Temple Israel welcomes new rabbi


Rabbi Joshua Neely

The leadership of Temple Israel in Winter Springs has announced the appointment of Rabbi Joshua Neely to the position of senior rabbi.

Neely comes to Central Florida after having served for the past four years as the Second Rabbi of Beth Israel Congregation, an 800-family synagogue in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, Md.

The entire community is invited to share Rabbi Neely’s first Shabbat with the congregation on Friday, Aug. 6, at a “meet and greet” beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary lobby, with services at 7 p.m. followed by an Oneg Shabbat. On Saturday, Aug. 7, services begin at 9:30 a.m., followed by a kiddush luncheon.

Neely is a native Californian (San Diego), where he attended The University of the Pacific in Stockton for his undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and Political Science, San Diego State University for his MA in Political Science, and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, University of Judaism, in Los Angeles where he received his MA in Rabbinic Studies and rabbinic ordination in 2006.

A direct descendant of Marrano Jews, his conversations and convictions about his heritage are moving. “My mother’s ancestors were conversos,” Neely says, “After 500 years, my mother’s ancestors returned to Judaism. The path of Jewish life is powerful. The journey opens the spirit to a divine sense of wonder. Anyone who has been pushed away from Judaism, or even left of their own accord, has the right to return.”

Rabbi Neely has fashioned his rabbinate to make Judaism as accessible as possible. While at Beth Israel, his “House Call” study sessions for small groups in congregants’ homes benefited all age groups, including those who were home bound. In addition, he introduced audio recordings of classes and talks and led the way to have more than 40 hours of material available online for those who were unable to attend in person.

Also online, his Torah Tech study program involved the combination of traditional study with tips and information for using technology to help Jewish living. “One of my greatest passions is teaching,” says Neely. “I try to help my students take away from the classroom some kind of transformative experience. Every Jewish experience should leave us a little different.”

The active lay leadership of Temple Israel is one of the things that attracted Neely to the community. He believes very strongly that “Judaism is not a spectator sport.” Liturgical participation by nonprofessionals on the bimah is of great importance to him. He also encourages anyone to get involved in helping to guide the community.

Such involvement and opportunities are not limited to services and study, but must extend outwards. Neely directed much of his former synagogue’s outreach activities in the general community during the last four years. He led a delegation of 14 congregants to Biloxi, Miss., to build houses following the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. He headed local efforts to build houses in downtown Baltimore for Habitat for Humanity. And he has consistently worked “hands on” to help the homeless and poor in his community.

Prior to entering rabbinical school, Neely spent three years with the Nova Group in Tokyo, Japan, where he managed two English-as-a-foreign-language schools and served as head teacher. His other skills include woodworking, metal working, computer hardware and software skills, automotive repair, diorama building and construction.

Lauren Brown, president of Temple Israel, says, “Temple Israel continues to build a strong spiritual community. We are delighted that Rabbi Neely has joined us in this effort. He is committed to making Temple Israel a welcoming and vital part of our Jewish community.”

Rabbi Neely comes to Central Florida with his wife, Penelope, who is from England, and their two children, Hannah who is seven years old and Nathaniel who is 18 months.

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