After immense self-reflection and considerable discussion, I have decided to retire as the rabbi of Ark Centre. The reasons are varied and I’d like to share some of my thoughts and feelings at this time.
Human beings, like the rest of the biological world, find change quite challenging. And this is generally a good thing. If, with every gust of wind, we were to change our course we would go nowhere. But at the same time the engine of evolution, biological as well as cultural, is in fact mutation.
My personal narrative is that I have undergone two such transformations thus far in my life. The first was at the age of 24. I had been recently ordained as a rabbi and, following a series of events that served to expand my experiences, I discovered the only thing I knew was that I didn’t really know much at all. After studying Judaism intensely, and exclusively, from morning until night for well over a decade I came to a conclusion that I needed to expand my learning.
I became a mutant in an exciting new world where I discovered philosophy, history, literature, anthropology, and archaeology, which literally changed my life. Over a relatively short space of time, I learned for the first time what it meant to be spiritually connected through nature when spending a week alone camping in the Otways, David Attenborough opened the world of biology to me, Jacob Bronowski enlightened me as to the project of science and knowledge and Bob Marley and the Blues Brothers introduced me to the world of music beyond Jewish religious songs.
Life could have continued rather happily in that ongoing discovery. But just as I was about to get comfortable in the lush tropical rainforest outside Cardwell, a second transformation occurred. Out of the blue, I was asked to an interview for a job I hadn’t applied for nor knew existed. And so 10 years ago I met with the leadership from an emerging kehillah, Ark Centre.
I had not, during my decade of self-discovery, entertained the idea of becoming a congregational rabbi. But here I found a community of people who wanted authentic Judaism for the modern setting. This was a small group of people who wanted to connect with their spiritual heritage in a Modern Orthodox setting, in a way that was meaningful and relevant to them.
Needless to say, it held a great appeal for me to preach a message of intellectual honesty and spiritual liberation within the framework of Orthodox Judaism.
I quickly discovered that I am not alone in my philosophical musings and the ensuing ride has been tremendous. A decade ago when I started at Ark Centre a dozen or so people would converge weekly in a little room they rented at the local Jewish school.
Almost immediately, we moved into a cosy house in Lovell St, that became my home, and the infant community began to blossom. People who had never in their lives gone to Shule on a Friday night were now coming weekly and bringing their children of all ages. There was a real buzz. And at every opportunity, there was music and food.
It was also in Lovell Street that the love of my life Lisa came to a Friday night dinner on New Year’s Eve 2011. And now, with our two boys in tow, it’s clear to see the years at Lovell were indeed very productive.
Eventually, we ran into the problem which was our blessing. We outgrew the space. We became semi-nomadic setting ourselves up in a private house in East Hawthorn while a more permanent home was sought. Before long, in 2014, we moved into an old warehouse in Cato St. that was fitted out to be the premises we now all know as the Ark Centre home.
There is indeed a lot to be collectively proud of. Over the past several years as the Rabbi of Ark Centre, we have successfully challenged the status quo, we have engaged young and old alike with a refreshing approach to connecting with Judaism. We have done our best to listen to what today’s Modern Orthodox community seek and deliver to that. And, at the same time, to listen to what isn’t working, and what we know doesn’t engage the next generation who, as many have written about, are seeking alternate ways and means to find connection. We haven’t compromised on authenticity, halachah or tradition. We have raised questions that are relevant to the community at large, forged relationships with like-minded colleagues at home and abroad and have established a home for people who were looking for something different. That’s not to say that any of our original intentions have been entirely fulfilled but rather, that we can be proud of the conversations we have started and the many changes we have brought about.
Over the past 10 years in this role I have seen an enormous amount. Much of it has enriched my soul, some of it has challenged me to my core. And now, I find myself ready for the next change.
Which brings me to the third transformation I am in the midst of undergoing and the reason for this open letter to our community. I have decided, as I stated right at the beginning, to retire from being the rabbi at Ark Centre. I feel very positive about all those who have benefitted from the change that I brought about, but I am ready for a new challenge.
Though I am retiring as the rabbi of Ark Centre, I am not leaving the Ark community. I will continue to be employed at Ark Centre in a part-time capacity as Music Director which will see me doing what I love most – connecting spiritually through Jewish song.
It has been a true honour and pleasure to have led the Ark community as your Rabbi. It is with a full heart I pass the mantle to Rabbi Gabi and Rebbetzin Mushka who represent the finest aspects of their titles. Their warmth, intelligence, humility, energy, ideas and genuine care, leave me completely assured that the Ark community will continue to thrive as a centre leading the community in a way that is relevant now and into the future.
Like the first time I changed course I feel the time is right to spread my metaphorical wings and open my mind to more of what the world has to offer. Like the second transformation, I am excited with all the great opportunities life will present when there is space made to do so.
I love you, my community, and I look forward to celebrating many happy times together in the future.
Rabbi Shneur will continue in his full time role until May 31 2019 and will commence his Part Time role as Music Director on June 1 2019.