For the first time in 46 years, The Temple, Atlanta’s Reform congregation in Midtown, has a new executive director. The Temple’s new administration head is Jeremy Perlin, who comes with extensive experience in the non-profit world. Most recently, he was executive director of Temple Sholom in Chicago.
Perlin, takes over from Mark Jacobson, who began work at the large Reform congregation just a few years out of college and built an administrative team that was remarkable for its stability. That is also something that has been reflected in the work of the clergy there. Since 1895, when Rabbi David Marx began a 50-year career there, The Temple has, effectively, had only four rabbis serving it.
That result of such a long history of effective leadership on the both the administrative and religious sides of the congregation has made a strong impression on Perlin.
“I just keep telling people I’ve been blown away by just, really with everything. From the moment I started interviewing, the warmth, the welcoming, the amount of time and devotion contributed. What everyone here at The Temple gives in terms of their performance every day is, in my experience, really unparalleled.”
Much like The Temple, the Chicago congregation where Perlin was executive director is a large, mostly urban community that has a long history of leadership in the Reform movement. Its founding, like the Atlanta temple, dates back to the late 1860s and its present building, along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, was completed in 1932, only a year after The Temple’s building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was dedicated.
The new executive director brings to his new job a history of accomplishment in the non-profit world. After completing law school, he worked for several organizations that represented the intersection of law and education. He eventually become head of legal affairs and human resources at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, where he helped manage the Reform seminary’s four campuses in the United States and in Israel. In Chicago, he ran the administrative side of a congregation which is roughly the size of The Temple’s 2,000 member-families.
His stay in Chicago, particularly during the last several years, was marked by the considerable difficulties created by COVID-19. Most religious communities, both Jewish and non-Jewish, he points out, have struggled to overcome significant challenges.
“The pandemic was a game changer for everybody. And so, congregations have had to reinvent themselves,” Perlin says. “They have had to, I think, make really difficult decisions about where resources and, in most cases, limited resources, are used. They have had to learn how to allocate those differently to respond to the needs of our communities. And then also to, to continue to think ahead about how this is going to continue to evolve.”
The effects of the pandemic have been felt across the Jewish community in America. Numerous institutions have merged or disappeared as communal life has been impacted by the isolation that was created by social distancing and quarantines.
There have been nearly 100 million COVID cases reported in the United States and more than 1 million people have died in this country from the disease over the last three years. As he takes up his new job, Perlin believes that the pandemic may have helped to quickly transform how Jewish religious communities work.
“I think, at the very beginning of the pandemic, people probably thought, oh, well, in the sense we’re going to go online now and then we’re going to revert to who we are, who we were or what we were. And it became very clear that, no, we will really have to fundamentally change the way that we’ve done business, the way we’ve engaged with our community from what we did, you know,, three years ago. It’s come at a kind of warp speed in terms of thinking about how we’ve had to change and what that might look like going forward.”
But Perlin feels he is more than up for the task. For 12 years, he ran a successful training center for long distance runners. He’s completed 16 marathons of 26 miles each and he’s finished a couple of ultramarathons, which are 50-mile races. In South Africa, he did a 56-mile course. With the strong team he’s inherited at The Temple, Perlin sees no reason that the new challenge he’s just undertaken won’t be just as successful as all that running.
“One of the things that’s really been gratifying in my first few weeks here is just seeing how excited people are about being back together and doing things together again. Clearly, people are looking for that community. It’s incredible to be here now.”