Torat El looks west for new assistant rabbi

Torat El looks west for new assistant rabbi

Rabbi Sara Metz with her husband, Lev, and their two-year-old son, Doron, at their former home in southern California. 
Rabbi Sara Metz with her husband, Lev, and their two-year-old son, Doron, at their former home in southern California. 

Maybe it’s the sunshine.

When Sara Metz makes the cross-country trip from Los Angeles to become assistant rabbi and educator at Congregation Torat El in Oakhurst, she’ll join a clergy team that includes Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun, a San Diego native.

Metz is a 2014 graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in California and has been a rabbinic intern and teacher at Valley Beth Shalom, the Conservative synagogue in Encino. Schonbrun, meanwhile, formerly held a pulpit in the greater San Jose community.

Starting July 1, Metz will run the religious school and teach post-bar and bat mitzva students in the Conservative synagogue’s teen program. 

“My main plan is to get to know the Torat El community and the rest of the Jewish community in the area, and to have them know me,” she said.

On the congregation’s website, president Andrew Robins described an “arduous” but satisfying selection process that included weekend-long auditions by four “very qualified” applicants.

A survey of the congregation found that Rabbi Metz “received an amazingly positive response of 92 percent to the question: ‘Would you support this candidate for the position.’”

Robins added that Schonbrun and his wife, Jane-Rachel Schonbrun, “worked as advocates, mentors, and friends to our community, providing invaluable assistance and guidance” during the search process.

“The community at Torat El was so welcoming and we immediately felt at home,” Metz told NJJN in a phone conversation as she continued packing for the move from the San Fernando Valley to Monmouth County. “We knew that it is the place for us to continue our lives and for me to start my rabbinate.”

Her husband, Lev, expects to teach Judaic studies at a day school while they raise their two-year-old son, Doron.

Their move will bring Metz a lot closer to her childhood hometown of North Haven, Conn., where she split her education between a Jewish elementary school and a public high school before attending Brandeis University.

During her rabbinic training, Metz was awarded a two-week fellowship through the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York that included on-site workshops in Berlin and Auschwitz.

“It was a really fantastic program,” she said. “I went with several of my classmates, as well as seminarians from Christian and Muslim institutions and some women who were studying theology but whose religions barred them from entering the clergy. 

“Having been in a place where such evil occurred has changed my outlook toward the rabbinate.” 

Although her family had no direct ties to victims or survivors of the Shoa, the Auschwitz experience “was about looking into the evil and the goodness of the righteous gentiles and how the clergy of all faiths responded to the Holocaust in those times,” said Metz. “We looked at our own professional ethics, where our own professional lines are drawn, and what we would do if we feel those ethics to be questioned. When we see something we believe is wrong, we need to stand up.” 

Even as she conceded she will “miss the California sunshine,” Metz said, she is “looking forward to traditions I had as a kid — going apple-picking, seeing the foliage, making snowmen, and playing in the snow.” 

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