Rabbi William Gershon celebrates bar mitzvah year at Cong. Shearith Israel
By Rachel Gross Weinstein
Teacher, preacher, leader, Zionist — these are just some ways to describe Rabbi William Gershon. For 13 years, he has embodied all of those roles as the senior rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) and made a profound impact on the community.
He will be honored for his 13 years of service during 13/125: A Celebration, April 8–10. The weekend will also commemorate the synagogue’s 125+ years of rich history in Dallas.
Since arriving at CSI, Gershon has brought his passion for Judaism to the forefront by creating programs, teaching Torah and participating in mitzvot. He said his love for Torah and the Jewish people is what made him become a rabbi.
“I love Torah, I love the Jewish people and I wanted to give back,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful 13 years. It’s a great marriage and has been more than I could ever imagine. We’ve created a sense of the joy of being Jewish, which is a major theme of my rabbinate. I am proud of the [synagogue] leadership and the community we’ve built. It’s a real partnership between the rabbis, staff, lay leadership and congregation.”
Before arriving in Dallas in 1998, Gershon served pulpits in Southfield, Mich., and Minneapolis, Minn. He grew up in Asbury Park, N.J., in a not-very-religious family, but he was active in his synagogue and USY and said those experiences played a role in his becoming a rabbi, along with attending Camp Ramah. Gershon said he became more observant over time, and started keeping kosher in eighth grade.
He attended the joint program of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Columbia University and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies and ancient Semitic languages and cultures. He received his rabbinic ordination from JTS in 1987.
Gershon said his passion for Torah and leading a Jewish life, tikkun olam and teaching has led him to where he is today. All of these aspects, he said, have made his time at CSI rewarding.
“I consider it an honor and privilege to be a rabbi,” he said. “No day is the same in the rabbinate and every day brings challenges. We are with people in their happiest moments and in their darkest times. At the same time, we try and find a way to connect them with God and the Jewish tradition. It’s a great feeling and I like to believe I make an impact. Leading the Jewish people and helping create committed Jews who have a passion for learning is rewarding.”
Gershon added that Israel is important to him as well. He made his first trip to the Holy Land in 1976 on a USY pilgrimage and was hooked. Over the years, he has been to Israel several times and has become a strong supporter of the country.
He is also one of 30 rabbis across North America to serve as a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of Learning in Jerusalem. The three-year program consists of four weeks of study every summer and a week every winter, along with 20 sessions of distance learning; Gershon will be in Israel this summer for his second year.
“It’s relevant, powerful, transformative learning and has affected my thinking and the way I teach,” he said. “It’s a wonderful, prestigious program and I enjoy the studying.”
When Gershon isn’t working, he enjoys cooking, which he refers to as “therapy,” bike riding, and spending time with his wife, Raquel Pomerantz Gershon, and his children Benji, Eliana and Yoni, all of whom had their b’nai mitzvah at CSI.
His goals for the future are to continue on the path of building an engaged community at the shul; experiment with prayer and the different modalities of spirituality; help connect congregants through Torah study; and reach out to as many people as possible.
Although there have been many accomplishments over the years, Gershon said there is still work to be done and there is no stopping him from achieving his ambitions.
“I believe that we will continue on this path of transformation and I hope Shearith will be a place for Jewish learning, activity and celebration,” he said. “I want it to be a spiritual home to the members of the congregation and a source of good in the community. We have just scratched the surface of what we need to accomplish; we’ve done a lot and done it together, but we have a long way to go before anyone can think about resting. I am not slowing down and I like to tell my leadership that I’ve just begun.”
Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker said he enjoys working with Rabbi Gershon and has been influenced by him in many ways.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Rabbi Gershon since he arrived in Dallas,” he said. “He is a very fine, dynamic rabbi who always has innovative ideas and creates interesting programs. He has extensive knowledge of Torah, and he actively cultivates an interest for studying Torah in our congregation. His sermons are inspiring and thoughtful; I always learn from him every Shabbat. I enjoy working with Rabbi Gershon and look forward to many more years.”
CSI Associate Rabbi David Glickman added that he has had the privilege of working with Rabbi Gershon since he was ordained at JTS nearly 10 years ago and looks forward to celebrating his accomplishments and impact.
“I could not have chosen a better place to develop a rabbinical career than at Shearith Israel with Rabbi Gershon,” he said. “He has been a trusted friend, teacher and mentor over these years. Rabbi Gershon has a strong and dynamic vision for congregational life rooted in a love for the state of Israel, a passion for engaging Torah learning and above all, his belief in the ‘simcha shel mitzvah’ — the joy of living Jewishly.”
Cong. Shearith Israel’s ‘13/125’ celebration to take place April 8–10
By Rachel Gross Weinstein
The year was 1884 and a group of 12 Jews gathered in the back of Wasserman’s store to establish a new synagogue. Fast-forward to today and Congregation Shearith Israel (CSI) is a vibrant Conservative synagogue that provides members with prayer, learning and joy.
CSI is celebrating its more than 125 years in the Dallas Jewish community and Rabbi William Gershon’s 13 years at the synagogue at “13/125: A Celebration” the weekend of April 8–10. All events are free to CSI members and will take place at the synagogue, 9401 Douglas Ave., Dallas.
Co-chairs for the weekend are Sandy and Howard Donsky; Stefani and Gary Eisenstat; Marcy and Lew Lefko; and Jill and Jeff Rasansky. The honorary chairs are Carol and Steve Aaron; Janet and Jeff Beck; Cynthia and Robert Feldman; Tootsie z”l and Peter Fonberg; Veronique and Hylton Jonas; and Jackie and Steve Waldman.
CSI President Mark Davidoff said the weekend is a wonderful way to honor both Rabbi Gershon and the synagogue, and he looks forward to celebrating with the entire Shearith community.
“We have people coming in from around the country to honor Rabbi Gershon,” he said. “We thought it would be great to tie the celebration for him and the shul together. My family joined the shul 30 years ago and our kids had their b’nai mitzvah at Shearith. It’s special to be president during this exciting time.”
Over the years, CSI has had many successes. In 1954, it officially affiliated with the Conservative movement and hired Rabbi Hillel Silverman as its first rabbi who was educated and ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. In 1956, just three years after the late congregants Rose and Abraham Kahn bequeathed their entire estate to the synagogue, providing the necessary funds for the purchase of the property, Shearith Israel dedicated its historic Douglas Avenue building.
It founded the Solomon Schechter Academy, now the Ann and Nate Levine Academy, in 1979 and established a North Satellite location, Beit Aryeh, there. Today, the shul boasts membership of about 1,300 families.
Sharon Levin, executive vice president who will become president in June, said there are sixth- and seventh-generation families who belong to CSI and that sense of community is what has allowed the congregation to thrive.
“We have a wonderful community and it’s truly a kehilah kedushah, a sacred community,” she said. “This is a great event that’s casual, interactive and multigenerational. It’s been a pleasure and honor to work on this for the shul and community at large. What’s wonderful is that so many of our members are involved within the Jewish community — local, national and international — and love their shul.”
Activities on tap for the weekend include a concert by Craig Taubman, a young families’ Shabbat service and interactive Kabbalat Shabbat, Shabbat morning services honoring Rabbi Gershon where more than 50 past presidents will do an aliyah, and much more. Children’s art from CSI’s scholar-in-residence weekend with Mordechai Rosenstein will also be on display.
The Rabbi William Gershon Endowment was also recently established, and those funds will be used for programs for young adults in their 20s and 30s.
Jeff Rasansky, past president and event co-chair, said CSI provides multiple opportunities for members to connect within the congregation and allows people to continue their Jewish journeys through prayer, learning, helping others, social action and celebration.
“Led by our remarkable Rabbi Gershon for the past 13 years, Shearith has created a community of people who cherish the blessings that surround us every day, and who want to share the joy of embracing Torah learning, engaging in meaningful and spiritual prayer and performing deeds of loving kindness,” he said. “Our 13/125 celebration is truly a historic moment not only for our congregation, but for our entire Dallas Jewish community…. Our links to our past also connect each of us together and — no doubt — will help provide all of us the opportunity to keep Shearith Israel flourishing for another 125 years.”
Co-chairs Marcy and Lew Lefko have belonged to CSI for 21 years and the shul plays an integral role in their lives. Marcy added that they are fortunate to be part of a wonderful synagogue community.
“We believe this weekend will bring together the entire congregation and nothing is better than that,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to honor our past and celebrate our future, and we are thrilled to be part of a great congregation.”
For more information, contact Mona Allen at 214-361-6606, ext. 218, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.shearith.org.