“It used to be, once upon a time 40 or 50 years ago, that to be Jewish you had to belong to a synagogue, but in big cities that doesn’t exist,” said Robert Glazier, chairman of the rabbi search committee. “Now you can be a Jew without being a member of a synagogue, so we have to provide something that members can’t get elsewhere.”
He understands that “something” to be a place to ask about “the meaning of life,” and other questions that tug at our modern existence. When the congregation was consulted on what they wanted in a rabbi, the search committee found that many members came to the synagogue for spiritual rather than social reasons and wanted their new leader to reflect this priority.
In many ways, Rabbi Tom was the answer to their prayers. He brings a scholarly knowledge of theology and psychology as well as experience in meditation and Jewish mysticism. As part of the interview process, Heyn was introduced to “a cross-section of members, from 2-year-olds to 90-year-olds,” and related remarkably well to everyone. Even people who were “in different places spiritually, politically, religiously all liked him,” Glazier said.
James Weinkle, chairman of the rabbinic transition committee, described Heyn as having “a very soulful presence about him” that made him seem like the perfect fit for Temple Israel’s diverse needs.
“I spent long hours talking with him, and this man has an ability to really hear people,” Weinkle said of his early conversations with Heyn. “He knows how to listen to people in a way that is such a gift.”
Heyn says he is looking forward to the challenge, and already talking about programs he wants to start or expand. When he describes new meditation workshops and community outreach, the measured thoughtfulness in his voice is momentarily replaced by undeniable enthusiasm.
“There’s something that’s going to happen there that in some ways is going to be radically different, really unique,” he said. “Temple Israel is going to appeal to a whole new generation.”