him remembering him as the rabbi overseeing their bar mitzvah years before. He wants to bring that kind of connection and meaning to the community at Temple Beth Sholom.
“I don’t feel my age, I have energy plus.” Altshuler. “This is a tremendous community and I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I hope we can make a contribution not only to the Jewish community but to the wider Sarasota area.”
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