Rabbi Neil grew up locally in Forest Hills while spending many summers in New Hyde Park with his grandparents. Although his family endowed him with Jewish pride, he never received a formal Jewish education in his childhood. Neil took things into his own hands, and after one year at the University of Michigan, he transferred to Yeshiva University.
Yeshiva study uplifted his soul and enthralled his mind; he continued advanced Talmudic studies for the next 11 years. He received rabbinic ordination from Yeshivas Chaim Berlin in 1998, and later earned a master’s degree in Jewish education in 2013 from Azrieli Graduate School.
His ambition throughout the years has been to convey the beauty and light of the Torah to the community in an inspiring and meaningful way. When he was younger, he worked on spreading the Torah’s message in areas where Torah teachers were not available. It excited him to be a Torah resource in cities such as Santa Barbara, California and Youngstown, Ohio. He loved the warmth and communal feel that these small shuls provided.
However, as his own family grew, their needs outgrew those areas. Rabbi Schuman found the best of both worlds in Rutherford, New Jersey where he led for five years a warm, close-knit synagogue, Congregation Beth El, in the close proximity of Jewish schools, kosher food and mikvaot.
Yet, Rabbi Neil continued to evolve. “Questions on the Talmudic texts, or current practices and beliefs always entered my mind, but I was told to sublimate my questions. If I didn’t understand, it must have been something in me that was lacking.
“In my first congregation, a female congregant asked to dance with the Sefer Torah on Simchat Torah. I called a senior rabbi from Brooklyn, who advised against it saying, ‘The Torah we have is like a Rembrandt. You don’t go around changing a Rembrandt.’
I remember thinking, ‘True, but no one wants to change a Rembrandt. In the 19th century, however, more than half the Jewish populace left the Orthodox fold, and now we have Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform and Renewal branches of Judaism. Do you think someone feels there’s a need for a change?’ The truth is Judaism has always been influenced by its environment and the milieu of the times; it’s always evolved and needs to continually evolve to address the needs of its people.”
Now under the Conservative umbrella, Rabbi Neil feels liberated and empowered to make the changes needed to preserve, strengthen and enliven Judaism.
Since Rabbi Neil has joined us, Jewish learning permeates our halls, our b’nei mitzvah students have achieved new heights, Shabbat instrumental services are heard monthly, and numerous and joyous parties and shpiels dot the calendar. Striving to create a healthy balance between preservation and innovation, Rabbi Neil is making great things happen at MHJC.
Rabbi Neil married Judy Heicklen in 2017. Since then, “Rebbetzin Judy” has led monthly classes such as “The Real Housewives of Canaan”, read the Torah and Haftorah for the synagogue, hosted families for Shabbat meals, and edited the rabbi’s writings. They share in the raising of their eight beautiful children: Ricky, Menuchah, Alex, DD, Naava, Netzach, Eden, and Shiri.
Some of the Rabbi’s latest congregations sermons include:
One day, as a student of SUNY@Cortland, I attended a Shabbat service and my career serving children began. That happenstance began a 20-year love affair with Jewish education. I am honored to serve as Education Director here at Manetto Hill Jewish Center’s Religious school.
My goals with the children are as follows:
- instill a positive Jewish identity
- connect to our Jewish community and to k’lal Israel
- provide our children with a solid foundation in Torah, Judiacs, and Hebrew reading
- prepare them not only for their bar/bat mitzvah, but provide them with the knowledge of making Jewish choices throughout their lives
- create a feeling of being proud that they are Jewish
- prepare our children to feel comfortable with their spiritual and cultural beings
Manetto Hill Jewish Center continues to pride itself in establishing a creative curriculum to meet the needs of the students and establishing outstanding social, religious and cultural programs.
Jewish education needs to be a partnership. I look forward to meeting parents at Religious School events, services and synagogue functions. My door is always open.