After 40 years leading Kehila Chadasha, Rabbi David Shneyer has become the Montgomery County progressive community’s rabbi emeritus.
In his place, Rabbi Gordon Fuller has been hired as an interim spiritual leader while the organization seeks a permanent rabbi.
“It’s not easy making a transition from a rabbi who served for more than 40 years,” Shneyer explained. “Many congregations will find an interim rabbi to spiritually give the community some breathing space, and work out how it wishes to go forward.”
Enter Fuller, 69. A native of Detroit, he considers himself “sort of a wandering Jew,” because of the many places he has lived and worked. Before he was ordained as a rabbi, he worked in Jewish education, running the education department of the Dallas Jewish Federation for seven years.
Following his ordination, he led a Conservative congregation in Waco, Texas, for 11 years. He and his wife moved to Maryland in 2015 to be closer to their children.
A position as rabbi at Shirat Hanefesh in Chevy Chase was followed by four years as executive director of the Haberman Institute for Jewish Studies.
Fuller had met Reb David, as Shneyer is generally known, when the latter’s band, the Fabrangen Fiddlers, performed at a conference that Fuller was attending.
“I miss pulpit work, and it’s not a traditional pulpit,” Fuller said of why the position appealed to him. “It’s nice to be back in a community setting, and I like that it’s interim. At my age, I’m not looking to take over a [long-term] congregational position.”
Founded in 1978, Kehila Chadasha (“New Community”) identifies itself as a progressive community rather than a traditional synagogue. Its founders wanted a religious community that was run cooperatively, rather than top down.
Community events occur at locations in Bethesda, Silver Spring and Rockville, sometimes at members’ homes. Inclusion and social action are the community’s core tenets, and members aim to support each other through services like their Chesed Committee.
“We were intentionally limited in growth,” said Shneyer, 74. “We only accepted five new households a year at first, and they actively needed to come to events. The philosophy was to have a community where everyone participated and took responsibility.”
Shneyer was not the rabbi at Kehila Chadasha’s founding. He served as its cantor and Judaist, but became rabbi in 2001 when the community’s first rabbi, Rabbi Harold White, left and asked him to take on the role.
Shneyer said that for the last several years he has been winding down as community leader. He still sits on committees, but he believes it’s time for someone new to take the wheel.
“About nine years ago, the community grew to about 100 households,” he said. “I felt that as I was getting older, it was time for the community to consider new leadership and to move the community forward. A committee was formed five years ago to search for a new spiritual leader.
“I’m very pleased that the community chose Rabbi Gordy as an interim spiritual leader,” Shneyer continued. “I think he’s a good match. The community itself is going through a sort of soul-searching. It’s very healthy — every community should have periods when they are conscious of their own sense of community and their relationships to Judaism and the larger Jewish community. Every congregation should go through that process.”
Fuller said that although his position is temporary — 12-18 months — he plans to take full advantage of it and enjoy the time he serves as Kehila Chadasha’s spiritual leader.
“The warmth of the community is what drew me to accept their offer,” he said. “I would encourage people who are interested in a warm, intimate community that is more focused on learning and culture to check it out.” ■