I cannot say enough how honored I am to be the interim rabbi here at Temple B'nai Israel. I've been made to feel so welcomed in such a short time. I am so excited to meet and get to know as many of you as I can as we pray and learn together over the next several months. I'm married with three incredible children, David, Yael and Solomon. We are still healing and mourning the death of our fourth child, Sam, who at 8 years old died in December after an 18 month battle with leukemia. I'm currently growing my hair as long as possible for a St. Baldrick's Shave for the Brave event. On April 1st I will join over 70 rabbis in shaving my head at the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in Chicago this year. So far we've all raised over $444,000 towards pediatric cancer research.
I've lived in the north shore of Chicago for almost eleven years and resided in Highwood for the last eight years. For the first six years I stayed at home to raise my children. During that period I also worked as the director of youth programming at Am Shalom in Glencoe where my wife, Phyllis, is the associate rabbi. The last two years I worked at Congregation B'nai Torah as the interim rabbi helping with their search and transition year. I also started my own company recently, DigitalJudaism.com, developing and marketing dynamic digital Hebrew learning tools for computers and iPads for all ages.
I grew up in Connecticut and was raised in what I would call a conservative reform congregation where most men (and some women) wore a Kippah and Talit and Hebrew was still a large part of the services. My experiences as a bar mitzvah, youth group participant, on my teen trip to Israel, and after my father's early death in 1992 all led me to want to become a rabbi. I had this strong desire to give back and improve upon all the experiences that shaped me as a Jew. I wanted to live in Jewish time and be a positive influence on the Jewish experience for all those communities I've had the honor to be part of.
I graduated from the University of Florida in 1991 with a B.A. in English literature and creative writing. I graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1993 with an M.A. in Theatre Criticism. I graduated from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2005 with an M.A. in Hebrew letters and ordination as a reform rabbi. In between graduate school and rabbinical school I worked as many jobs as seemed interesting to me in Lexington, Kentucky while volunteering and being mentored at Temple Adath Israel. I worked for the J. Peterman Company before it was made famous on the television show Seinfeld. I worked for the professional minor league hockey team The Kentucky Thoroughblades for two years. I also worked as an automotive service writer at a friend's Toyota repair shop for three years before I began my studies in rabbinical school. I believe life is meant to be interesting, but if you don't create the interesting parts then you get stuck with all the boring bits of this movie called life. I also love music, movies, reading, comedy and theatre.
Thank you again for affording me this incredible opportunity. Please feel free to reach out to me and introduce yourself. My goal is to meet you all, help in the healing during this unexpected transition, and be here as Temple B'nai Israel enters this new phase of our existence working together to heal and remain the vibrant community we have been for so long.
Rabbi Michael Sommer