Donald A. Kriss, 61; former executive director of B’nai Amoona, Shaare Emeth

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Donald A. Kriss, executive director of the Jacksonville Jewish Center in Florida, and a former executive director of Congregation B’nai Amoona and Congregation Shaare Emeth in St. Louis, died Saturday, Sept. 19. In Jacksonville. He was 61.  He died of complications from leukemia, a family member said.

  Mr. Kriss was born in Wichita Falls, Texas and grew up in Denver.  He was a 1979 graduate of Arizona State University with a bachelor of science degree in Public Programming and Leisure Services.

Mr. Kriss entered the ranks of Jewish professionals as the program director of the Kivel Jewish Geriatric Center in Phoenix, Ariz., and then continued his career as the program director and camp director of Greater Phoenix. Soon thereafter Mr. Kriss was charged with the creation of two new JCCs in Scottsdale and Tempe, Ariz.  In 1990, he moved back to his home in Denver to be with family and to become the executive director at BMH Congregation.

During the next 25 years, Mr. Kriss served four congregations, including B’nai Amoona and Shaare Emeth. He was executive director of the Jacksonville Jewish Center for the past four and a half years.

He held a Fellowship in Synagogue Administration, administered by the North American Association of Synagogue Executives (NAASE).

A statement issued by the National Association of Temple Administration (Reform), expressed “profound sadness” at the passing of Mr. Kriss. “Don was a good friend to so many of us in both NATA (National Association of Temple Administration) and NAASE over these past 25 years. His warm smile, his sense of humor and good heart touched so many lives.”

Similar statements were made in tribute to Mr. Kriss from his lay and professional associates and colleagues at B’nai Amoona and Shaare Emeth. He was known for his calm and good-humored demeanor and his ability to handle complex and sensitive situations in addition to the day-to-day pressures of a synagogue executive director.

Mr. Kriss served as executive director of Shaare Emeth from 2003 to 20l0.

Kenneth Kleban, a past president of Shaare Emeth, told the St. Louis Jewish Light, “Don became the executive director of Shaare Emeth immediately after I became president in 2003.  His intimate knowledge of the operations of a synagogue made my job incredibly easier.  Not a week went by without my receipt of a call or email from a congregant letting me know how friendly Don was or how he had deftly handled an issue to the congregation’s satisfaction.”

Sanford (Buddy) Lebman, another Shaare Emeth past president said, “Both (my wife) Dass and I felt a close bond to Don.  He was a fine person to work with.”

Longtime Shaare Emeth member and volunteer Eunice Reichman recalled  Mr. Kriss fondly. “I remember how he would come in with armfuls of red roses to say thank you during Administrative Day and Volunteer Recognition Week. He had a big heart.”

Stephen Radinsky, another longtime Shaare Emeth volunteer said he got to know Mr. Kriss while working for six years on the congregation’s annual ad book. “Don was one of the greatest individuals I have ever known. We were like brothers. A few times in one’s life does one meet a person that is extraordinary.  He was the most generous, giving and compassionate person I have ever known.”

Mr. Kriss served as a board member of the NAASE from 1997 through 2003 and again since 2013, serving on the membership committee, the marketing committee and was the chair of the professional listserv for six years. He served on the task force for the strategic planning process of NAASE and was the administrative resource chair.  He was also a keynote speaker at the United Synagogue Biennial meeting “5 Pillars” in Washington, D.C. on security planning.

Mr. Kriss’s funeral took place on Monday, Sept. 21 in the sanctuary of the Jacksonville Jewish Center, followed by interment at the New Center Cemetery.

Donations in memory of Mr. Kriss may be made to the Jacksonville Jewish Center, with a notation on the check that it is intended for the Don Kriss Fund. The center is located at 3662 Crown Point Road, Jacksonville, Fla. 32257. For more information, email [email protected] or call 904-292-1000.

Among the survivors are his wife of 37 years, Janet Kriss, and their children, Joel Kriss and Leah Kriss Ribaudo (John), and one grandchild.