After spending 12 years at Congregation Bethaynu in Pepper Pike, Sukol left in June 2007 to start a new type of Jewish religious and learning experience that he calls Cleveland’s Synagogue Without Walls.
In the fall, he formed The Shul, which has no denominational affiliation.
“I felt it was time to do something new. To spread my wings. To create something from scratch,” said Sukol, 50, a graduate of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
In addition to leading The Shul, Sukol is an adjunct faculty member at Baldwin-Wallace College, a lecturer at the Rose Institute for Life Long Learning in Beachwood and a hospital chaplain.
Sukol’s manner is easygoing and self-deprecating. No one calls him Edward. Instead, he’s simply Rabbi Eddie. He’s quick with a joke, and his style of dress nearly always includes a spirited tie.
There is the baseball tie for the Indians opening day. UNICEF and Save the Children ties. And for New Yorkers, a tie depicting the interior of the Chrysler Building.
Sukol says he began to wear the animated ties to better relate to children. That’s how the popular Charlie Brown tie took up residence around his neck.
His cheerful demeanor is infectious. At Congregation Bethaynu, Sukol routinely stepped off the bimah to interact with worshippers. He was known for sometimes calling on unsuspecting congregants.
It’s the reason some members of that congregation left and followed Sukol.
So what does a synagogue without walls look like?
Rabbi is always
on the go
For starters, it means Sukol is always on the go. He travels to homes for twice-a-month Shabbat services. He leads study groups in a restaurant and a bookstore and helps prepare teens for their bar or bat mitzvahs at his Pepper Pike home.
“Rather than expecting people to come to me, I am going out to them,” he said.
But logistical problems arise by not having a bricks-and-mortar synagogue.
Before Rosh Hashana last year (services were held at a Solon school), Shul member Allen Frydenberg was concerned that there was no ark to hold the Torah. So he made a wooden ark that fits in the back of the rabbi’s Toyota Camry.
Sukol is unsure if The Shul will ever have its own building. He said he can’t predict the future. For now, he’s concentrating on making the experimental synagogue as relevant as he can.
Even though she calls herself a traditionalist, Emily Gusky didn’t think twice about joining The Shul. Gusky, who lives in Solon, enjoys the informality of the service.
“I don’t think you need a building to believe in God and religion,” she said. “And you don’t need to have a building to feel Jewish.”
Sukol says he started The Shul to offer a different experience to those within the Jewish community whose needs and interests were not being addressed adequately or fully by existing communal organizations.
“It’s what I lovingly call the disaffected,” he said.
He especially wants to reach the unaffiliated, the intermarried (interfaith couples) and baby boomers. Boomers make up the largest segment of the Jewish population, Sukol said.