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East Village’s Musician Rabbi To ‘Beat’ It

East Village’s Musician Rabbi To ‘Beat’ It

It’s curtains for the Jazz Rabbi’s tenure at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue.

Greg Wall, the tenor sax-playing, part-time spiritual leader of the embattled East Village Orthodox congregation with a diverse membership and a history of conflict is moving on, he announced on the congregation’s Facebook page Tuesday.

“The synagogue is financially challenged (aren’t we all!), and must now raise cash to shore up their 150-year old building, and cannot afford to fund a permanent rabbi,” wrote Rabbi Wall, who lives in Livingston, N.J., and had spent two or three weekends a month at the congregation, using a rented apartment. He also gave classes on weeknights.

“With two kids in college, and another in day school, I need to have a secure income to devote so much of my time to a rabbinic position. I am sure another opportunity will emerge soon. Meanwhile, I still have my ‘day job’— performing, recording, touring, learning, teaching, writing, speaking …”

Rabbi Wall is an accomplished musician whose work is described on his still-present bio on the shul website as an “innovative downtown blend of jazz, world music and Jewish sounds,” and he has brought music to the building both inside the sanctuary during services and in its performance space.

But music isn’t the only noise emanating from the building. There have been nasty fights for control that culminated in 2010 when opposing board members faced off and voting rights were limited to those who regularly attend services and make financial contributions.

At issue was the continued housing at the shul of the Meaningful Life Center, a Chabad-inspired program run by Rabbi Simon Jacobson. Rabbi Jacobson was later forced to leave the building amid allegations that he was packing the membership with ringers who could help him take control of the property, an allegation Rabbi Jacobson termed as ridiculous.

Some on Facebook raised questions about whether funds are the only factor in Rabbi Wall’s departure.

“I really am not sure that it is a ‘money’ thing as much as willful personalities on the board … since this is the 3rd rabbi that’s been let go over the last decade, with only one leaving of their own volition,” wrote Judith Yentyl Baila Josephs on the shul’s page.

The pulpit isn’t the only transition: congregation president David Landis last week sent an e-mail message to members announcing his resignation. But Landis declined to comment on the record when contacted by The Jewish Week Tuesday.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Rabbi Wall said that despite its Manhattan setting the congregation was composed of “middle-class to working-class members. There are even homeless people who came and hung out there, especially on Shabbos.” He said repairs to the pre-Civil War structure and former Lutheran church’s roof will consume all fundraising in the foreseeable future.

As for his next step, the Jazz Rabbi says he’ll look for another pulpit, perhaps in Brooklyn. “I intend to continue spending half my time learning and teaching Torah and the other half making music and concertizing. It’s the best of both worlds.”

He described the job at Sixth Street as “laboratory” for the model of bringing arts and Judaism together.

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