SWAMPSCOTT – Two high-profile North Shore spiritual leaders, Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez in Marblehead and Congregation Shirat Hayam’s Cantor Alty Weinreb in Swampscott, will be leaving their posts after their contracts expire at the end of June, according to messages to members from their respective temple presidents.
In a message on behalf of the board, Shirat Hayam’s president Dr. Mark Messenger told the temple’s 530 members that Weinreb’s departure was a financial decision.
In a video message, Temple Sinai president Ira Dinnes told the temple’s more than 200 members that the rabbi’s “contract is not being renewed.”
Weinreb, who is from New York, is also a singer and performer. He has been the cantor at Shirat Hayam since July 2018. He succeeded former Cantor Elana Rozenfeld, who served at the conservative Atlantic Avenue temple for six years.
“The Board felt that in these very financially challenging times for our shul, exacerbated by the current pandemic, it is prudent for the shul to seek lower cost alternatives to the traditional Cantor role that our shul has historically engaged in,” Messenger said in the Oct. 20 message. He declined further comment when reached by email.
Dinnes updated the status of Cohen-Henriquez’s contract on Oct. 19. The rabbi, who was born and raised in Panama and who was ordained at the Hebrew College in Newton, will have spent seven years at the small Marblehead shul on Community Road when he departs in June.
“The rabbi, the Liaison Committee, the Ritual Committee, and the Board of Directors met over the past few months to come to a decision regarding a new contract,” Dinnes said in the video post. “The rabbi will remain with us through the end of June 2021, however, his contract is not being renewed.”
Dinnes also quoted an email from the rabbi: “Recently, Temple Sinai leadership and I discussed my contract which concludes in June 2021. It has been seven years this June that I have been working for Temple Sinai, years of great memories that I will surely treasure. I appreciate what this community has done for me and my family, and I know they appreciate my service to Temple Sinai. We think it is time to search for new horizons and new beginnings somewhere else.” He thanked the congregation “for these wonderful years.”
Dinnes, in his message, said much has changed for Temple Sinai and the rabbi over the years and the decision was not made lightly. The Ritual Committee plans to meet in two weeks to chart a course forward. He said Sinai remains a wonderful temple with strengths in social action and adult education. He said he looked forward to seeing what the future brings when the temple moves past the pandemic and members are able to interact in-person again.
When asked about the reasons for the rabbi’s departure, Dinnes said in an email, “There are various reasons and we are still considering our path forward.” He said the temple might hire another full-time rabbi, but he wasn’t sure.
“The decision was made with a lot of input and with discussions over the past months with the Rabbi and the reasons are not for public consumption,” he said. Comments made at board of directors’ meetings are private.
In a follow-up email, Dinnes said that he has responded to a number of emails and an occasional call from congregants unhappy with the decision not to renew the rabbi’s contract.
“Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez is intelligent, engaging and passionate in public,” Dinnes said, “and he is a wonderful extemporaneous speaker. He has many positive qualities, including a warm personality, and as one congregant wrote, he provides the ‘congregation with a wonderful blend of spirituality through ritual, prayer and meditation, combined with challenging study of Torah and related commentaries, and an inspiring application of the concept of chesed (loving kindness).’”
Dinnes said as fiduciaries, the board must consider all aspects of temple life, and a wide range of topics were discussed.
“Ultimately, it was decided that Temple Sinai needs to travel a slightly different path,” Dinnes said. “Whether we are correct or not, time will tell.”
Last year, Cohen-Henriquez, 40, celebrated his 10th anniversary of his ordination from Hebrew College, according to a post on JewishBoston.com. After Hebrew College, he had an internship at the Boston Synagogue and his first pulpit was in a temple in Manchester, New Hampshire. After, he spent less than a year in Panama at a shul where he grew up, he also worked at a Sephardic temple in Los Angeles, he said.
Rabbi Cohen-Henriquez further declined comment.
Weinreb has performed across the United States at High Holiday services and wedding ceremonies. He has performed with his Judeo Flamenco group Lyla Cante, and the Klezmer bands Simcha All Stars & Cuban Jewish All Stars. He also teaches drums and percussion to children and adults.
“The Board of Directors of Shirat Hayam are and will always be exceedingly grateful to Cantor Alty for his extraordinary energy, spirituality and musicality and we are confident that the new music and spirit that Alty has brought to Shirat will be with us for decades to come,” Messenger said in his announcement. “We especially want to thank Cantor Alty for his countless contributions to this year’s virtual High Holy Day services and wish him all the best on his spiritual journey.”