Temple Kol Emeth Begins New Rabbi Search

Temple Kol Emeth Begins New Rabbi Search

TKE looks for new leadership after resignation of Rabbi Larry Sernovitz.

Temple Kol Emeth streamed live on March 28 to announce Rabbi Larry Sernovitz’s resignation to their members.
Temple Kol Emeth streamed live on March 28 to announce Rabbi Larry Sernovitz’s resignation to their members.

After just three years, Temple Kol Emeth will soon form a new search committee to find a successor to Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, who is stepping down from the Reform synagogue pulpit to become the CEO of Hillels of Georgia.

In a video-recorded message to the congregation played on the evening of the announcement on March 28, Sernovitz said, “While this is not something I went to look for, it is one of those amazing opportunities, a chance of a lifetime, to make an impact on the front lines of the Jewish community – to make a difference in so many college students across the state of Georgia who will be the future leaders of the Jewish community.”

Temple Kol Emeth president Jodi Roberts said there’s been a wide range of reaction from the 420-family congregation in Marietta that has been celebrating its 40th anniversary during the last year.

Former Temple Kol Emeth Rabbi Larry Sernovitz announced that he is stepping down from his post to serve as CEO of Hillels of Georgia.

“Certainly, there’s happiness that he has found a wonderful opportunity that he’s looking forward to and [people] are very supportive of that. We’ve had some good times and some really good things happening in our congregation, and having Rabbi Sernovitz has certainly been an advantage for our community. So, in all fairness I would not be totally transparent if I didn’t acknowledge that there is a lot of sadness and disappointment.”

Sernovitz said he is proud of his part in the growth of the Kol Emeth community since he arrived in March 2020.

“We are an incredibly strong and dynamic and engaged congregation, and it’s been truly an honor to serve the community. We’ve grown, we’ve doubled the size of our religious school, and we’ve created incredible impact, both internally and externally, in the greater community. Along with Jodi and our board, the congregation is deeply engaged.”

With Sernovitz finishing on June 30, 2023, the temple now has a lot of work to do. Roberts will be completing her second term as president but will remain on the board as immediate past president and will lead the search for a new senior rabbi in concert with Kol Emeth president-elect Sandi Davis.

Temple Kol Emeth outgoing president Jodi Roberts

Roberts said she expects the search committee to be seated by June and be comprised of a broad and diverse representation of the congregation – from newer members to long-timers, parents with children in the religious school, as well as singles and empty-nesters. “We’ll also be looking at their experience, not just inside the congregation, but their experience externally and what skill sets they may have to bring to the table,” she said.

While the search group will begin a process to seek input from the entire community, there is already a sense of the type of candidate who will be a good fit for Kol Emeth.

“We have developed a pretty robust vision for the future, what we’re going to look like in the next three years, so we’re wanting to engage someone who is going to build on that and help support that vision,” explained Roberts, adding that Kol Emeth is a congregation that’s involved in social justice and social action and concerned about antisemitism. “These are all areas we would expect that person to engage with, in addition to helping us to maintain connections to the broader community in the Atlanta area.”

A smaller committee is already working on the search for an interim rabbi who is expected to serve for the one-year transitional period. During this time, the congregation will also be supported by both Sernovitz and Rabbi Emeritus Steven Lebow, who was Kol Emeth’s first full-time rabbi, serving the congregation from 1986 until his retirement in 2020, when Sernovitz was brought on to succeed him.

Lebow told the AJT: “Although I may be taking on a few additional rabbinical responsibilities in the coming months, the congregation at Temple Kol Emeth is an extension of my family and I have remained an active member of the community since my retirement. I am honored to be able to assist the interim rabbi as we transition to a new permanent rabbi over the coming year. Temple Kol Emeth has grown tremendously in the last few years and will continue to be a vibrant Jewish community that is welcoming to all.”

Additionally, Roberts disclosed that the congregation plans to hire a rabbi educator, Rabbi Daniel Alter, who will lead the temple religious school, pending the vote at the annual meeting.

Describing his new job, Sernovitz explained that the CEO position supervises the state-wide Hillels of Georgia organization that works with the board and campus directors “and support teams to really do everything we can to support the Jewish identity and growth of our students, as well as to help them to build bridges across college communities in a world that’s ever challenging.”

Sernovitz says he cherishes the relationships he’s made at Kol Emeth and, because his family isn’t moving, he hopes to stay as involved in the congregation as much as possible as a temple member.

While Sernovitz’s departure leaves a temporary void, the congregation also finds itself in a moment of opportunity. Roberts cited Kol Emeth’s strength as a community, including lay leadership and “small but mighty staff” who are very supportive and engaged.

“It may be a little sad for us, but the fact is that we’re a fabulous community, and I’m very excited about what our future holds. I know we’re going to move forward in a very positive way.”

read more: