Meet the Presidents

by | Apr 7, 2014 | Other News

Philip Walzer

Philip Walzer

Philip Walzer
President, Temple Israel

Business writer, The Virginian-Pilot

Bachelor’s degree in English, Princeton University, 1981

Wife, Mary Ann, registered nurse at Virginia Beach Ambulatory Surgery Center; sons Jacob, 24, University of Maryland graduate, operations research analyst with Booz Allen Hamilton in Northern Virginia, and Benjamin, 21, third-year student at the University of Virginia, majoring in foreign affairs and economics.

Jewish organizations
We have been supporters of several local Jewish organizations and, if my knees hold up, I plan to run the 8K in the JFS Run, Roll or Stroll in May.

Favorite Jewish holiday
Holidays are important. But other moments in Jewish life can provide equally powerful moments, such as attending a shiva minyan or rejoicing at a congregational aufruf. Recently, we and a bunch of friends celebrated Havdalah under Mary Ann’s bottle tree in our backyard, which was a wonderful experience.

Most memorable personal Jewish milestone
It is a tossup between my wedding to Mary Ann, my sons’ bnei mitzvah and Mary Ann’s adult bat mitzvah.

Ties to the Tidewater Jewish community
I sometimes joke that we’re the only family that isn’t related to any other Jews in Hampton Roads. I’m from New York; Mary Ann’s from Ohio. But we have made many close friendships at Temple Israel and other local synagogues, and we feel part of the extended Tidewater Jewish family.

Most admired Jewish leader
Elie Wiesel was a crucial figure in opening up dialogue and awareness worldwide about the Holocaust. He also has been a beacon against intolerance of all sorts and, with the spare lyricism of his prose, written movingly on subjects from Chasidic scholars to the plight of Soviet Jews. Rabbi Artson, in his recent talk at Temple Israel, recalled Wiesel’s words to President Reagan about visiting Bitburg: “That place, Mr. President, is not your place.” It was one of the most powerful sentences of the 20th century—and a quintessential Jewish challenge to the mistakes of the powerful.

What other positions have you held with Temple Israel?
I have served in three vice presidential positions at Temple Israel—youth, education, and community and outreach.

Why have you chosen to devote so much time to Temple Israel?
I have found a religious home—and lots of great people—at Temple Israel, and I wanted to maintain and increase its strength and vitality.

What would you like people to know about Temple Israel?
Temple Israel is vibrant and busy. On Sunday, April 6, for example, we had at least four things going on: Rabbi Panitz ran a tutorial for people interested in learning how to lead the Musaf service. We held our second annual blessing of the animals. Melissa Kass led a pre-Passover program for tots. Finally, we had a wine and chocolate tasting at the home of Amy and Kirk Levy, thanks to the support of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, Tidewater Jewish Foundation and Simon Family Foundation.

Under the leadership of Rabbi Panitz and several members, we are constantly expanding services and initiating compelling programs. Earlier this year, for instance, we filled Sandler Hall with a unique program commemorating both Rosh Chodesh and the Chinese New Year. Among the other examples I’m proud of: We’ve strengthened and expanded our shomrim program to recite psalms before the funeral of a congregant. Our members this year make up the majority of the volunteers in the homework help club at Granby Elementary School. And we are planning another powerful Yom Hazikaron tribute to fallen Israeli soldiers. (It’s at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 4, and it’s open to everyone in the community.)

As a whole, these initiatives strike the perfect balance of pursuing innovation and change while respecting tradition, in the best sense of Conservative Judaism.

What are your goals as president?
Synagogues should open their doors wide to everyone, regardless of age, ethnic background, financial status or level of observance. I have tried to model that attitude and have sought to empower congregants to pursue their interests, in keeping with the synagogue’s participatory history. In short, every member is important.

I also have worked to communicate openly with congregants, to expand social-action initiatives and to perpetuate my predecessors’ legacy of keeping Temple Israel debt-free.