It’s never too late to realize a dream
If you would have met Avi Mitzner, Congregation Shearith Israel ritual and cemetery director, back in his elementary school days, you might have thought he was headed toward a career as a rabbi. He attended an intensive Jewish day school and went to Yeshiva University. But Mitzner ended up at Law School at the University of Maryland, and being a rabbi was never his chosen career path — until now.
This past June marked 20 years at Shearith for Mitzner. “It was about two or three years into my tenure here that I began thinking about becoming a rabbi,” he said. “But at that time, it was completely impractical. I was busy with young children, and we would have had to move to whatever city the school was in. No one was learning on Zoom back then!
As my children grew up and as more programs went virtual, I toyed with the idea of finding a rabbinic program. In the end, it was Shearith’s Rabbi Adam Roffman who found the school for me. On my last trip to Israel, I got a text from Adam about a new program designed for working Jewish professionals. Adam wrote that he personally knew some of the teachers and because he respected them, he thought the program was worth further investigation.
“Then, Rabbi Ari Sunshine, Shearith’s senior rabbi contacted some of the staff on my behalf. After his discussion, he said it sounded like the program was designed with someone like me in mind, because I have a comprehensive background in Jewish knowledge and extensive experience working at a synagogue.
“What this program offers in addition to the advanced Jewish learning, is the practical study of being there pastorally for a congregant. Many of my classmates will share this background, as well, so I’m excited for a cohort of learners who will also have a deep knowledge of Judaism and are moving to a new path.”
Mitzner will begin his studies in January 2022, and the program goes through December 2023. “After I complete my rabbinic studies, I will stay at Shearith Israel,” he explains. “I’m thrilled that when I finish this program, it will allow me to be there for our congregants in full capacity at all their lifecycle events, from a bris to a b’nei mitzvah, to weddings, and funerals.”
Mitzner started working part-time at Shearith in April 2001. Within a couple of months, he took on a full-time role. “Since then,” he says, “I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to really grow into this position. I’ve also been lucky to work with an amazing group of people including all the klei kodesh [clergy] and lay leadership, who have truly supported my new journey.”
When asked what wife Shelley thinks, Mitzneri laughs and says, “she said, what took you so long?” It’s a fair question, but he found the right time — a time when his kids are independent and grown, a time when learning at an esteemed school can happen in Dallas, and a time when Shearith is poised with an amazing team of klei kodesh and lay leadership. “Exciting things are on the horizon,” Mitzner says, “and I’m thrilled to be supported on my new journey by my dear friends, now like family, that are part of my Shearith life.”
Shearith President, Irving Prengler says, “We are so happy for Avi to achieve this dream. It will be such a wonderful and meaningful accomplishment!”
Congregation Shearith Israel will celebrate Avi Mitzner’s 20th Anniversary with a special Shabbat and Kiddush lunch Saturday, Dec. 11. The community is invited to celebrate Avi. Additionally, you may donate in his honor to a fund that will go directly toward his rabbinic school costs. Donate at https://is.gd/AviDonation
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