MEQUON – Rabbi David Korngold is happy with the unusual tradition that’s been handed down to him as the new spiritual leader of Congregation Anshai Lebowitz here in Mequon.
It’s a tradition the native New Yorker hasn’t really seen elsewhere. Synagogues don’t typically approach the separation of men and women as Anshai Lebowitz does. Among synagogues that offer separate seating, the synagogue, at 2415 W. Mequon Road, is unusual in the different options it offers to worshippers.
“My vision is to build upon the great work that the congregation has done all these years,” Korngold said. “Our visions are very, very aligned. That’s why I think we are a good fit.”
The congregation selected Korngold after a two-year search. Rabbi Ira Grussgot left in 2016.
Korngold is a lawyer with 11 years in public and private practice, most recently as the head of his own firm on Long Island. He is also an ordained rabbi and experienced cantor. He is a licensed mediator and conflict negotiator, and is adept at teaching Hebrew and b’nei mitzvah classes, according to a news release.
Korngold was ordained as a rabbi at Yeshiva Derech Chaim of Brooklyn in 1996. He graduated from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School in Manhattan in 2006 and began practicing law.
“As time went on, the desire to become a rabbi never left,” he said. While building his law firm, the desire festered in the back of his mind. He wanted to be able to say, “I helped people and I did all the things I originally wanted to do.”
He said he loves to study, but “you can’t study just for the sake of study. That sort of leads towards an improper worldview. You do have to participate in this world. You can’t help people if you’re in front of a book all day.”
Now at the Mequon shul since Feb. 16, he has become a synagogue’s spiritual leader for the first time.
The rabbi’s wife, Valerie, and their three boys – a pair of twins, 14, and an 8-year-old – plan to wait until the end of the school year before they move here from Long Island.
On the subject of how to approach separate seating, Korngold said, “I don’t know that that’s the most important issue concerning Judaism today.”
“What I’m saying is that it shouldn’t be an overwhelming issue that divides us.”
What makes Anshai Lebowitz unusual is its approach to the mechitzah, the barrier that separates men from women in Orthodox synagogues. Anshai Lebowitz considers itself an Orthodox, inclusive shul and its approach is to offer several separation options.
The Anshai Lebowitz mechitzah options are: 1. A women’s section with a high divider, with its mesh rising up above eye level. 2. A woman’s section with a low divider. 3. A men’s section with a low divider. 4. A mixed gender section.
The sections are all in the same shared prayer space, placed around the rabbi.
Korngold said, “we have a wonderful, open, visionary congregation that understands, whatever side you fall on in the mechitzah debate, that shouldn’t prevent you from worshiping with us.”