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New rabbi at Congregation Achduth Vesholom plans to use skills to reach out in community and region

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For more about Congregation Achduth Vesholom, go to http://www.templecav.org.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Sunday, July 10, 2016 09:01 pm
During his time as a scientist in the industrial recycling industry and as the co-owner of an internet start-up company, Rabbi Leonard Sarko developed a lot of business and technology skills. As a second-career rabbi, Sarko, 62, also has the life experiences — marriage, raising children, pressures of the work world and losing a loved one — to relate well with the people he serves.

He plans to use all of those assets in his new role as clergy leader of Congregation Achduth Vesholom, Fort Wayne's Reform Jewish congregation and the oldest Jewish congregation in Indiana.

The Detroit native officially started work July 3 at the congregation, which also is known as The Temple. He had been serving as rabbi at Temple Beth David in Spring Hill, Fla., near Tampa.

He succeeds Rabbi Javier Cattapan, who left to lead a larger Jewish congregation in Overland Park, Kan.

Sarko said making the career change to rabbi wasn't as big of a leap as it may seem.

"I've always been involved in the Jewish world, ever since I can remember," he said.

That included teaching at the synagogue and helping to lead services when the rabbi was gone. Sarko, who earned a bachelor's degree in zoology and master's degrees in Judaic Studies and education, also has a long history as a Jewish studies teacher and someone who has developed educational programs for all ages.

When the program where he had been teaching ended, his wife suggested he consider becoming a rabbi, said Sarko, who was based for much of his work career in Columbus, Ohio.

At the same time, he said he had grown tired of the traveling required for his job, which involved working with clients to create systems for recycling inorganic industrial materials, such as heavy metals. 

He attended Rabbinical Seminary International in New York City, which specializes in training second-career rabbis, he said. He was ordained in July 2009.

Congregation Achduth Vesholom, 5200 Old Mill Road, received several applications for the rabbi job, but Sarko really stood out, said Joe Cohen, congregation president.

Members really liked the importance he places on fostering strong relationships in the congregation and community, and also the high priority he gives to educating children, Cohen said.

Sarko said several things interested him in the rabbi opening at the Temple.

It allows him to return to the Midwest, and he believes he can use some of his technology expertise to enhance operations at the Jewish resource center opening this fall behind the Temple and also to expand programming offered by the Temple.

For example, Sarko believes his congregation at Spring Hill may have been the first in the nation to offer live video conferencing of services, which allowed shut-ins and people in distant locations to participate. He also has extensive experience with offering classes online.

Both skills can help the Temple achieve one of his goals — reaching out to serve Jews who, because of their jobs, live in small groups in communities 100 miles or more from Fort Wayne.  

Sarko also sees Fort Wayne as a growing, vibrant community that also has a lot of collaborative, interfaith work in progress.

He's still getting familiar with faces and programs at the Temple, he said, so he doesn't plan any big changes immediately. But congregation members probably will notice one difference.

"I tend to be highly participatory in what I do," he said.

During services, for example, he may chant a verse from the Torah in Hebrew, and then a member of the congregation will present the same verse in English. If there is some interesting information in the passage, he may come down into the congregation and engage people in conversation about it for a few minutes.

"It's not about them looking at me doing Judaism," he said. "It's us doing it together."

More Information

Learn more

For more about Congregation Achduth Vesholom, go to http://www.templecav.org.

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