Shearith Israel now has 3 senior rabbis
Photo: Courtesy of Congregation Shearith Israel 
From left, Congregation Shearith Israel Senior Rabbis Ari Sunshine, Shira Wallach and Adam Roffman at the Shearith annual meeting June 4, 2024.

Shul innovates with trio of Sunshine, Roffman and Wallach

By Rachel Tucker

Ancient teachings share that the number three signifies harmony, wisdom and understanding. This rings true for Congregation Shearith Israel, which now has three senior rabbis leading the synagogue.

Rabbis Adam Roffman and Shira Wallach were recently installed as senior rabbis at Shearith’s annual meeting earlier this month. They join Rabbi Ari Sunshine in this role — and the trio plan to continue working together to bring more growth to the synagogue.

Each rabbi will have a specific portfolio in addition to sharing the responsibility of Shabbat and holiday programming, lifecycles and various learning opportunities.

“We’ve always had a team approach and this leans into that even more with these amazing colleagues and dear friends,” said Sunshine, who has served as senior rabbi for the past seven years. “It gives us a chance to share this journey with Shearith for years to come. The positive energy and creative thinking with this new model is a boom for our community’s continued growth and success.”

There are other synagogues in the country that have two senior rabbis, but Shearith is the first in the country to have three. Since Sunshine’s arrival, the three rabbis have worked well together professionally and personally and all have skill sets that complement each other. This was a natural next step.

Roffman and Wallach, who are married, joined Shearith 11 years ago as assistant rabbis. Many rabbis come out of rabbinical school, find a place to jumpstart their careers and take on the role of senior rabbi at a different congregation. It is special for them to take on their new roles in Dallas, a place they already call home.

“It takes a special kind of fit and connection to end up becoming a senior rabbi in a place where you started,” Roffman said. “It’s a real testament to where this community is right now. The thing that has become the most valuable commodity in our community is relationships. People value these relationships more than anything else and the fact that we want to stay in relationship with each other for the long term is really what this community is about.”

Not only is this new model of colleagues working together unprecedented, it is also a historical moment as Rabbi Wallach is the first female to serve as senior rabbi at Shearith. It’s not lost on her that she wouldn’t be where she is today without the background of the past years.

“I don’t want to leave out the glass ceiling aspect of this. Shearith’s history is so rich and multigenerational and brings so much beauty from the past,” she said. “When you look at the wall of pictures of the leaders of this community over the generations, it’s mostly a wall of faces of men. Thank God we have had those visionary leaders to get us to the place where we are today and it’s really exciting to see that the face of leadership can look different from now on.”

Rabbi Sunshine started thinking about this idea a couple of years ago. After a committee was created and the new structure was presented to the board, it was ratified unanimously.

Past President Shirley Davidoff noted it takes visionary professional and lay leaders and the right mix of talent for this model to work. It also allows the rabbis to share all the responsibilities equally, without a hierarchy.

“Though Rabbis Wallach and Roffman were well embedded at Shearith Israel for many years, Rabbi Sunshine felt that if he could share the senior rabbi role among the three of them it would greatly impact and strengthen their work with our members and within the Dallas community,” Davidoff said. “Rabbis Sunshine, Wallach and Roffman are the best example of how three colleagues admire each other enough to share equally in the future of Shearith Israel.”

“Rabbi Sunshine was willing to share this position and it will benefit our synagogue,” added Irving Prengler, Shearith’s immediate past president. “Our congregation has responded to their vitality, diversity, programming and teaching; and young families are joining. Shearith is increasing its membership and it speaks for a very bright future.”

In a time when other religious communities are shrinking, this model promotes continued growth and innovation, said Mark Fleschler, Shearith president. Rabbis Roffman and Wallach have grown tremendously and elevation into a senior role seemed like a natural progression.

“If the last several years at Shearith Israel are any indication, then I believe this team will continue the growth and warmth of our community … exciting times are ahead,” Fleschler said. “We are beginning our 140th year at Shearith Israel with a new approach filled with excitement for this new rabbinic model.”

During their time in Dallas, Roffman and Wallach have been able to put down roots, grow their family and become ingrained in the community. They are excited for what the future holds.

“It means so much to us and we feel like we’ve been part of this community for so long,” Wallach said. “Adam and I have always seen ourselves as a chevruta. We could finally put down our emotional and spiritual roots knowing that we were going to grow up with these people as our best friends. The prospect of sharing all of life’s ups and downs together is so remarkably comforting.”

“What people are excited about is the prospect of living out their lives with this team of clergy,” Roffman added. “It’s a strange thing for someone to say to you ‘I really want you do my funeral.’” At the same time, you can only do the bris, then the bar mitzvah, then the wedding if you’re in a community for 10, 20 or 30 years. Just like Shira, I look forward to being there with our children when they are bat mitzvahed and married. The fact that people can look forward to celebrating those moments with us is comforting and exciting.”

For Rabbi Sunshine, being able to share this role fills him with tremendous joy.

“To know that our future is secure with the three of us together at the helm inspires me with much confidence and optimism for a really bright present and even brighter future.

“It makes our shul better and it makes the quality of our personal lives better because we can depend on and trust each other. It’s a great gift for our shul’s future,” Sunshine said.

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