Local Couple, Community Rabbis Earn Campus Gala Honors

The Schultz Campus for Jewish Life will host its annual Campus Gala: Celebrating Our Community, on Sat., Nov. 9, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Campus Gala honorees Mike and Teri Segal will be recognized. Akron-area rabbis — Rabbi Elyssa Austerklein (Beth El Congregation), Rabbi Josh Brown (Temple Israel), Rabbi Michael Ross (Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson, and the Hillel at Kent State University), and Rabbi Moshe Sasonkin (Anshe Sfard/Revere Road Synagogue) — will receive the Community Spirit Award, and Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin, OBM,  be honored posthumously with The Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin Award for Righteousness.

The Segals and our rabbis are being recognized for their unwavering commitment to making the Jewish community, our city, and the world a better place to live.

Campus Gala attendees will enjoy a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres reception, followed by dinner, afterdinner drinks, and dessert. Throughout the evening attendees are invited to support the efforts of Jewish Akron's campus agencies and our community by bidding on auction items or donating to the mission match. Funds raised at the Campus Gala directly benefit The Shaw JCC of Akron and The Lippman School. Located at the Schultz Campus, these nonprofit organizations offer vital programs and services for all members of the Akron community, from newborns to seniors. More information available at www.jewishakron.org/campus-gala. 

Campus Gala Honorees Mike and Teri Segal

In the summer of 1983, Mike Segal had relocated from Connecticut to Akron for his job at General Tire, and his wife, Teri, was planning to join him a month later with their young daughters Rachel and Jessica. Driving on 77, Mike saw the Israeli flag over the treetops and followed the White Pond exit to the JCC.

"The very first guy I ran into was the JCC Executive Director Hy Tabachnick. I told him I was moving here with my family, and he said, 'Let me show you the Early Childhood Education wing,'" Mike says. "I called Teri that night and said, 'I think I found a preschool.'"

Today, Mike works for a national wealth management firm, and Teri is a retired speech pathologist for the Akron Public Schools. She continues to work part-time with preschoolers who have disabilities. Their daughters graduated from Revere High School, and now Rachel lives in the Chicago suburbs while Jessica works for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.

"(When we first moved here,) we reached out to Temple Israel, and I spoke to Cantor Gertz," Teri says. "He gave us the information we needed about the synagogue, and then before we hung up, he asked me if I'd like to teach Sunday School. I never did, but I always felt flattered."

Over the years, Mike and Teri have served in leadership roles at the Shaw JCC and Temple Israel. Mike is a Shaw JCC past president, current vice president of the Jewish Community Board of Akron, and an officer and current co-president at Temple Israel. Teri served on the Campus Gala committee, and a variety of committees at Temple Israel, joined ORT, was involved in the preschool parents' committee, chaired the community's Purim Ball celebration, served as Auxiliary co-president, and is a member of the Temple Israel Sisterhood's executive board.

"It's a win-win because you have that socialization, and you also feel like you're doing something good for the community," Teri says. "We came here knowing no one, so our friends became our family."

Together, Mike and Teri chaired Club 750 and participated in a Young Leadership trip to Israel in 1992.

"My vision for the future of Jewish Akron is to lay the foundation for continued Jewish involvement and proactively engage those folks," Mike says.

Teri adds that if people have benefitted from the open arms of Akron's Jewish community, it's their responsibility to get other people involved.

"The community has done so much for our family and us. I'm happy to have done whatever we've been able to do — individually and as a couple — and would like to continue that and pass it on," she says.

Community Spirit Honorees

Rabbi Elyssa Austerklein (Beth El Congregation)

In the two years since Rabbi Elyssa Austerklein arrived at Beth El Congregation, she has been focusing on building a sense of meaning and community.

"Beth El is a community open to change. I am proud of the work I do with the Ritual Committee to be as inclusive as possible within the bounds of Conservative Judaism and halacha, or Jewish Law," she says. "It is also my goal to bring meaning to every aspect of Jewish life — personalizing lifecycle events, focusing our prayers with spirituality, and bringing God and Torah to meetings and moments that may otherwise feel mundane."

With her husband, Matthew, who serves as Beth El's Hazzan, and their two young children, Austerklein has added more creative and spiritually rich services to the calendar. The couple has also reinstituted Saturday morning Junior Congregation services for children and a Consecration class — something Beth El hasn't had in several years.

Beyond the synagogue's doors, Austerklein has led prayers at meetings of the Akron City Council and Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, and the congregation has partnered with The Lippman School, Akron Artworks and the Akron RubberDucks. And, Austerklein says, she makes a point to attend events at all of Akron's synagogues.

"I am honored to work with rabbis Brown and Sasonkin to create a sense of greater Jewish community," she says. "(I am) trying to live the notion that we are one Jewish community here in Akron."

Rabbi Josh Brown (Temple Israel)

This summer marks Rabbi Josh Brown's third year on the pulpit at Temple Israel, and he says his role in Akron's Jewish community is to help people connect.

"We live in a society where our primary mode of communication is through a piece of technology. People want to be part of something larger than themselves and filled with meaning and real interactions," he says. "That's what a synagogue provides, and that's what people are finding in Akron — especially in our Jewish community — because we're so tight-knit, and they're welcomed in."

Brown says the biggest challenge facing synagogues today is keeping up with the frantic pace of the world and providing organic, authentic experiences for congregants.

"When everything has to be planned, you sometimes miss what's happening at the moment. It's increasingly hard just to be present, with people, and not necessarily having a planned outcome," he says. "Our challenge is to try and be that countercultural force. It helps people to make time in their life for what is truly important."

Brown and his wife, Carrie, have one daughter and two sons.

Rabbi Michael Ross (Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson and the Hillel at Kent State University)

Rabbi Michael Ross jokes that he wears a lot of kippot, or head covers, in the Jewish community just outside the borders of Akron. As the rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson and the Senior Jewish Educator for Hillel at Kent State University, he leads a wide age-range of congregants which comes with a unique set of challenges.

"I came to this area last August from a Conservative synagogue in Greensboro, NC, and as the new kid on the block, it's been an interesting acclimation process, but I've been able to balance those two schedules," he says.

He divides his time between activities and programs at Hudson and Kent, and he leads Shabbat services at each location on alternating weeks. In the fall, Ross will teach a class at Kent State called "Walking with Prophets."

"It's a look at the Hebrew Prophets of the Bible and how — in these crazy, anxietyfilled times — we can have hope and vision for the future," he says.

Ross's wife, Rabbi Rachel Brown, is the Educational Director of Temple Beth Shalom and Director of Educational Learning at Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Cleveland. They live in Beachwood with their son.

Rabbi Moshe Sasonkin (Anshe Sfard/Revere Road Synagogue)

Akron's Jewish community experienced a tremendous loss last fall with the passing of Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin, OBM. His son, Rabbi Moshe Sasonkin, succeeded him as the spiritual leader of Anshe Sfard/Revere Road Synagogue.

Sasonkin's parents moved to Akron in 1989 as Chabad emissaries and worked as a team for over 30 years. After attending rabbinical school out of town, Rabbi Moshe and his wife, Mussie, moved to Kent to run the local Chabad program and raise their two sons. Today, he and his wife run the congregation, education, and programs at Anshe Sfard and Chabad of Akron/Canton, with his mother Kaila, who he says is "the backbone of everything we do."

"I am continuing the legacy of my father, and I feel like I have a responsibility to continue his work," he says. "I share that same passion, and my wife does as well, to show unconditional love for everyone around them, to show that Judaism has excitement and equal opportunity for everyone, no matter what their background is."

Sasonkin says it's natural for a community to re-group after a loss, but thanks to support from Akron's Jewish community "we feel very confident that the synagogue will continue growing." 

"There is so much collaboration and unity within the Akron community," he says. "All the Jewish organizations have such a strong connection with each other, and that's so vital."

The Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin Award for Righteousness

Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin, OBM

When Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin passed away last October following an eight-year battle with cancer, Akron's entire Jewish community mourned.

Not only was Rabbi Sasonkin the spiritual leader of Chabad of Akron/Canton since 1989 and Anshe Sfard/ Revere Road Synagogue since 1995, but he was also the husband of Kaila, a son and son-in-law, a father of 10, a loving grandfather, and friend to many.

Community member Joe Kanfer described Rabbi Sasonkin as having “unbelievable energy, commitment to the community, and brilliance of human understanding. He had not only knowledge of text but knowledge of people.”

At this year's Campus Gala, The Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin Award for Righteousness will be presented posthumously to Rabbi Sasonkin, an individual who lived, without exception, a moral and ethical life dedicated to Judaism, the Jewish people and inspiring others to follow in this path.

Learn more about the Campus Gala and our honorees in future issues of the Akron Jewish News