Hazzan Matt Austerklein and Rabbi Elyssa Austerklein

Rabbi Elyssa Austerklein and her husband, Hazzan Matt Austerklein, will leave Beth El Congregation in Akron on July 31.

The couple announced their departure from the synagogue after four years, via the May issue of the synagogue’s bulletin.

“We have all experienced an extraordinary year, filled with both loss and blessing,” the Austerkleins wrote in a letter to congregants. “In the fullness of all that these past months have brought, your rabbi and hazzan are writing today to share that we will be concluding our service at Beth El Congregation on July 31st of this year; together, we decided this to be in our mutual best interest.”

The Austerkleins, who were unavailable for comment, did not say what their plans are.

The couple came to Beth El on July 30, 2017, following the retirement of its previous spiritual leader, Rabbi Emeritus Stephen Grundfast, as previously reported by the CJN. Elyssa Austerklein, a former Shaker Heights resident, became Beth El’s first female rabbi.

The couple looked back on their years with Beth El, highlighting their contemporary transformation of the High Holy Days, concerts and musical efforts like the “Beyond Fiddler Concert” at the Akron Main Library, lifecycle celebrations, and many other events and programming across the community.

Beth El board president Sharon Merklin told the Cleveland Jewish News May 10 that the Austerkleins’ departure was “a mutual decision on the part of the congregation and the clergy.”

“This just wasn’t the right fit,” Merklin said.

In the bulletin, Merklin thanked the Austerkleins for their years of service, pinpointing programming created by Elyssa and musical talent of Matt’s.

Merklin said the board of trustees has started the process to find the Austerkleins’ replacements and has formed a search committee. Hal Foster and Erin Katz Ford were appointed as the committee’s co-chairs. The committee represents two generations of congregants.

“We’d like to find a replacement as soon as possible,” Merklin said, expressing confidence in the committee’s searching abilities. “Right now, we’re not sure if we want a cantor or rabbi. We’ve missed the hiring season, so we’re not sure whether or not there’ll be any candidates available.”

Merklin, Foster and Katz Ford have met with representatives from United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and The Rabbinical Assembly, and they have started to complete paperwork required for the search.

Merklin said the congregation now has the ability to hire a newly ordained rabbinical candidate, which wasn’t possible during the last search.

Beth El will bring on an interim rabbi, because the hiring season for clergy has ended.

“During this search, we will want a candidate who will outreach and empathize with our congregants,” Merklin said in a letter to congregants. “The right candidate for our congregation will not only be able to engage younger families but will have the ability to connect with our empty nesters and older congregants as well. We will be looking for a candidate who can relate to the various populations that make our synagogue unique.”

Merklin said further updates regarding the searches will be provided when available.

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