Steve Allen, the new executive director of Bet Breira Samu-El Or Olom, could have had his pick of jobs when he decided to move to South Florida from the northeastern United States. But he chose to become executive director of the Kendall synagogue because of the merger that brought reform and conservative congregations together.
“When I decided I was not going to stay and we were looking for a job in Florida, there were several opportunities for me to be an executive director,” Allen says. “I went to the Internet and looked up information about this merged synagogue. It was actually written up in the Jewish newspaper.”
Allen found the possibility of going reform or conservative with two rabbis an intriguing prospect. He followed up with a Skype interview with the personnel committee.
“Things kind of clicked with the lay leaders,” he says. “This seemed to be the perfect place. I very highly impressed by the staff.”
He was also impressed with the volunteers and leadership.
“They have the option to follow either the reform or conservative track,” he says. “It’s a very unique situation. It was written up all over the country.”
Allen had an opportunity to watch how the merger worked during the high holidays and he felt things went well. Rabbi Jamie Aklepi held the reform services in the sanctuary and Rabbi David Schonblum led the conservative service in the ballroom.
Since he grew up as a reform Jew, Allen says he made it a point to go to the conservative service for Rosh Hashanah.
“I have a better understanding. We’re all Jews and we’re all working together,” he says. “Whenever there is a merger, you know there are going to be issues. I’m very impressed with how it’s working. It’s not an ‘us and them’; it’s a ‘we’. They really are top-level professionals. The missing piece was to have the quarterback, the executive director.”
Temple president Gary Alvo says after a month, things are going well with Allen.
“He’s going great so far,” Alvo says. “Only time will tell, but what we have seen so far is very encouraging. It’s only been a month. He struck us as the most capable candidate by far. He has the experience. He seems extremely innovative.”
Allen has no plans to shake things up. He says the synagogue has a professional team, strong lay leadership and everyone is working together, so well that membership is on the rise. He says he has been made to feel welcome and he already feels at home.
“They made me feel I made the right decision,” he says. “I’m very enthused about the future of this facility and I’m pleased they chose me to be the final professional piece to make this place flourish.”
In a way, the move to Bet Breira Samu-El Or Olom is a return home for him on two fronts. He was born in Miami Beach but moved to New York when he was just one year old. Over the years, he had been looking to move back to Miami (to fulfill a promise to his wife) and the time was right this summer.
He had been working as the executive director at a Jewish Community Center, but wanted to go back to being an executive director of a 1,000 family reform synagogue in Bedford, N.Y.
For more information about Bet Breira Samu-El Or Olom, call 305-595-1500.