Rabbi Michael Isaac Charney, 69, who died Dec. 20, was a person who thought his role was to help others before thinking about himself.
“That was my brother,’’ said Davida Charney, a professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Texas-Austin. “He was there [at Conservative Beth Israel Congregation of Chester County] for 30 years [1985-2015]. He was one-man band when he first got there, when the synagogue was in Coatesville, doing the newsletter, at every simcha, doing what a rabbi does.”
Today the congregation is located in Uwchlan Township, where it moved to in 1995 to accommodate a growing assembly. Congregant Robin Napiecek was there from the beginning.
“Rabbi Charney was an integral part in building the new synagogue,’’ Napiecek said. “He offered amazing support over the years and officiated at many events involving my family. He was a wonderful man and a dear friend.
“You made a phone call and he was there.”
Michael Charney, a native of Canton, Ohio, who grew up in the Chicago area as the son of a rabbi, took an unusual route to the Conservative clergy, having completed his studies at the Hebrew Union College, the Reform center of rabbinical training, in Cincinnati, including a year of study in Israel.
He was hired by Conservative synagogues in Clearwater, Fla., and Bowie, Md., before coming to Chester County and Beth Israel Congregation, which dates to 1904.
“It was interesting,” Davida Charney said. “He was trained at Hebrew Union, but hired by Conservative temples. After three years of service, he was able to join The Rabbinical Assembly.
“He was totally engaged with his congregants.”
Michael Charney took pride in establishing Beth Israel’s preschool in 1999.
Outside of Chester County, Michael Charney served as the Norristown State Hospital chaplain for many years and taught Hebrew at Arcadia University.
“He was just outstanding with our children,’’ Napiecek said. “I really miss him. He retired [in 2015], but always was around and instructed our Bar and Bat Mitzvah candidates.”
Davida Charney knew how dedicated her brother was.
“I’ll tell you a story about him,’’ she said. “He had some heart issues the last 10 years, including an issue with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was told he had to go to the hospital immediately. His answer, ‘I have a Bat Mitzvah to do.’
“He was finally coaxed into going to the hospital.”
In addition to Davida Charney, Michael Charney is survived by his sons, Adam Charney (Melissa) and Brett Charney; grandchildren Jake, William and Sophia Charney; siblings Brenda Rosen and David Charney (Shawna); nieces and nephews; and former wife Jamie Krakow.
A funeral was held Dec. 23 at Beth Israel Congregation. Internment followed at Beth Israel Cemetery in Coatesville.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Michael Charney’s name to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, USY Scholarship Fund c/o USCJ or Mazon. l
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