Rabbi Akiva Feinstein was named Menorah Park’s new director of spiritual living on March 9.
Feinstein is no stranger to the Menorah Park campus. He first arrived in 2005, as director of spiritual care and hospice chaplain at Montefiore. Now more than 15 years later and following a merger of Menorah Park and Montefiore, Feinstein follows in the footsteps of Rabbi Howard Kutner, who died at age 63 on June 29, 2020. Kutner previously served as director of spiritual living since 2017 and as associate rabbi at Menorah Park for 13 years.
According to an email sent to the community from Richard Schwalberg, Chief Operating Officer of Menorah Park, Feinstein will maintain his established office location at Montefiore and serve its growing hospice program, but will expand his role to include leading and developing the “already outstanding spiritual living activities across the expanded campus.”
Feinstein, 46 of Cleveland Heights, is looking forward to what the new job brings.
CJN: How do you think your previous position prepared you for this role?
Feinstein: In some ways, I should start by saying that there’s a lot of new opportunities and challenges for me in this role that I didn’t have a chance to prepare for. For example, I had a smaller staff and I didn’t work in kosher supervision at such a large scale. But, to answer the question, I’m still focused on the most important thing – spiritual support. It’s the same everywhere and in every role; people’s needs are still the same. People are people wherever you work, and we all have the same needs for listening, support and love.
CJN: What does it feel like to follow in Rabbi Kutner’s footsteps?
Feinstein: It is kind of humbling because in other manager positions, people don’t always think of who the previous manager was and their persona. I think in terms of Menorah Park with figures like the late Rabbi Joel Chazin and the late Howard Kutner, their personality and their special nature were what people saw and defined the job. They excelled in kindness, and their compassion and the way they conducted themselves made for a highly personal experience for residents. I can’t just say, ‘I’m the new rabbi, here I am.’ It will take months, maybe years, for residents to sort of move away from that. The most important thing is being the support our residents need and keeping them happy.
CJN: What do you hope to accomplish in the new role?
Feinstein: That’s the big question. It’s really about having this very large campus with so many different parts but trying to find the common element between all of them. There is something about the spiritual living department that is about people and the presentation. The major challenge for me, especially during COVID-19, is that everyone is under so much pressure. There is sadness, fear and the unknown. So, the spiritual living department is all about helping people connect, feel strong and be happy. But for me, it’s about maintaining that strong Jewish tradition. But, it’s also about an era now in which we can maintain that strong focus and allegiance, and incorporate all sorts of people into that – supporting even the spiritual needs of people who aren’t Jewish or who are but don’t necessarily observe.
CJN: What are you looking forward to the most?
Feinstein: We’re at a stage now where we are developing a lot of policies and people across the campus are teaming up and synchronizing. So, I’m looking forward to the time past that phase, past the merger of our organizations, where we have a moment to just take a deep breath and get back to regular chaplaincy, which is focusing on one person at a time. We’re trying to make this a home – and that means people across the campus can feel like they are part of one community one family, all together across all of the buildings.