Prayers in synagogue (illustrative)
Prayers in synagogue (illustrative) iStock

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — Park East Synagogue, the Manhattan congregation that made headlines when it fired an assistant rabbi in what was reported as a succession struggle, is looking for a successor for its nonagenarian rabbi, Arthur Schneier.

An announcement posted on the Yeshiva University rabbinic jobs site did not indicate when Rabbi Schneier, 91, might step down, but said the synagogue was looking for a “senior” rabbi “to work under the direction of Rabbi Schneier and become his worthy successor.”

Rabbi Schneier has led the 500-family-member synagogue since 1962. Located in a landmark building on the Upper East Side, the synagogue has had an influence on New York City Jewish life beyond its sanctuary.

Local, national and global leaders — including Pope Benedict XVI — have spoken at or visited the synagogue. Rabbi Schneier also heads the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an advocacy group for Soviet Jews that has grown to promote peace and interfaith efforts in other conflict zones.

Rabbi Schneier received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Bill Clinton in 2001. At a luncheon in honor of his 90th birthday in 2020, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres praised Rabbi Schneier for a “life of civic and religious engagement that has enriched us all and advanced the work” of the world body.

Rabbi Schneier also founded a day school that is affiliated with the synagogue — and named after him, the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School.

Those accomplishments were overshadowed last October when Rabbi Schneier abruptly fired his assistant rabbi, Benjamin Goldschmidt, who had served the congregation for over a decade. Rabbi Schneier’s defenders said Goldschmidt was not qualified to succeed Rabbi Schneier and that Goldschmidt and his allies in the congregation were attempting to stage a “coup” to replace the elderly rabbi. Goldschmidt denied that, and his supporters said they were merely petitioning for a succession plan that would take into account the synagogue’s future needs.

Goldschmidt launched his own synagogue on the Upper East Side last month.

Also in February, Park East hired Rabbi David Flatto as an interim assistant rabbi, telling congregants that a search for a senior rabbi, and a full-time assistant rabbi, would continue.

Soon after Goldschmidt’s firing, a member of the congregation told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Rabbi Schneier “has begun to think about the plan for the future,” but did not offer details.

Hank Sheinkopf, a public relations professional who has served as Rabbi Schneier’s spokesperson, declined comment on Park East’s rabbi search.

The job description outlined in the announcement listed numerous “qualities” for Rabbi Schneier’s potential successor, ranging from “a warm and approachable person” to “superb” pastoral skills to someone who is “learned in Torah and Halacha,” or Jewish law, while having “a strong grounding in, and appreciation for, secular knowledge and American heritage.”

“While Rabbi Schneier’s shoes will not be easily filled, we are looking for a new Senior Rabbi who will have the potential to develop into the kind of leader, teacher, speaker, and pastoral figure that Rabbi Schneier embodies,” read the announcement.

The announcement did not include the salary for the new rabbi but said it would be a “competitive and comprehensive one” based on the candidate’s experience and skills.