Green Bay synagogue sees transition

GREEN BAY – It’s going to feel different for Rabbi Shaina Bacharach.

“We never get to sit together in temple,” Bacharach said, referring to her husband, Bob Dick.

At least that’s been the case for the past 13 of their 20 years of marriage, during which she has been full-time rabbi at Congregation Cnesses Israel in Green Bay while he has taught in the Religious School and handled music during services.

On Aug. 1, they move from the bimah to seats in the congregation.

Rabbi Moishe Steigmann

That’s because what has befallen many small synagogues around the country finally hit Cnesses Israel – with dwindling membership (80, as of 2016-17), it can no longer afford a full-time rabbi.

So Bacharach, 66, has retired and Rabbi Moishe Steigmann, 40, takes over as half-time spiritual leader at the Conservative synagogue that was founded in the late 1800s.

Bacharach and synagogue leadership discussed last fall how she might remain working, but she concluded, “I can’t do part-time.”

The couple will remain in Green Bay, for which Steigmann is thankful. ”I look forward to any counsel she can give me, and hope she can help me shepherd Cnesses Israel into a new era,” he said.

“They have a core group that really wants to study and pray,” Bacharach said. “But they need to find a way to build, to survive.”

Bacharach and Dick are enjoying an uncharacteristically relaxed summer. “Our summers used to be built around prep time for the holidays,” Bacharach said. “Now we don’t have that.”

She will have more time to read, write, study and tend to her garden. Maybe she’ll write a book about growing up as a Jewish girl in Mississippi. And the couple will travel, mostly to visit family – four children and a grandson are spread around the country. Among her proudest moments came when former Hebrew students became Hebrew teachers.

She added, “I love the relationships that were built here.”

Steigmann, a Milwaukee native, attended Nicolet High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and thought of becoming a patent attorney. His mother, Stisha, was Milwaukee’s Jewish Educator of the Year in 1988.

Rabbi Shaina Bacharach

He worked awhile in Boston before returning to Milwaukee in 2012 to become director of Jewish studies at the Milwaukee Jewish Day School.

After leaving that position, he learned about the Green Bay opening. During the interview process, he said, “Two things jumped out at me. One, the genuine warmth, kindness and joy that everyone seemed to have.The other was their deep desire to create vibrant Judaism that works for their community without the mindset of, ‘This is what we have always done and we want to keep doing it that way.’”

The divorced father of two will remain living in Milwaukee, commuting two weekends a month and holidays to Green Bay.

He’s not concerned about small turnouts for services – fewer than 15 on Friday night and sometimes fewer than 10 on Saturday morning. “Most critical is that people are engaged in the synagogue and passionate about their experiences,” Steigmann said. “Hopefully their passion and spirit inspires others to join.”

Ironically, Bacharach’s joyful experience as rabbi at Cnesses Israel will end with her reading from the bleak Book of Lamentations. Then after Tisha B’av, Steigmann says, “We will begin working to create a new sense of energy in Green Bay.”