Charlotte’s Temple Beth El has tapped an associate rabbi at the largest synagogue in the Southwest – Dallas’ Temple Emanu-El – to be its new senior rabbi.
On July 1, Rabbi Asher Knight, 36, will succeed Rabbi Judy Schindler, who is leaving Temple Beth El after more than 17 years to head the new Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte.
Knight, who grew up in Denver, will lead a Reform Jewish congregation of 1,140 families in Charlotte. Temple Beth El, which is part of the Shalom Park campus off Providence Road, is the largest synagogue in the Carolinas.
Jack Levinson, Temple Beth El’s president, said the synagogue’s search committee and board were impressed by Knight’s skills in “pastoral care and relationship building and engagement. ... He is a rising star in our Reform movement.”
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Reform Judaism, which originated in Germany in the 1700s, is the largest Jewish denomination in the United States and one with a long history of social justice advocacy. It is a more liberal form of Judaism than the Conservative and Orthodox branches, and is also more accommodating to modern lifestyles and ideas.
In Dallas, Knight has taken a leadership role in various social justice efforts, including creation of a food pantry and community garden for a low-income neighborhood; a durable medical equipment exchange program that refurbishes, restores and recycles wheelchairs, hospital beds and other items; and an initiative to provide free legal services to migrants seeking refugee status or asylum.
In 2014, The New York Times quoted Knight about the migrant children arriving in Texas and other border states from Central America, where many were escaping violence and exploitation.
“We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,” said Knight, who was part of an interfaith coalition trying to help. “The question for us is: How do we want to be remembered, as yelling and screaming to go back, or as using the teachings of our traditions to have compassion and love and grace for the lives of God’s children?”
Social justice and interfaith cooperation were hallmarks of Schindler’s leadership at Temple Beth El. The level of her activism occasionally challenged some in the congregation.
Levinson said those issues are still a priority at Temple Beth El, and he expected Knight to eventually get involved in the broader Charlotte community.
But, he added, “Rabbi Knight will be very focused on the congregation for quite awhile.”
Wednesday night, the choice of Knight was ratified during a gathering of about 300 members of Temple Beth El. All but three people voted yes.
On Thursday, Knight said in a phone interview with the Observer that he and his family are excited about coming to Charlotte.
“It’s a fantastic city with a strong Jewish community,” said Knight , who lauded Temple Beth El for “its commitment to dynamic Jewish living.”
Levinson said Knight was chosen after a seven-month national search that involved 18 candidates. “Temple Beth El’s national reputation played a good role in attracting high-caliber candidates,” he said.
Nine years ago, Knight had been a candidate for assistant rabbi at Temple Beth El. When it was announced in January 2015 that Schindler would be leaving this summer, Levinson said the search committee hoped Knight would apply – and he did.
Rabbi Asher Knight
Age: 36. (He’ll turn 37 on Monday.)
Hometown: Denver. (He’s a longtime Denver Broncos fan.)
Education: Bachelor’s in international relations, University of Denver, 2001; Master of Hebrew Letters and Rabbinic ordination, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in Cincinnati and Jerusalem, 2005-2007.
Family: Wife, Ana Bonnheim, who is also a rabbi and director of yearlong programming for the Union of Reform Judaism’s Greene Family Camp; and their two children, Michah, 3, and Jonas, 4 months.
Current post: He is one of the three associate rabbis at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, a Reform Jewish congregation of 2,500 families.