Retiring rabbi, Carmel resident, reflects on nearly 50 years at Indy synagogue


By Riya Chinni 

Following 47 years of service to Congregation Beth-El-Zedeck, Rabbi Dennis Sasso retired from his role of senior rabbi following his last officiation of service May 19.

Sasso moved to Indianapolis in 1977 with his wife, who is also a rabbi, to serve Congregation Beth-El-Zedeck together, as a joint rabbinate. Sasso and his wife, Sandy E. Sasso, are recognized as the first married rabbinical couple in history and brought the unique dynamic to Congregation Beth-El-Zedeck as it continued to expand and grow in the late 1970s. 

“When Sandy and I came here, it was a new precedent and we had no models to follow,” Sasso said. “There was nobody after whom we could pattern our experience, so it was growing together with one another and growing together with the congregation.”

Throughout the years, Sasso, a Carmel resident, has served in many capacities as a rabbi — teacher, preacher, community outreach representative, pastor and many more. Sasso said his lasting memories from his time as rabbi include celebrating births, officiating weddings, celebrating bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies, and memorializing loved ones at funerals.

“You become integrated significantly in the life of people, and people become very much a part of who you are,” Sasso said. 

In his role as an educator, Sasso has contributed to various institutions, such as Christian Theological Seminary and Marian University. He teaches topics such as Jewish and interfaith relations and Jewish-Christian dialogue. He plans to continue teaching in retirment.. 

“By definition, the word rabbi means teacher,” Sasso said. “In so many ways, that is an important part of what I do, and I look forward to opportunities to continue to do that at various levels in different settings within the community.”

Sasso said one of his teaching interests is religious history, with the goal of learning from the past. 

“It’s important to look at history, not to live in the past, but to live with the past as we move into the future and try to shape a better future for our communities,” Sasso said. 

Both Sasso and his wife share insight and information through writing, as well, and have published articles in a variety of journals and local and international newspapers. 

Outside of teaching, Sasso often speaks at various religious communities regarding interfaith relations. According to Sasso, these talks center around how different religious groups can build bridges with one another, honor their differences and cherish their commonalities. Sasso plans to continue these community-building efforts and civic engagement overall beyond his retirement. 

These community-building efforts are supported by Sasso’s relationships with local leaders such as Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, as well as relationships with other faith communities and leaders in the area. 

Sasso holds the title of Rabbi Emeritus within Congregation Beth-El-Zedeck and said he plans to remain active and engaged within the congregation. Congregation Beth-El-Zedeck will conduct a national search for Sasso’s successor in the next few months. 

Sasso joins his wife in retirement and plans to continue writing, teaching, and his engagement in civic and community efforts, while also embarking on new pursuits such as travel. 

“We will be present, available to the congregation and to the many, many friends that we have served over the years,” Sasso said.