After more than 30 years as a rabbi, Rabbi Shohama Wiener is retiring at the end of December.
Wiener is an author, editor, academician, composer of contemporary Jewish liturgical and spiritual music and pioneer in the field of Jewish spirituality.
The rabbi, who has been at Temple Beth-El of City Island, known as ‘Your Shul by the Sea,’ 480 City Island Avenue, since 2002, held a luncheon in her honor at Pelham & Split Rock Golf Courses, 870 Shored Road, on Tuesday, November 24.
Wiener, 77, has cherished her time at the synagogue, but acknowledged it’s time to move on and enjoy the later stages of life with her family.
“I grew up when people retired when they were 65,” she said sarcastically. “I just kept taking it year by year. It’s really been amazing. It has been a wonderful 18 years.”
Her path to becoming a rabbi was not the typical one. She was raised in Mount Vernon by Dr. Albert and Edith Harris in what she described “as a Jewish, but secular home.”
While they were a bit surprised about her career choice, they supported her.
“Once I decided to become a rabbi, they were very pleased,” she said. “They were a little concerned because it wasn’t the thing to do at the time.”
When she was younger she wanted to be a social worker or teacher and in a sense, a rabbi is both of those things.
“I had a spiritual awakening in my mid-30s that sent me on my path to pray and study,” she explained. “Once I started really studying and going to services all the time it felt so right. You could say I’m a ‘born again Jew’.”
She graduated from Wellesley College and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, but even after finishing school, had a yearning to do more with life.
At age 40, Wiener obtained her rabbinic ordination from The Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers and her doctorate from New York Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
“What’s unusual about me is once I came to the seminary, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a congregational rabbi,” she remarked.
From 1986 to 2001, she led the Academy for Jewish Religion and was the first woman in history to head a Jewish seminary and introduce meditation and spirituality into rabbinical and cantorial training.
The rabbi led High Holiday services throughout the world and even ventured to a synagogue in Hawaii, Kona Beth Shalom.
In 2002, she settled down and found a home at Beth-El in City Island. She stressed how she cherished her time there and will miss it.
The shul is inclusive and has Buddhists, mixed marriage families, different ethnicities and even practicing Christians. Through her passion for music, meditation, people and Judaism she thrived there.
While it was an adjustment at first to being a congregational rabbi, she couldn’t have asked for a better synagogue.
“When I cross that bridge (City Island Bridge) I really feel like I’m on vacation,” she said.
In fact, under Wiener, Temple Beth-El became a ‘training synagogue’ for the renewal of Judaism.
The rabbi, who resides in Sarasota, FL and New Rochelle, is looking forward to spending time with her husband Alan Dattner and their children.
“I’ve been going through the grieving process for a few months,” she said. “For me, it’s a lot of joy, knowing that I have a lot of great places to go to.”