On the day they were interviewed on Skype for a rabbinical position in Memphis, Ilan Glazer and his wife, Chana Leslie Glazer, each wore a dark blue suit.
“We were sitting closely side by side, and we sort of blended on the screen,” Chana Leslie Glazer remembered. “We looked like one person.”
Which, ironically, is sort of how the couple want members of Beth Sholom Synagogue to see them now. The congregation hired the two Rabbis Glazer last month to fill one position.
“They only hired one, but we look like two,” Ilan Glazer said. “We’re all going to have to figure this out together. How much can one rabbi do?”
Quite a lot, the congregation hopes.
“We found that separately they were special and together a really excellent choice for us,” said Kay Saslawsky, a member of the search committee at Beth Sholom, founded in 1955 as the city’s first conservative Jewish congregation.
“They seem to complement each other’s strengths,” said congregation member Rachel Shankman, executive director of Facing History and Ourselves, “even their paths to the rabbinate.”
Ilan Glazer’s path to the rabbinate was more traditional.
His father, Rabbi Melvin Glazer, grew up in Atlanta and led West End Synagogue in Nashville for five years in the early 1980s.
His mother, Donna Glazer, taught at the Princeton Jewish Center and was Head of School at Solomon Schechter Day School in East Brunswick, N.J.
Together, they taught their children to love God, the Torah and stories.
Some of Ilan’s favorite memories are of Sabbath evenings at home, playing card games and board games, and reading Jewish stories together.
“We as humans are naturally wired for stories,” said Ilan, who also has been ordained as a maggid, an inspirational Jewish storyteller.
“Our brains make connections through stories. Stories help release truths that can’t otherwise be said or heard.”
Ilan heard many stories growing up.
His father, Melvin, was deeply influenced by his grandmother, an Orthodox Jew who helped raise him and took him to synagogue on Saturday mornings.
“She also gave me a playfulness and taught me not to take myself too seriously,” Melvin Glazer wrote in 1986 when he was rabbi at the Princeton Jewish Center.
“Each time the rabbi would begin his sermon, she would walk out and go into the back room for a glass of schnapps with the old men. One day I asked, ‘Bubbie (grandmother), how come you don’t stay for the sermon?’ She looked at me and replied, ‘Fe’ (a Yiddish expression for disgust or contempt).”
When Melvin Glazer lived and worked in Nashville, he hosted an annual six-hour radio show each Christmas Day called “The Best of Christmas and Country.” His tag line: “This is the radio rabbi wishing you and yours a merry Christmas from all of us at West End Synagogue.”
Ilan Glazer, a drummer, inherited his father’s sense of humor and love for music, and his mother’s love for storytelling.
Ilan found one of his favorite stories while he was caring for his mother after her second liver transplant in 2006. A woman who worked at the hospital found it in a newspaper and gave it to him.
It’s a story about a grandfather who tells his grandson that life is a battle between two wolves.
“One is Evil,” the grandfather explains. “It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thinks about it, then asks: “Which wolf wins?”
The grandfather replies: “The one you feed.”
A rabbi’s job is to help people feed the good wolf.
What is the job of a Rebbe?, Rabbi Ya’akov Friedman, a 20th Century Hasidic leader, was once asked.
“To purify the hearts of those who gather in his presence, and to illuminate their souls with the light of holiness,” he replied.
On the day he was ordained a rabbi, Jan. 11, 2012, Ilan Glazer posted that question and response online.
“I don’t do this work alone,” he added. “I work in tandem with God, a holy partnership. Sometimes my job is just to place God’s name in the palm of the people, or to serve as a doorway for God’s presence to shine through.
“But either way, it starts with me.”
Chana Leslie Glazer’s path to the rabbinate was more unorthodox.
She was raised Leslie Hilgeman in a mildly religious interfaith home on Long Island. Her father, Walter, is an optical physicist. Her mother, Susan, died when Leslie was 16.
Leslie spent her senior year in Germany as a Congress-Bundestag scholar, a government-funded student exchange program.
In 1988, half a century after her grandparents fled Nazi Germany, Leslie decided to spend a day in the small German farming village of Oestinghausen, where her maternal grandmother, Anna Margarethe Neukircher, grew up.
As a child, Leslie loved her grandmother Greta’s stories about the old country. In Oestinghausen, Leslie heard stories her grandmother didn’t know. She met townspeople who still remembered the Neukirchers — who in the 1930s were the only remaining Jewish family in town.
“My mom’s parents, Greta and Werner Goldsmith, left Germany in 1938, and my grandmother never found out what happened to her family until I went there,” Chana Leslie said.
Greta’s parents, Paul and Adele Neukircher, had two daughters, Ilse and Anna Margarethe. Paul fought for Germany in World War I and was honored for his service. After the war, the Neukirchers ran a clothing store in town and lived in a three-story house built by Paul’s father.
They hired girls from the local Catholic parish as household help. They contributed to parish projects. Paul was town fire chief. They even decorated their home for the annual Corpus Christi feast. “Even we, Children of Israel, love you no less!” read a sign on their door.
Their civic involvement didn’t protect them from the anti-Semitism that was sweeping Nazi Germany. By 1937, they were forced to sell their home to the village’s mayor, who rented part of it back to them. Nazis also lived in the home. In 1938, Paul was forced to close his store. He sold supplies on a street corner.
Greta and her husband, Werner Goldsmith, moved to America in 1938. Greta begged her parents to join them. They chose to stay.
“The town’s last official record of the Neukircher family — or of any Jew in the town for that matter — was that of Paul and Adele’s deportation from Oestinghausen in 1942,” Chana Leslie wrote years later.
“They were sent to Jewish ghetto/concentration camp Theresienstadt, located in modern-day Czechoslovakia, and then on to the Polish death camp Treblinka.”
Greta was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust.
During her visit, 18-year-old Leslie talked to the town historian. She talked to a woman who was her grandmother’s best friend. She talked to the family that owned the house that was taken from her family.
As those and other villagers told their stories and expressed their grief and remorse decades later, Leslie sat and listened.
“They needed to talk; I needed to listen,” she said. “I sat with them and held their trauma and their pain and their repentance. It was in that moment that I realized I was a pastor.”
Chana Leslie said it took her years to process the experience. She went to college, turned her attention to Latin America, and became a journalist in South Florida. But her experience in Germany never left her.
“I realized it was what I was, who I was, and I owed it to my grandparents to live into that identity.”
Ilan and Chana Leslie met in the summer of 2010 at a rabbinic school course on how to lead life-cycle events such as weddings, funerals and baby namings.
“Sometimes we tell people that we met at a class on how to do weddings,” Chana Leslie said.
They met again in January 2011 and started dating. They were married in December 2011, a month before Ilan was ordained.
They began applying together for open positions at synagogues, Jewish foundations, community centers and day schools.
In late July, 98 percent of Beth Sholom’s members voted to hire the Glazers as their spiritual co-leaders.
“From the beginning, we wanted to work together,” Chana Leslie said. “We had a vision it would happen someday. It happened sooner than we expected.”
Husband-and-wife pastor teams are rare but not unheard of in Memphis. Rabbis Meir and Tara Feldman were associate rabbis at Temple Israel from 2004-07.
Dr. Kenneth and Marilynn Robinson have been serving as co-pastors of St. Andrew AME Church nearly two decades.
“After almost 20 years of doing this together, we’ve acquired some nuggets of advice,” Kenneth Robinson said.
“As important as it is to be supportive of each other, the value of being joyfully married is that you can come home and be honest with each other. That helps each to grow.
“Be aware of how often and understandably this huge and consuming component of your lives — your joint ‘work’ life — creeps into your ‘home’ time. It’s vitally important to take breaks.”
The Glazers conducted their first worship service together at Beth Sholom a month before the Jewish High Holidays began. There hasn’t been time for a break, but they know they need balance.
“We know we’ll have to keep our priorities straight,” Ilan Glazer said. “We look forward to many happy years together at Beth Sholom.”