Rabbi Norman T. Mendel

Meet the Mendels

On July 1, 2017, the Congregation of Temple Beth El welcomes our new spiritual leader, Rabbi Norman Mendel, and his wife, Heather Mendel. Some of our members have already met the Mendels, through the search process, a “meet and greet” reception, or by attending the Rabbi’s “lunch and learn” programs at Temple Beth Emeth in Albany. The Mendels look forward to meeting the rest of the local Jewish community and engaging in all aspects of Temple life. They plan an enriching experience where everyone feels welcome, a “family of families.”

The Rabbi is originally from Oakland, California, “the home of the victorious Golden State Warriors”. He grew up with a strong Jewish background and entered college in a joint program of the University of Southern California and Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion. Ordained in 1968, he has served several congregations in the United States and retired in 2009 as the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth David, in San Luis Obispo, California.

In 1978, Rabbi Mendel began eight and a half years of service at the United Progressive Congregation of Johannesburg, South Africa, a consortium of four liberal synagogues. It was a contentious time, as the laws of apartheid (racial separation) were still in effect. Progressive Jewish congregations undertook activities to oppose apartheid, while the much larger and dominant Orthodox community avoided political action and tolerated the discriminatory government policy.

Heather Mendel is a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, where her grandparents settled after immigrating from Riga, Latvia. Her father was in the publishing industry, and Heather accompanied him on trips to New York City and California when she was growing up. Those visits did little to prepare her for a year in a small town in the Texas panhandle as an American Field Service exchange student. Fortunately, she lived with an open-minded family and had a very positive experience.

Heather’s parents were among the founding families of Progressive Judaism in South Africa. In her family, the practice of Judaism included a strong component of spirituality and Jewish mysticism; Heather’s mother had become a life-long seeker after a family tragedy.

Heather studied to become a speech and language therapist. However, she found her career as an author, artist, teacher, and speaker, focusing on the mystical aspects of Jewish tradition. She is currently writing her fifth book.

Several years ago, the Mendels moved to Clifton Park to be near their daughter, Lisa, and her three children, now ages 6, 8, and 15. Lisa is a partner in an Albany law firm, practicing Immigration and Naturalization law. The Mendels also have two sons. One, who has an adult daughter, lives in Phoenix, AZ, and has a real estate career. The other son lives in New Zealand, where he captains a privately-owned fleet, including two mega-yachts.

Rabbi Mendel will be conducting Shabbat and holiday services and all life-cycle events for the Congregation, and he will have regular office hours at the Temple. In addition to participating in programs of the Temple Religious School, he plans to offer adult education opportunities. He is already working with TRS Director Chris Levy to plan religious school activities for the coming year, and with Music Director Debbie Friedman Sheerer and the Choir to plan High Holy Day and Shabbat worship.