During his days as a university student in Los Angeles three decades ago, Marco Greenberg, not a regular attendee at synagogue services, received a call one day from his grandmother. She praised a new rabbi at her congregation, Sinai Temple, as brilliant and inspiring.
Intrigued, Greenberg went to Sinai Temple. And he kept going back.
“I, too, was blown away,” Greenberg, now an Upper West Side resident who works in marketing, said of Rabbi Allan Schranz, former spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Sutton Place Synagogue who died at home on April 16 complications of a rare degenerative disease.
Rabbi Schranz, 68, stepped down in 2012 from the pulpit of East Side pulpit, where he had served since 1998.
People who knew Rabbi Schranz recalled him last week as a combination of scholarly and street-smart, expert in secular literature and Jewish holy texts, eloquent sermonizer and teacher and compassionate pastor to the members of his congregation.
“He was a preacher’s preacher – an intellectual who enjoyed sharing knowledge,” said William Berman, rabbi emeritus of the Commack Jewish Center and a friend of Rabbi Schranz since their student days together at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. “He was very insightful — he did not like clichés.
“He had deep Jewish feelings. He had a deep appreciation for Jewish learning,” Rabbi Berman said of his friend’s motivation for entering the rabbinate. “He knew what he was good at.
Greenberg said he “always considered him my rabbi,” even when he and Rabbi Schranz lived across the continent from each other; Greenberg said he would call on Rabbi Schranz to officiate at family life cycle events although he eventually belonged to a congregation on the other side of Manhattan from the rabbi.
Their friendship, which began on the West Coast, continued when both moved here.
A native of Manhattan who grew up in the Bronx, Rabbi Schranz attended Yeshiva University’s High School for Boys and Hunter College, where he was president of a campus Jewish group, and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He served at JTS and the Conservative movement’s University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and was a pulpit rabbi at several congregations before coming to Sutton Place.
He was active in interfaith affairs and was a vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis.
“He was brilliant, and not fearful of taking a stand,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis.
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“You have to be intellectually stimulating yet be able to hit [congregants] in the gut,” Rabbi Schranz said in an interview with The Jewish Week when he joined Sutton Place. “It’s like tefillin. You wear tefillin on your head, and on your arm, next to your heart … you need both.”
When he became Sutton Place’s spiritual leader, he instituted a film salon series and short story course, inviting such authors as Pete Hamill and Stephen Dubner.
“The arts are very important,” he said. “When it’s good and not just entertainment, it makes us think about how we lead our lives.”
In his various congregations, Rabbi Schranz built a reputation as a powerful speaker.
“He spoke with the conviction and gravitas of a great orator, and argued his case like a top trial lawyer,” Greenberg wrote in a remembrance essay. “While retaining his Bronx penchant for not beating around the bush, Allan combined his street instincts with genuine intellectualism. When he got off the bimah, he would scale back his high energy to listen and meet people where they were at, with caring and sensitivity. He was always available.”
“I like being a public person,” Rabbi Schranz said in the Jewish Week interview. “I enjoy communicating my love of Judaism to people.”
In his pulpit, Rabbi Schranz exhibited a combination of respect for tradition and modern innovations.
Greenberg, who continued to visit regularly after the rabbi became ill, said, “He fought valiantly … gracefully,” never expressing pity or pain.
“Life,” Rabbi Schranz would say, “isn’t always what we plan.”
He is survived by his wife, Ellen; children Molly and Asher; and three sisters, Bernice Pleeter, Esther Cohen and Toby Rusgo; and two brothers, Howard and Mitchell Schranz.