Rabbi makes Skokie synagogue his new home
Jeffrey Weill is the new rabbi of Ezra-Habonim, the Niles Township Jewish Congregation in Skokie. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
RABBI JEFFREY WEILL
Position: New rabbi at Ezra Habonim, the Niles Township Jewish Congregation
Age: 47 (soon)
Family: Wife and three children
Updated: August 27, 2012 6:13AM
SKOKIE — Jeffrey Weill admits he may not have picked the best time to tell his wife he was giving up law.
Three or four days after their first child, Betsy, was born, Weill’s wife was in bed, exhausted, “battling an army of hormones,” as her husband put it.
“I said, ‘Honey, I think I want to quit my gainful employment and go to rabbinical school for five years.’ My timing could not have been worse.”
But his wife came to support the idea. And it was that monumental decision that has led Weill to Ezra-Habonim, the Niles Township Jewish Congregation in Skokie, as the senior rabbi.
He admits he was a latecomer to the rabbinical profession — he didn’t go to rabbinical school until he was 37. He began on a different tract.
Weill, who will turn 47 soon, grew up in New Jersey, studied journalism at Brandeis University and then got his law degree from American University in Washington, D.C. He was working for the American Jewish Committee in New York when he decided to take a side job teaching religious school a couple of days a week.
“I remember the first time I was going to teach fourth-graders at this conservative synagogue and I heard the kids coming down the hallway with their feet going pitter patter,” he recalled. “And I thought that I have no clue what I’m going to say.”
What he didn’t know then is that he had found his place in the world. He calls his two years of teaching “one of the most powerful experiences” in his life.
“I loved this more than anything else I had ever done — transmitting our religion to a new generation,” Weill said. “I realized I wanted to dedicate my life to it.”
For his five years in rabbinical school, Weill accumulated more debt, lived in three different cities — Cincinnati, New York and Jerusalem — and had two more children.
Ordained in 2007, he and his family had the choice of staying in New Jersey or moving to Chicago where his wife is from, he said.
They chose the latter, as Weill became assistant and then associate rabbi at Beth-El Synagogue in Northbrook for the last five years.
There, he taught, he preached, he performed pastoral care.
“The experience there turned me into a rabbi,” Weill said. “I went from being a rabbi by virtue of diploma to a rabbi by virtue of experience.”
When Weill applied for the job at Ezra-Habonim, the Niles Township Jewish Congregation, he had reason to doubt his chances. His rabbinical training was in Reform Judaism while this is a Conservative and Reconstructionist synagogue with 300 families.
He said he initially saw it as “a concern, a challenge and a desire.” But he has no doubt he is in the right place.
“I like it and I want the challenge. I feel very comfortable with this kind of davening (Jewish prayers), this kind of Shabbat community,” he said.
Ask Weill his goal as new rabbi and he has a simple but immediate answer: “Engagement, engagement, engagement.”
“I want to reach the current membership, those deeply involved,” he said, “and those who are marginally involved. I want them to feel engaged in the life of this congregation and I want to engage potential members. There are many opportunities ahead.”