Schiff, Russell to lead High Holy Day services at Beth Shalom

Schiff, Russell to lead High Holy Day services at Beth Shalom

Rabbi Danny Schiff
Rabbi Danny Schiff

Congregation Beth Shalom has engaged Rabbi Danny Schiff and soloist Amanda Russell to officiate at the next year’s High Holy Days, the congregation has announced.

Schiff, the former community scholar of the Agency for Jewish Learning, and Russell, a Conservative rabbinic student at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, will preside over Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and “the surrounding days of the High Holiday season of 5775,” according to the statement.

“We are delighted to be able to hire two individuals of integrity who each bring their unique talents back to our Beth Shalom community,” Howard Valinsky, president of the congregation, said in a prepared statement. “Rabbi Schiff and Amanda are each skilled in leading holiday services and will no doubt be assets to us as we welcome them back into our congregational family next fall.”

He told the Chronicle that Schiff is expected to arrive two weeks before the High Holy Days and go home one week after, though details remain to be worked out.

“We’re still going to have an interim rabbi in place at that point,” Valinsky said.

Schiff said he expects a smooth relationship between him and the interim rabbi.

“Beth Shalom has thought this through and I envision it working well,” he told the Chronicle in response to emailed questions. “An interim rabbi has the primary task of taking the congregation from where it is to where it’s going next.  I have the task of being a familiar face who is charged with teaching our inspirational tradition.  These are complementary roles, and I look forward to working together with whomever Beth Shalom appoints.

“My goal is to work hard for Beth Shalom,” he added. “Within the limits of my abilities, I will do whatever is asked of me during that time.”

It’s not the first time Schiff and Russell have worked together.  They also led High Holy Day services this year at Temple Ohav Shalom in the North Hills.

In addition to his 17-year stint at AJL, Schiff, who now lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Anne, and two children, also served as rabbi of Temple B’nai Israel, first in McKeesport and through its move to White Oak. The family made aliyah in 2009.

Schiff currently is working on his Museum of Jewish Ideas (MoJI) project. In concept, MoJI is a portable museum devoted to transmitting Jewish ideas through interactive and multimedia displays.

“MoJI is such an exciting project because of its extraordinary blend of content, mobility, and technology. But, in many ways, the museum extends the educational work that I have done and will continue to do in Pittsburgh:  it communicates why Judaism is so important, not just to us, but to the civilization of which we are a part.”

Russell has sung previously at Beth Shalom. Though currently a rabbinic student, Valinsky said she would not act in a rabbinic capacity during the High Holy Days.

“I am very excited to be returning to Beth Shalom, where I have had the privilege of working before and have since maintained wonderful relationships,” she said in her own statement. “I look forward to leading services along with Rabbi Danny Schiff, and to singing, chanting and praying together with the congregation.”

Valinsky said the congregation has begun a search for an interim rabbi for the coming year. “When we find the right person to join our community, he or she will share responsibilities and work with our many services at Beth Shalom,” he said.

Schiff said he would not apply for the interim position.

“If I could be in two places at once, I would certainly choose to be both in Pittsburgh and Jerusalem,” he said. “But, for the foreseeable future, my life is in Jerusalem.”

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at

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