Staff Profile

Rabbi Joel Simon

Senior Rabbi
Phone: (813) 876-2377 ext. 224

I sat in the synagogue week after week staring at the guitar. It had everything needed to mesmerize a five-year-old, and that guitar would not only make me want to return to the synagogue week after week but ultimately would lead me on the path to becoming a rabbi. I got my first guitar at eight, and when my teacher didn’t know Bar’chu, the song I asked to learn, I settled for “Row, row, row your boat,” which I proceeded to teach to my family that evening, leading them all in a round. By seventh grade, I was teaching music to the younger grades, and as a song leader in high school, serving on the board of my youth group, I was voted most likely to become a rabbi by my Confirmation class. My love for Judaism did not develop in a vacuum. My mom taught in a Jewish preschool and was my kindergarten teacher in religious school, with my dad picking up in second grade, also blowing the shofar for the High Holy Days. My older brother was a teacher assistant and was active in the youth group, and he is now the youth director at Kol Ami in Plantation, FL. The synagogue was always a second home for my family, giving us strength in times of need and purpose in moments of celebration. It inspired us to help others, made our family closer to one another, and connected us to some of our closest friends. My Confirmation class may have known before I did, but once I realized all the things that the synagogue had done for me, there was no question that the synagogue was where I wanted to spend every day of my life. Standing under the chuppah (on Schaarai Zedek’s bima) with my wife, Jacent, seeing the joy in my children’s faces as we light candles and bless them each Shabbat, holding them tight as we sing Hashkiveinu and Shema each evening, and hearing Eva, my two-year-old, ask for a guitar of her own – these have only reinforced the memories of my childhood and my belief in what the synagogue and Jewish life can offer to all of our lives. After falling in love with Schaarai Zedek, and as Assistant and Associate Rabbi, it is both humbling and energizing to have been named its seventh senior rabbi in its almost 125-year history. Rabbi Birnholz modeled how to connect with and be accessible to congregants of all ages, keeping Judaism relevant and constantly innovating our approach and our program, and I aspire to do the same. Schaarai Zedek has a long tradition of being a second home to so many, and I look forward to embracing our rich history as we continue looking ahead to our future. Jacent, my children, and I are delighted to be members of this holy community, this k’hillah kedosha, and we look forward to sharing this journey with you.