Interim Rabbi Simon enjoyed his time in Park City
July 17, 2015
It’s been two years since Park City and Temple Har Shalom welcomed interim Rabbi Jim Simon after the departure of Rabbi Joshua Aaronson.
Now, it’s Simon’s turn to step away from the synagogue and for the congregation to welcome its new permanent rabbi, David Levinsky.
Simon reflected on and discussed his time as interim rabbi in Park City with The Park Record before making way for Rabbi Levinsky.
"Unlike a permanent rabbi, I came to Park City knowing that I would be leaving," Simon said. "I didn’t know that I would be here for two years, because usually an interim is in one place for only one year, but circumstances were a little different this time."
It was Simon’s job to help the Temple Har Shalom congregation move forward.
"You know, it’s hard for people to move from the past," he said. "That doesn’t mean they’re bad or that they have a character flaw. It’s because change is very hard. In my interim training they always taught us that it’s not that people are afraid of change, but they are afraid that you or the institution will change them."
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That meant when Simon arrived in Park City, he had to make a couple of things clear.
"One, especially in the first year, was that I had to say that I wasn’t here to make big changes. However, in order for us to go into the future, we have to leave the past."
That didn’t mean Simon was going to form a ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission where people stand up and acknowledge their faults.
"We don’t do that," he said with a laugh. "But it was important for us to look back and say, ‘What kinds of mistakes did we do?’ and make sure we don’t repeat them."
To do that, Simon needed to become a salve for those who felt like they were mourning the loss of Rabbi Aaronson.
"My whole thing was to help everyone move away from the past and heal some of the wounds of those who felt angry, guilty, disappointed or abandoned, and prepare them for the future," he said. "In a sense, when Rabbi Aaronson left, it was like a death. It was a loss of something that was very important for many people here, and they had to mourn, which meant they had to give him up."
Still, there were those who thought Aaronson would return. Others thought he wasn’t really leaving.
"After I had been here for a few months, they realized that, yes, he was gone and that their choice was to either continue to hope he would come back or to figure out what they were going to do next and figure out how we are going to carve out a new life."
Simon will find out if he succeeded or not within the next three or four years.
"If the synagogue is flourishing and the new rabbi is getting more connected with the community and the congregation has an incredible amount of potential, then I will believe I did a good job," Simon said. "If, by chance, the new rabbi is only here for two years, that’s not his fault. It’s mine, because it means something wasn’t handled correctly."
During his last sermon, Simon told the congregation to give Rabbi Levinsky time to develop his own identity within the community.
"I told them that he wants to come here and do well and bond with them, and if they can’t see him for who he is, they wouldn’t be able to appreciate him," Simon said. "I also told them if they can see him as opposed to comparing him to the other rabbis, they will do fine, because he will bring gifts that are needed for everyone to move towards the future."
Looking at the past two years, Simon has enjoyed his time in Park City.
"I have a lot of good memories and my experience here has been wonderful," he said. "It’s an incredibly beautiful community and I don’t think I will ever be in a place as beautiful as this.
"I’ve also never been in a building as beautiful as Temple Har Shalom," Simon said. "I’ve been in buildings more historic and they have a beauty all of their own. We’re always told as interims that we shouldn’t get hung up on the geography or the building, because that’s fleeting, but this building is beautiful."
The thing Simon didn’t quite take to was winter sports.
"I’ve been laughed at because I’m not a big skier," he said with a smile. "I’m a walker and hiker."
Now, it’s time for Simon to step into the future. He is now at Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, Mississippi.
"I remember every place I’ve been even though I only have a limited time to do my job," he said. "Park City was different, because I was here longer than how long I would usually stay. It’s been wonderful."
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