Rabbi PJ Schwartz is returning to the South as the new rabbi at Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville, with a boost from the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Schwartz grew up in a small community in upstate South Carolina, where his synagogue in Greenville was his Jewish expression. He was active in Hillel at the College of Charleston, and taught at Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, the third-oldest continuous synagogue in the country.
He received a master’s in educational administration, with a Jewish education specialization, at Xavier University, and then was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 2013.
He started his rabbinate as assistant rabbi at Temple Israel in Westport, Conn., and in 2017 became the associate rabbi at Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, Calif. When the interim senior rabbi left abruptly in 2021, he took over that role.
A key element in pursuing Schwartz was a 2023 Heartland Fellowship grant from CCAR. The Heartland grants were made possible by a $1.4 million anonymous donation to the CCAR to help smaller Jewish communities attract and retain rabbis. B’nai Sholom will receive a $40,000 stipend annually for three years to supplement the rabbinic salary and benefits package.
In addition, rabbis at Fellowship congregations receive mentoring, training and specialized support from the CCAR to help develop and strengthen the skills needed to lead a solo pulpit in a small congregation.
Julie Lindy, co-chair of B’nai Sholom’s rabbinic search committee, called the grant a “game-changer,” and said that Interim Rabbi Scott Colbert was crucial in the effort. Colbert “helped us rebuild relationships and create more engaged, enriching congregational life during the past year. That success gave us a great story to tell when we created our application.”
The congregation submitted the application in December, when they had already been inter-viewing rabbinic candidates. Dana Averbuch, the other search committee co-chair, said “We were on pins and needles during our search because we knew that the Heartland Fellowship Grant would make such a big difference in the salary and benefits we could offer.”
Schwartz said he is “thrilled” to be joining B’nai Sholom in July. “I’m extremely grateful that I have been afforded the opportunity to be a Heartland Fellow and serve a congregation of my own. This fellowship will help provide me with the resources and guidance to lead TBS into its next chapter.”