Following in the footsteps of so many immigrants to the United States who left recognizable surroundings of their homelands to pursue their dreams or seek religious freedom, Marcelo Kormis left his native Santiago, Chile, one month ago to create a new opportunity for himself and his family in Fairfield.
Rabbi Marcelo Kormis is the new spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El, a synagogue that serves about 325 families at 1200 Fairfield Woods Road. While Judaism dates back millennia, contemporary media played a significant role in the congregation's search and selection process for a rabbi, which began last fall.
"We conducted several interviews through Skype," Kormis said. Other interviews occurred over the telephone. In February, he visited for one week to interview and to get to know the community.
In preparation for his new role, Kormis, who spoke virtually no English a year ago, said he took English classes twice a week in Chile. "I am trying to do my best in English," said Kormis, who has continued with once a week English classes since arriving in the U.S.
"It's so new for us. It's a new country, it's a new language, it's a new society, it's a new environment. ... It's an important decision but we are thrilled to be here," said Kormis. He and his wife Fernanda are the parents of two young children Mijael, 2, and Ari, 1.
"I'm so grateful to Congregation Beth El that they choose me and my family as their new rabbinical leader. That is very important and meaningful to us," he said. "People at this very beginning have been very warm and very supportive and very helpful," he said. "When you enter here you feel that this is your family and you feel home. This is an extended family.
"That was one of the central points that attracted me to come here and chose Beth El as my synagogue."
Susan Mittag, executive director of Congregation Beth El, said in just a few weeks at the synagogue Kormis has proven to be a good fit. "In this short time he has already shown us how warm and genuine he is," Mittag said. She was impressed that Kormis immediately began making calls to congregants who were ill and those who were experiencing major life events.
Kormis adjusting to a new language and new living conditions.
"This town is very different from what I am accustomed to. Santiago is a very big city with six million inhabitants. Here you have a lot of nature and lakes and squirrels and deer. It's a very nice town. It's very green and we love to be here. We love nature," Kormis said.
Kormis said he and his wife were ready to make the change because the Jewish community in Chile is very small. In Chile, the main religion is Catholicism, while the Jewish community comprises about 15,000 people. There are seven synagogues and one Jewish school, he said.
"There are not a lot of possibilities to develop your Judaism. We wanted a give our children and our self the possibility to get a deeper connection with Judaism. In the U.S. the Jewish life is vibrant and dynamic and there are a lot of Jewish things here in the United States," Kormis said.
One of his goals at Congregation Beth El is to more fully connect his congregants to their faith through three different paths. "The first is through the study of our sacred text. We are called `the people of the book.' We have a very important heritage regarding our books and the Torah," he said.
The second is through spirituality and prayer, he said. "People in our modern world are searching for a spiritual shelter, and I think that people are thirsty of receiving that spirituality and that deep connection to that spirituality. I would like to give to my congregants that possibility," he said.
"Thirdly, is related to help people in need, to mend the world. Our mission here in this world is to try to help people who are in need and try to make good deeds in order to make this world a better place."
Kormis said he would like to create and support new initiatives, and create new frameworks to help people in need. It is too early to say what initiatives he might consider, Kormis said. His first order of business is familiarizing himself with his new community, getting to know the congregants, the synagogue leaders and the institution.
"The best way to do that is to try to balance between your vision and what the needs of the congregation are. I am now in that process of trying to learn and to understand what the needs of the congregation are," Kormis said.
He said he has already learned it is a very involved and participatory congregation, including a strong lay leadership. "What characterizes this congregation, Beth El, is that we have a very active board and very active families," he said.
Congregation Beth El will host an open house at 9:30 a.m. Sunday to introduce Rabbi Kormis to the community and provide tours of the synagogue and building. For more information call 203-374-5544, visit the website at www.congbethel.net or email email@example.com.