Brazilian-Born Rabbi
Finds Southern Comfort
in Gastonia

Gastonia, NC - For Rabbi Celso Cukierkorn, you can come home again, even if it is thousands of miles from his native land. As spiritual leader of Temple Emmanuel in Gastonia, North Carolina, the native of San Paulo, Brazil described his adopted community as offering the best of American Jewish life: an opportunity to “build something that will stand the test of time" while also forging partnerships with civic and religious leaders to solve issues important to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Rabbi Cukierkorn has been in Gastonia for nearly four years. As the only rabbi within a 90- mile radius, he has played a huge part in mobilizing the Jewish community for Israel and other Jewish causes such as Jewish education.

Sometimes, his services extend to people touched by his warmth and sensitivity, as when a non-Jewish woman whom he met once asked that he preside over her funeral. "The request came via her sister who told me she was terminally ill," he recalled. "I attended the service in Lincolnton, one Jew among 300 Baptists. I said a prayer for her. You don't get to do that in a large city. That's why I love the south."

As it turned out, he continued, she ended up leaving a large sum of money for a New York school serving Jewish blind children.

As the lone rabbi in this UJC network community, Cukierkorn said he enjoys being a hands-on spiritual leader, able to stay connected to his congregants and to their pulse.

"Having that opportunity to put your personal stamp on how a Jewish community grows and matures is something you appreciate deeply and never get tired of, " he said.

from UJC Network, the Largest Circulated National Jewish Newspaper (circulation 70,000); Vol.7 No.1, Winter 2001