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Our Rabbis

 
 

From its early beginnings through the present day, Temple Mount Sinai has been fortunate to have been led by Rabbis with vision and the determination to transform their vision into reality. Each of our Rabbis has built upon the foundations laid by his predecessor, leading our congregation to ever-greater heights of achievement. The tribute below is adapted from an article written by Rabbis Fierman and Weiss at Temple Mount Sinai's ninetieth anniversary.



While the first High Holy Day services were conducted at Temple Mount Sinai by Rabbi Fredrick Cohn and Rabbi Leo Mannheimer in the mid 1890's it was not until 1898 that Temple secured its first full-time Rabbi.

Rabbi Oscar J. Cohen –

(z"l) came to El Paso from Mobile, Alabama for health reasons and the Jewish citizens quickly realized that they had access to a valuable resource. On October 10, 1898, a meeting was held at the County Court House for the purpose of organizing a Jewish congregation. At that meeting Dr. Oscar J. Cohen was elected Rabbi and it is not surprising that one of his first acts was to begin soliciting money for the building of a synagogue. By January, 1899, options had been granted on two parcels in the northern part of the city. At the first annual meeting of the congregation, Dr. Cohen reported having 32 children in the Sabbath school "of whom eight were being prepared for the Rite of Confirmation." By September, 1899, the first synagogue had been built. On June 15, 1900, Dr. Cohen resigned as Rabbi to take a larger pulpit in Dallas, Texas. While he served the congregation for less than two years, Dr. Cohen accomplished a pattern of priorities followed by his successors- the importance of religious training and the need for a house of worship to meet the congregation's expanding needs.

Rabbi Martin Zielonka –

(z"l), a graduate of the Hebrew Union College and the University of Cincinnati, was elected Rabbi for two years on August 12, 1900. Rabbi Zielonka would continue as Rabbi until his death in 1938. Under Rabbi Zielonka's leadership, Temple Mount Sinai became affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the cemetery was expanded, a parsonage for the Rabbi was built, Perpetual Care Fund for the maintenance of the cemetery was begun and a new larger synagogue was erected n 1916. In 1926, in honor of the tenth anniversary of the new building, Mr. A. Schwartz led a campaign to raise funds by voluntary subscriptions of the members to retire the $23,000 mortgage on the Temple building and parsonage. Thus, by 1926, Temple Mount Sinai owned debt free, a property that was conservatively valued at $150,000. Most importantly, the ground work had been laid for future expansion.

Rabbi Wendell Phillips –

(z"l) succeeded Rabbi Zielonka in 1938 and brought a new orientation and vision to the congregation. He was a disciple of Rabbi Stephen Wise and a former assistant to Rabbi Louis Newman, both zealous Zionists. Rabbi Phillips's ten year tenure at Temple Mount Sinai was marred by the devastating era of Adolph Hitler and the pains of World War II. He took time from his Rabbinate to serve his country as a Navy Chaplain. During those two years, two rabbis served the congregation for short periods of time - Joseph Garfinkel and Alexander Kline. Rabbi Phillips reacted to the devastation of the war with strong Zionistic fervor and the urgency to rescue our relatives still living in Europe. This gave the congregation a new spirit and encouraged us to focus our attention on global events. In so doing, we continued to grow as a congregation.

Rabbi Floyd S. Fierman –

(z"l) era began in 1949. Rabbi Fierman was a graduate of the Hebrew Union College and received a Doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. Under Dr. Fierman's leadership, Temple Mount Sinai began to move away from Classical Reform practices and moved more toward traditional observances. During his tenure, the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony and a full Hebrew program in the religious school were introduced. Saturday morning services became a regular practice and observance of all the holidays was emphasized. One of Rabbi Fierman's first accomplishments upon his arrival at Temple Mount Sinai was the organization of the Men's Club. As a result of Rabbi Fierman's foresight and leadership, our present building was built and dedicated in 1962. In 1966, Rabbi Fierman was given life tenure and in 1979, he became Rabbi Emeritus. While his accomplishments were great, Rabbi Fierman will be best remembered as a teacher and historian. He taught philosophy at Texas Western College (later the University of Texas at El Paso) and published numerous works on the early Jewish settlers in the Southwest. His two volume work on the Jewish Families of El Paso is part of his legacy to this community. Rabbi Fierman died February, 1989.

Rabbi Edward L. Cohn –

(z"l) came to El Paso and Temple Mount Sinai in 1976 as Associate Rabbi. In 1979 he became Rabbi of Temple Mount Sinai, a post he held for only one year. However during his tenure in El Paso, he continued the tradition of our previous leadership by becoming actively involved in the community. He served on the Jewish Federation Board, the Hebrew Day School Board and the El Paso Council on Aging.

Rabbi Kenneth J. Weiss –

(z"l)  came to our congregation in 1980. Rabbi Weiss, his wife Sue and their two daughters, Jennifer and Amy (their son Daniel would be born later) brought to Temple Mount Sinai a new vitality. He was a graduate of U.C.L.A and the Hebrew Union College where he was awarded a Doctorate in Hebrew Letters in June, 1980. Rabbi Weiss came to El Paso from Glendale, California and spent many summers at Jewish camps and advisor to program director and camp Rabbi. During Rabbi Weiss's tenure at Temple Mount Sinai, he emphasized the importance of building a strong, caring Jewish community.

Rabbi Lawrence A. Bach –

came to our congregation after his ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in 1998  as Assistant Rabbi in 1998, succeeding Rabbi Weiss in 2002. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Judaic Studies from the University at Albany, and a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters, from HUC-JIR. Larry came to El Paso with his wife, Alanna, and their daughter, Helaine and their family grew with the birth of two more children, Shir and Esther. Rabbi Bach is an alumnus of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality's Rabbinical Leadership Program, where he developed a passion for the study of Hasidic Torah commentary, and deepened his prayer life and meditation practice.  Rabbi Bach is also committed to scholarship and the inner life.   He is also an alumnus of the Shalom Hartman Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar.  Music was  a central part of Larry's rabbinate, and he composed and performed the songs on the 2008 album Kivvunim.

Rabbi Sandra M. Bellush –

joined Temple Mount Sinai directly after ordination in 2011.  Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, grew up in New York City. Fluent in Spanish, she is a graduate of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B.S. in civil engineering. After a career in management consulting, project finance and investment banking, she attended Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, earning a MAHL in 2010 and rabbinic ordination in 2011. Rabbi Bellush received the Nathan Stern Prize for the student completing the Master of Arts degree with the highest academic standing in the graduating class and the Cora Kahn Prize for outstanding sermon delivery and oratory.

Rabbi Benjamin Zeidman –

joined Temple Mount Sinai In July 2015.  Rabbi Ben Zeidman grew up in Columbus, Ohio before earning a B.A. in International Relations from James Madison College at Michigan State University, and a specialization in Jewish Studies. He was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in 2010, and then served as assistant and associate rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in New York City until 2015 when he joined Temple Mount Sinai.  Rabbi Zeidman, his wife Katie, and his children, Oliver and Isabel, are so thrilled to be a part of the Temple Mount Sinai community.

 

The congregation of Temple Mount Sinai owes a debt of gratitude to all these men, women and their families. They have played a part in the significant occasions in all of our lives and have shared our joys and sorrows. We thank them for not permitting us to become complacent, but rather for always pushing us to set new goals and attain higher standards. Without their vision and leadership, we would not be so strong and vital as we enter our second century as a congregation.

Since our ninetieth anniversary, Rabbi Mark Goldfarb served as Assistant and Associate Rabbi (1991-1996), Cantor Judith Ovadiah was our first Cantor (1996-1998). We also note with pride our relationship with rabbinical students Marla Subeck (1989-1991) and Jordana Chernow-Reader (2005-2009), who served as interns in the congregation.