Rabbi Marc Schneier, who built The Hampton Synagogue into a star-studded congregation that attracted the likes of Steven Spielberg and Ronald Perelman, announced Thursday that he is stepping down after 26 years leading the Modern Orthodox congregation.
Rabbi Schneier told The Jewish Week late Thursday afternoon, just minutes after a letter went out to members informing them of his decision, that he “wants to dedicate more time and resources to my work to strengthen relations between Muslims and Jews.” He would leave his post this summer, the letter said.
The rabbi, 57, is co-founder, with hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a nonprofit that works on building relations between Jews and other ethnic groups, including blacks and Muslims.
“I’m looking for new challenges,” Rabbi Schneier told The Jewish Week. “I’m a builder and visionary and built this synagogue over 26 years, and the tremendous success of the community speaks for itself; we have many young families and millennials moving in, and it is time for a transition.”
The rabbi, who made clear that he will remain in New York and not move to Israel, said he has “professional opportunities” in the private sector “that I would like to pursue.” He did not specify what those opportunites were.
Rabbi Schneier’s tenure at The Hampton Synagogue has not been without its share of controversy. An alleged extramarital affair with a woman who would become his fifth wife led the Rabbinical Council of America, the umbrella group for Orthodox rabbis, to expel him. The rabbi claimed he mailed the RCA a letter explaining his actions on a bipolar disorder, but the RCA apparently did not receive the letter.
In The Jewish Week interview, the rabbi reflected on his years at The Hampton Synagogue, in the town of Westhampton Beach.
“The synagogue was renamed on the 25th anniversary in my honor. My name and legacy are there, but I am a builder and needed a new challenge. I’ll still be part of the community. The congregation has a special place in my heart. We’ve got an eruv and are now breaking ground on a mikveh and have a school. I did my part in building this community. Now I’m moving onto new challenges.”