Replacing a Legend

This month sees the official retirement of a Valley legend. Rabbi Eli Schochet of Shomrei Torah will step down after nearly 40 years at the pulpit. Still available for “life-cycle events,” the synagogue’s new rabbi emeritus will be essentially withdrawing from his very public position.

Schochet’s accomplishments are matched by few rabbis in his field. Beginning as the spiritual leader of Beth Kodesh in Canoga Park in 1960 and remaining with that congregation all his professional life, he saw it through a stormy merger with Temple Beth Ami in 1994 to become head of Shomrei Torah. He is an adjunct professor in rabbinical literature at the University of Judaism and the author of six books, the most recent of which examines the early roots of the Chassidic movement. Seeing the need for a Jewish day school in the West San Fernando Valley, the rabbi and his wife, Penina, founded the Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills. Schochet has held a number of leadership positions in the Jewish community over the years, including president of the Western States Region of the Rabbinical Assembly.

“He’s going to be deeply missed,” said Judy Krigsman, Shomrei Torah’s executive director and a longtime congregant. “He is a rabbi of rabbis, very profound and, yet, very down-to-earth. He’s the kind of person who can quote from many sources and be esoteric, yet he’ll always ask you about your family and know their names. It is unique to have someone who is very scholarly and also very sensitive to others.”

Large shoes to fill, indeed.

Shomrei Torah’s board of directors believes it has found the perfect fit. Rabbi Richard Camras, although yet to build a portfolio as impressive as his predecessor’s, possesses the same charismatic qualities as his former teacher: a low-key yet intense authority, an easy connection with people and an absorbing love of Torah.