The members of Congregation Ner Tamid in San Francisco don’t have to worry about their rabbi, who spends half the week at her home in Southern California, showing up for Shabbat services in Los Angeles Dodgers blue.
“I am a dyed-in the-wool Giants fan. I bleed black and orange,” insisted Rabbi Shana Chandler Leon, a native San Franciscan who attended UCLA and then stayed in the Los Angeles area.
“I’m also a 49ers fan. These days my biggest conflict is basketball. I wasn’t raised with the Warriors, and the Lakers are my adopted team. I came to Los Angeles [in 1987] during the Lakers’ Showtime era, and it was hard to resist Magic Johnson.”
Leon is the interim rabbi at Ner Tamid, an egalitarian Conservative congregation in the Sunset District with about 100 members. She took over last November, upon the retirement of Rabbi Moshe Levin, with a contract that runs through July 31 and was recently extended to July 2018.
Levin, who had been at Ner Tamid since 2002, was inducted as the synagogue’s rabbi emeritus on June 4.
Leon, who spent two decades as a cantorial soloist before being ordained as a rabbi at the Los Angeles-based Academy for Jewish Religion in 2015, said she has enjoyed her time at Ner Tamid and is committed to rebuilding the congregation.
Membership rolls for the 74-year-old synagogue topped 390 families in 1991, but dropped to 110 families shortly before Levin was installed as rabbi 15 years ago.
This has been a job to help me expand so much — my mind, and my waistline.
“Ner Tamid has a very proud tradition, well over 70 years of creating a little corner of holiness in the Sunset District, and that’s very valuable these days when people seek connection and community,” Leon said. “It is a warm and loving community that opens its arms to all.”
There has been one downside so far, though. She joked that the congregation has too many good cooks and bakers.
“We have dedicated congregants, marvelous food. This has been a job to help me expand so much — my mind, and my waistline,” she said. “It’s really a jewel of a place. Every week I learn from the people, from the challenge of being in the pulpit.”
Speaking, or singing, in front of large groups of people is in Leon’s heritage. Her parents were longtime co-leaders of the speech team at George Washington High School in San Francisco and her grandfather, Ira Blue, was a local sportscaster and radio talk show host.
The mother of two teenagers splits her week between Southern and Northern California. She still teaches at the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning in Los Angeles and does some bar mitzvah training in that area, then jets to San Francisco in time for weekly Shabbat services.
While in the Bay Area, she stays with her mom, who was confirmed at Ner Tamid in 1953 and now has become very involved with the congregation after avoiding synagogues throughout most of her adult life. Her dad died last year.
“That’s been a great blessing,” said Leon, speaking of the time with her mom. “It’s a very unexpected bonus of the job.”