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Noted scholar to lead High Holy Days at McCandless temple

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
Rabbi Danny Schiff of Jerusalem will be the spiritual leader at Temple Ohav Shalom in McCandless during the 2013 High Holy Days.

For the High Holy Days, the congregation of Temple Ohav Shalom in McCandless will be led by a noted Jewish scholar.

Rabbi Danny Schiff will visit the North Hills through Oct. 15 and guide the temple's members through the days of reflection and atonement from Rosh Hashana, which starts Wednesday evening, through Yom Kippur on Sept. 14, along with Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah in the coming weeks.

“These are the most holy days of the year,” said Ken Eisner, president of the temple board. “It is important to have a spiritual leader.”

Schiff temporarily is handling rabbinical duties at the temple during this highly spiritual time. Rabbi Art Donsky retired at the end of June, and temple officials have not yet hired a replacement.

Eisner, 53, of McCandless, had known of Schiff's work for 16 years as the Agency of Jewish Learning's community scholar in Pittsburgh and as rabbi at Temple B'nai Israel in White Oak before 2009, when the rabbi and his family made Israel their home.

After learning the rabbi already was traveling to Pittsburgh — the Agency for Jewish Learning was bringing him in to lead a legal continuing-education program — Eisner encouraged Schiff to serve his congregation.

“He is very active already,” said Eisner, a 13-year member of the temple and board president since March 2012. “He has been Skyping with the bar and bat mitzvah candidates and with the music coordinator. It's been a pleasure working through the details with him.”

Schiff sees the High Holy Days — Rosh Hashana is the Jewish new year and Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement — as a time of “accountability to ourselves, our family and community, and to our Creator.

“The period challenges us to examine our actions and to change our ways …,” he said by email from Israel.

“It is the profound notion that no matter your age, you can start over, you can improve your conduct, you can raise your standards, you can be better and more refined than you were before.”

In Israel, Schiff has continued his work in Jewish adult education. But there is a difference in the day-to-day lifestyle in Jerusalem.

“In America, Judaism is largely about matters of faith. In Israel, Jewishness suffuses life beyond the synagogue,” he said.

“The state holidays are Jewish holidays. The national language is the language of the Hebrew Bible. The historic sites are Biblical sites. The way Israelis think about law and society is influenced by Jewish texts. So living in Israel has put matters of faith into a much broader context of Jewish living.”

Schiff, a native of Australia, and his family are looking forward to their return to a place where they felt very much at home.

“Pittsburgh has one of America's finest, warmest and most functional Jewish communities, and Ohav Shalom is an important part of that,” the rabbi said. “The opportunity to be in the midst of that community is special to me.”

Temple Ohav Shalom's congregation, which has 180 families, was scheduled to welcome the Schiffs today, Thursday.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353.

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