By Keysha Drexel
The new rabbi at Temple Beth-El in Birmingham is celebrating his first Passover season in Alabama by combining the congregation’s holiday traditions with one he has practiced at other synagogues.
This year, Temple Beth-El’s Passover observations will benefit Collat Jewish Family Services and the Birmingham Police Department’s athletic program, Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg said.
Konigsburg took over at Temple Beth-El July 15 after the first female rabbi in the congregation’s history, Rabbi Michelle Goldsmith, left in June.
“Every local congregation has its own special thing they do for the holidays,” Konigsburg said. “A unique tradition that I’ve discovered here in Birmingham is that if we have a special program, we give the leftover food to the (Collat) Jewish Family Services for their food pantry.”
Members of the congregation will make a Passover donation to Collat Jewish Family Services, but they are also getting a hand from–and lending a hand to–the Birmingham Police Department this year, Konigsburg said.
“One of the Passover traditions that I’ve brought with me to this congregation involves a way to deal with the extra foodstuffs that we can’t own or eat during Passover,” Konigsburg said. “At the beginning of Passover, we sell that food to non-Jewish organizations or people and then at the end of the holiday, they can choose to complete the sale or give the food back. That way, we don’t own the food for the holiday and someone’s done us a favor.”
The Passover food sale practice dates to the fifth through 15th centuries, Konigsburg said.
“The whole thing started in the Middle Ages when people owned stores and had to get rid of all the food” during Passover, he said. “In our sale, I’m appointed by the congregation to sort of represent them in a sale, and they usually make a (monetary) donation to the synagogue.”
Those donations from the food sellers this year will go to the Birmingham Police Department, Konigsburg said.
“I asked Chief (A.C.) Roper where the department could use the money, and he said he thought it would be great way to help the department’s athletic program,” Konigsburg said.
Konigsburg said the Temple Beth-El congregation members and the Birmingham community have been “warm and welcoming” to him and his family since they moved here last summer from South Florida.
“This is a wonderful town, and it’s been a real pleasure to get to know everyone over the last few months,” he said.
Konigsburg comes to Birmingham with more than 30 years of rabbinic experience, serving synagogues in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida. He has also served as a chaplain for Hospice of Palm Beach County and for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
The rabbi said he’s been impressed with the friendly reception he’s received since moving to Birmingham.
“I came here from South Florida, which is like New York in a lot of ways, so it was so great when I walked into a drugstore to get my prescription filled and they remembered me the second time I was there,” he said. “I think I had gone to the same pharmacy (in Florida) for 20 years, and they still didn’t know me.”
Konigsburg said members of the congregation and residents in the Birmingham community have been extremely helpful in helping him and his wife, Michelle, settle into their new hometown.
“Everyone knows everyone else, and they know the best places to eat, to get your car fixed or whatever you need,” he said.
Konigsburg and his wife have three children–Rabbi Ashira (Tim Bernard) Konigsburg, Eitan (Alexandra) Konigsburg and Hillel (Sarah) Konigsburg.
Konigsburg graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social psychology from Florida Atlantic University and a degree from the University of Judaism, now American Jewish University, in Los Angeles. He received a master’s degree and ordination by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity honoris causa in 2010. JTSA also awarded him the Simon Greenberg Award for Rabbinic Excellence.
Konigsburg has certificates in pastoral crisis counseling, Kashrut supervision and substance abuse pastoral care and has completed a residency in pastoral cancer care. He is also a certified fundraising executive and is certified in institutional management through the Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality seventh Rabbinic cohort.
In South Florida, Konigsburg was president of the Southeast Region of the Rabbinical Assembly, president of the Broward Board of Rabbis and vice president of the Palm Beach County Board of Rabbis.
Konigsburg said he has a longstanding commitment to interfaith activities. He was president of the Delray Beach Interfaith Clergy Association and the Inter-Faith Council of Hollywood, where he served as president and was awarded the David Keating Award for his interfaith work in South Broward County. He is a member of the Southside Interfaith Council in Birmingham.
Konigsburg said he’s hoping to meet even more people in the Birmingham community during Temple Beth-El’s Passover Family Shabbat Ruach and Dinner at 5:45 p.m. April 18. A kosher Passover Shabbat chicken dinner will be served following the services.
“We want to share our traditions and really make our Passover celebration a community event,” he said.
The cost of the Passover Family Shabbat Ruach and Dinner is $18 for adults and $10 for ages 5-18.
For more information, visit www.templebeth-el.net, email email@example.com or call 933-2740.