Rabbi Podwol Happy to Weather Park Forest

Rabbi Shalom Podwol

Rabbo Shalom Podwol of Congregation Am Echad, Park Forest. (Photo: Wendy Heise)

Editor’s Note: eNews Park Forest photographer Wendy Heise and Chuck Anderson continue their spotlight stories and photo journalism coverage on places of worship in the Park Forest and surrounding areas. More photos are available here.

Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Nearly 18 years ago, Rabbi Shalom Podwol was given some interesting advice about where to live and minister.

“You should move where the weather’s good, like Chicago,” he recalls being told. “Do you think they were pulling my leg?”

This August, Podwol will celebrate 15 years ministering at Congregation Am Echad in Park Forest, in spite of leaving the warm climate of southern California for the “good weather”of Chicago.

Originally from Long Island and Brooklyn, Podwol is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Early experiences at Camp Ramah – a Jewish summer camp – fueled Podwol’s desire to pursue his rabbinical calling.

On Congregation Am Echad’s website, Podwol gives a glimpse into his approach to ministry: “By putting our whole self into the tasks at hand in our day to day lives realizing the sacred moment is right now and by realizing that each of us carries within us a spark of the divine…That, my friends, is what it’s all about…”

Congregation Am Echad, a Conservative, egalitarian synagogue, and a member of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, has grown up along with the Village of Park Forest. He is dedicated to the Jewish way of life.

Over the years under Podwol’s guidance, the Congregation has offered classes delving into elements of Jewish mysticism, technological advances in science as they relate to religion, as well as classes pertaining to Jewish history and philosophy. Each class generated stimulating dialogue into areas where faith and life intersect.

Chuck Anderson and Rabbi Podwol

Chuck Anderson chats with Rabbi Podwol. (Photo: Wendy Heise)

Children are also provided opportunities to learn through the United Religious School of Am Echad and B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom where Dalia Podwol – Rabbi Podwol’s wife – serves as the principal.

Congregation Am Echad recently hosted Yom HaShoah – the Holocaust Remembrance Day Observance – an event that included 6 area synagogues.

The service incorporated poetry, readings, and special vocal music to remember those who suffered, those who fought, and those who died. This year’s special focus was on those who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save others.

Podwol recognizes the uniqueness of his congregation, citing several members who bring their gifts and talents of leading the synagogue weekly in song-filled prayers and Torah readings.

If friends were once pulling the leg of this Rabbi with advice concerning his future home, there’s no denying his affection for the people of Congregation Am Echad. Podwol considers his 15-year tenure here a “good match.”

“The people are warm, down to earth, unpretentious and genuine,” he says. “And one other thing – we have a good sense of humor.”

And what better way to handle Chicago’s weather?

Congregation Am Echad is located at 160 Westwood Drive, Park Forest, IL 60466.