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Making Aliyah: After 20 years Rabbi Shron’s tenure at K.I. coming to a close

Hedy and Rabbi Jeffrey Shron are moving to Israel on Oct. 2. For the past 20 years Rabbi Shron has served Kehilath Israel Synagogue, first as hazzan and then senior rabbi. Photo by Scott Fishman

Jeffrey Shron couldn’t stop laughing when he got a call from then-Kehilath Israel Board President Richard Glass in 1997 to discuss the congregation’s opening for a hazzan. Having lived in the New York tristate area all his life, he had never heard of Overland Park and he certainly never thought he would move to Kansas. But his oldest son told him to check out the situation and sure enough, he and his wife Hedy fell in love with the congregation and the area.

Now, 20 years later, Rabbi and Hedy Shron have decided to leave Kansas and K.I. — where he first served as hazzan and then became senior rabbi four years ago — and move to Israel to be closer to their middle child and her family. His last service as the congregation’s rabbi will be Neilah on Sept. 30. They leave for Israel on Oct. 2.

Becoming a cantor

Rabbi Shron came to love cantorial music through his mother, Rose, who was a pianist.

“In the ‘50s and the ‘60s, and maybe the ‘70s, cantorial concerts were very popular and prevalent and she accompanied a lot of cantors. I was surrounded by cantors and concerts my whole life,” he said.

Rabbi Shron earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and a teaching certification from New York University and St. Thomas Aquinas College. Although he began serving as a hazzan for the High Holy Days at age 15, he received his formal cantorial training at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) in New York, in the Masters of Sacred Music program.

He met Hedy while he was still in school, and they married when he was only 19 and had become the cantor at the Monsey Jewish Center.

“It was a shul very similar to K.I. It was Conservative but in those days very traditional. Most of the shuls I’ve served in have been very traditional synagogues,” he explained.

Building a family and a business

The Shrons have three children: Joshua, who lives in New Jersey with his wife, Mairov; Carla, who lives in Israel with her husband, Elie; and Shmuel (Sam), who married Emily in September 2016 and lives on the Upper West Side in New York City.

They were married about nine years or so when they started an event-planning business. During that time, even while the business was growing and bustling, Rabbi Shron kept singing.

They ran the business together for about 17 years, but it took them away from sacred family time because they were always busy, especially after Shabbos on weekends. Because of that, Rabbi Shron said they decided it was time to sell the business and move on.

The move to Overland Park

When Rabbi Shron decided to look for a full-time position as a cantor, he contacted the Cantors Assembly placement department, never dreaming he would get a call from Kansas right before Pesach in 1997.

“It came out of the clear blue,” he recalled. “When then President of K.I. Richard Glass mentioned that the synagogue was in Kansas, after I stopped laughing, I told him I wasn’t interested in moving from the New York area.”

But their oldest son urged him to consider the invitation to visit and once they did, they were immediately impressed by the community.

“It was a lovely, lovely community. People were so nice. They were so warm and friendly and welcoming to us. We spent a Shabbos here and it was just beautiful,” Hedy reminisced.

Rabbi Shron felt he could make a difference here.

“Even after 20 years I can still say it’s a unique community where people from all different Jewish backgrounds work together well and try to help each other,” he said. “Even the Rabbinical Association is unique. You won’t find many places where rabbis of all denominations work well together.”

The couple felt it was a good time to make such a move. Josh was already out of the house and recently engaged to Mairov. Carla was getting ready to begin Yeshiva University’s Stern College. 

“We felt our kids are going their own way and maybe it’s OK that we move away from them,” said Hedy, noting that Shmuel was the only one of their children to ever live here. He was entering seventh grade when they arrived and is a graduate of the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy.

They adjusted to the Midwest well.

“Thank G-d things worked out well, and eventually I became the rabbi of the congregation and that’s been a very enriching experience for me,” Rabbi Shron said.

The hardest thing for them was being away from family.

“We’ve very much enjoyed being here, but that’s one of the reasons I’m giving up being rabbi now, because we want to spend more time with our family,” he said. The Shrons now have nine grandchildren. Josh and Mairov’s children are Simcha, 17; Vardit (named after Rabbi Shron’s mother, and Vardit means little rose in Hebrew), 14; Sela, 11; AJ, 10; and Tobey, 4. Carla and Elie’s children are 12-year-old Akiva (Zaydie, also known as Rabbi Shron, is preparing him for his Bar Mitzvah over Skype); Nate, 10; Gabriella, 8; and Gila, 6.

They did and do miss the kosher restaurants in the East.

“I cook a lot,” said Hedy, who put her event-planning experience to use at K.I., where she served as the congregation’s programming director for 10 years.

“It seemed to me that we need to promote Yiddishkeit, the Jewish way of life, in the community,” Hedy said.

Many of the programs she instituted still take place today.

“Whether it be fundraisers or just ‘fun-raisers,’ we’re very innovative. Sometimes she ran things by me and I said I don’t think it’s going to work and for sure it worked,” Rabbi Shron said.

A community mohel

Rabbi Shron had started the process of becoming a mohel before he moved here, but had not yet gained enough practical experience to be considered an official mohel.

“Nobody wants the apprentice to do the bris on their child,” he said, throwing in the humor he is known for.

Once here, he spoke with Alan Organ, a K.I. member who was a pediatrician at the time. The doctor invited the “apprentice” to get practical experience as a mohel in his office.

He estimates he’s performed between 400 and 500 circumcisions over the years. 

“Kansas City is not exactly the Jewish birth capital of the U.S. and it obviously has to be a boy,” he said, noting that since their brit milah ceremonies, he has watched many of them grow up and mature. “I have trained many for their Bar Mitzvah, several who are already in college. I try not to remind them of our initial introduction.”  

Becoming a rabbi

As a hazzan, Rabbi Shron had a very extensive Jewish background, but yearned to further that knowledge. So, he decided to become a rabbi, receiving his rabbinic smicha (ordination) from Yeshivat YPS in Jerusalem, in 2006.

“My mother was the inspiration for me to study for the rabbinate. Right after she died in 2003, I felt I wanted to do something in her memory, and that’s when I started studying for the rabbinate.

“It was something that she would have been very proud of. She was proud of me being the cantor.”

During his studies and following his ordination, Rabbi Shron continued as the congregation’s hazzan. When the congregation unexpectedly found itself in need of a rabbi in 2013, he was asked to step in as interim rabbi. About six months later in October 2013, the interim position became permanent and he was K.I.’s senior rabbi.

When Rabbi Shron is on the bima, he said his style has never been that of a spectator sport.

“As a cantor or a rabbi, I want people to participate and be involved in the service.”

He’s enjoyed being the rabbi at K.I. for the past four years, saying the rabbi has a different relationship with congregants than the cantor.

“As a rabbi, you can have a little more influence in the Judaic knowledge and role of your congregation. Of course, people come to me when they are going through hard times and this gives me the opportunity to help people in a way most cantors don’t do. … Plus, you are involved more in people’s lives, especially when people are in hospitals or after a death. Though I’ve always tried to do this, as the rabbi you can help people through those difficult times as well.”

During his time in Kansas City, whether acting as cantor, mohel or rabbi, he has interacted with the entire community in a variety of roles. They include serving as a chaplain in the Overland Park police and fire departments and as a member of the Johnson County Critical Incident Stress Management team, which helps emergency responders cope with the post-traumatic stress of their demanding jobs.

On the lighter side, Rabbi Shron is also frequently seen playing softball at the Jewish Community Center and basketball at K.I.

The future

Hedy, who was born in Israel, explained that the pair always thought they would move to Israel when they were in their 90s.

“But we decided if we are going to start a new life we might as well do it now while we are young enough to enjoy it.”

The Shrons are moving to Modi’in in central Israel, a community established in 1996 located about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Not one to sit around idle, Rabbi Shron doesn’t know what he’ll be doing in Israel, but he doubts it will be as a rabbi or cantor. 

The Shrons are thankful for the time they spent with the members of K.I.

“It’s really been an honor to serve in the capacities that I have served in at K.I., and I think people are very appreciative of what I’ve been trying to do, and Hedy as well,” Rabbi Shron said. “K.I.’s mission statement is very true. It’s a very warm and welcoming shul,” he said.