In a sense, Rabbi Paul Tuchman is the Drew Carey of White Oak.
Just as Carey faced the challenge of succeeding longtime “The Price is Right” host Bob Barker, Tuchman is stepping into a position at Temple
B’nai Israel in White Oak previously held by a beloved local figure: Rabbi Danny Schiff.
As the scholar-in-residence with the Agency for Jewish Learning and rabbi of B’nai Israel, Schiff spent 16 years in Pittsburgh before deciding to make aliyah this year.
During his tenure, Schiff gave countless lectures, wrote articles for publications like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, oversaw the congregation’s move from McKeesport to White Oak in 2001 and touched many lives. His influence helped increase membership at B’nai Israel, drawing congregants from as far away as Pittsburgh and Mt. Lebanon.
It’s a tough act to follow. But Tuchman, who comes to southwestern Pennsylvania after eight years with a congregation in Damascus, Md., is up to the task, according to Dick Leffel of Monroeville, the president of Temple B’nai Israel.
“Rabbi Tuchman is a dynamic, friendly guy,” Leffel said. “He went through a lengthy interview process where he met most of the congregation, and they really took to each other.”
The question facing B’nai Israel is whether the people who joined for the rabbi will stay with the congregation. Leffel sees an opportunity where others might see a crisis.
“We plan on keeping as many people as possible,” he said. “We hope to maybe even grow.”
Leffel acknowledged Schiff’s importance in keeping the congregation vibrant, but added that Schiff came to B’nai Israel when the congregation was still based in McKeesport.
“When we moved to White Oak, we got more members with a new and better building,” Leffel said. “Rabbi Schiff was a superstar rabbi and will be impossible to replace, but people here are really warm and friendly and once they come they appreciate that [atmosphere].”
Tuchman believes that the key to being a successful rabbi is being a good teacher, and said his primary concern would be with expanding the adult education program.
He has no intention of trying to replace a “superstar rabbi.” Their conversations recently have been strictly business, Tuchman said.
“I talked to Danny before he left, but it was mostly nuts and bolts stuff,” he said.
(Derek Kwait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)