“This is a new era,” said Mark Richmond, Temple Sinai of Sarasota president Friday night.
Richmond observed what he estimated to be more than 230 people in attendance for the Shabbat service July 8. He says the average attendance is around 40 during the slower summer months.
The reason for the sudden spike: Members wanted to meet their new clergyman, Rabbi Michael Churgel.
“They’ve really made me feel welcome,” Churgel said. “People seem more eager for what’s to come now.”
Churgel, 44, recently relocated to Sarasota from Rockland, N.Y., where he was also a rabbi. Churgel’s wife, Shara Newman, and their three children, Daphne, Zoe and Jason, were also in attendance to get to know their new community. Churgel attended the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology.He also attended the Rhea Hirsch School of Education, where he earned a Master of Arts in Hebrew letters in 1998 and a Master of Arts degree in Jewish education in 1999. He also graduated from Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion in 2001.
The search for a new rabbi lasted a year, after Rabbi Emeritus Geoff Huntting announced he would retire after 23 years.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Richmond said. “We’re saying goodbye to a great man and saying hello to another.”
Although it’s still the beginning of Churgel’s tenure, he hopes to carry on the tradition set by Huntting of incorporating music into services.
“We’ll continue with what’s been set and hopefully build upon it,” Churgel said.
Before the service, Churgel had an informal meet and greet with members as they entered the synagogue, shaking hands and receiving warm welcomes.
Following the service, there was a Shabbat dinner to allow temple members to meet the entire Churgel Family.