“I’m looking for new challenges,” says Rabbi Marc Schneier. “It’s time for a transition.” JTA
Rabbi Marc Schneier, who built The Hampton Synagogue into a star-studded congregation that attracted the likes of Steven Spielberg and Ronald Perelman, announced last Thursday that he is stepping down after 26 years leading the Modern Orthodox congregation.
Rabbi Schneier told The Jewish Week late Thursday afternoon, shortly after a letter went out to members informing them of his decision, that he “wants to dedicate more time and resources to my work to strengthen relations between Muslims and Jews.” The letter said “this summer will be my final season as your congregational rabbi.”
The rabbi, 57, is co-founder, with hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a nonprofit that works on building relations between Jews and other ethnic groups, including blacks and Muslims.
“I’m looking for new challenges,” Rabbi Schneier told The Jewish Week. “I’m a builder and visionary and built this synagogue over 26 years, and the tremendous success of the community speaks for itself; we have many young families and millennials moving in, and it is time for a transition.”
The rabbi, who made clear that he will remain in New York and not move to Israel, said he has “professional opportunities” in the private sector “that I would like to pursue.” He did not specify what those opportunities were.
Rabbi Schneier’s tenure at The Hampton Synagogue has not been without its share of controversy. An alleged extramarital affair with a woman who would become his fifth wife led the Rabbinical Council of America, the umbrella group for Orthodox rabbis, to expel him. The rabbi claimed he mailed the RCA a letter explaining his actions on a bipolar disorder, but the RCA apparently did not receive the letter.
And there have also been some other missteps in the rabbi’s long career. In 2003, he was accused of trespassing when he opened the New York Synagogue on the Upper East Side that other area congregations viewed as a threat. One of them was Park East Synagogue at which his father, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, serves as spiritual leader.
It started in rental space that it later bought. But a downturn in the economy proved the congregation’s undoing and it sold the building and closed the congregation in 2007.
It wasn’t the first time Rabbi Schneier had ventured beyond the Hamptons. In the late 1990s, he had wanted to open another synagogue for his congregants who moved to Florida for the winter. But he backed away in 2001 when met by stiff opposition from existing Orthodox congregations.
He has also dabbled in real estate, coming up with the idea of developing a luxury apartment complex called The Hamptons in Herzliya Pituach that he said he hoped would strengthen congregants’ ties to Israel.
But clearly, the rabbi’s success has been with The Hampton Synagogue, which each summer boasts exciting book talks, prominent speakers, elaborate kiddushes, cantorial concerts, and political leaders, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who spent a Shabbat there when he ran for vice president in 2000.
Some of the events are so popular that buses are rented to bring in people from Brooklyn.
Rabbi Schneier said the congregation plans to conduct a national rabbinic search during the coming months and that several candidates will be visiting in July and August.
“I and our trustee and the congregation will then choose my successor,” he said, noting that he plans to serve until Dec. 31.
In The Jewish Week interview, the rabbi reflected on his years at The Hampton Synagogue, in the town of Westhampton Beach.
“The synagogue was renamed on the 25th anniversary in my honor. My name and legacy are there, but I am a builder and needed a new challenge. I’ll still be part of the community. The congregation has a special place in my heart. We’ve got an eruv and are now breaking ground on a mikveh and have a [religious] school. I did my part in building this community. Now I’m moving onto new challenges.”