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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.
Click here to read some of the Rabbi’s latest congregational sermons.
Judaism has always been an important part of my life. My fondest memories were when we would stand with my father under his tallit as he davened. When I was growing up, most girls did not attend religious school. My father was a holocaust survivor and it was of the utmost importance to him that I received formal religious training. I was taught privately by a rabbi that my father engaged. I especially enjoyed attending Shabbat and holiday services with my family.
Teaching became my passion and I was so fortunate to combine my love for Judaism and teaching. For thirty years I have been involved in temple based early childhood programs, first as a teacher and for the last seventeen years as the program director.
Simultaneously, for seventeen of those years I taught Aleph and Bet in various temples. This September will be my eighth year teaching at Manetto Hill Jewish Center. I have been the Aleph teacher and with the new Sunday/Monday option I taught Aleph and Bet. For the new Sunday/Monday program this past year, I created a curriculum and worked with the teachers to implement it.
My philosophy toward education is to instill in the children love and pride in the Jewish religion. Working together with our wonderful teachers we are going to present a program to excite the children and have them looking forward to their time in school.
Shalom, Sue Martin