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September 26, 2003 - Image 105

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-09-26

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Tough Process

Beth Jacob, a 140-family
synagogue in
For the rabbinical job-seeker,
Beth Jacob
that kind of hectic, pressure-
wanted a rabbi to step in •
filled pace is typical. "It's very
and fill the shoes of its
high stress. You're constantly
longtime leader, Rabbi
on your toes, meeting tons of
Howard Zack. "I imagined
people," says Rabbi Geri
would go there and be
Newburge, 29, ordained this
the third person for
spring at the Reform move-
or praying,
ment's Hebrew Union College Jewish
Rabbi Dardick says.
Institute of Religion and newly hired
Unlike the Conservative and Reform
assistant rabbi at Temple Emanuel in
movements, which strictly tie rabbinic
Cherry Hill, N.J.
experience levels to congregation size,
"The synagogue visit is very difficult
the modern Orthodox and
because you're wearing two kipot,"
Reconstructionist movements do not
Rabbi Schuldenfrei says. "You want to
be the most gracious, dynamic, inspiring maintain such rules. "It's a little bit more
free market," says Rabbi A. Mark Levin,
person, while trying to think critically.
director of the Gertrude and Morris
You're evaluating them as much as
Bienenfeld Department of Rabbinic
they're evaluating you."
which is part of RIETS. "The
Others say the challenges surface as
the communities determine
they begin searching fora pulpit. Two
years ago, Judah Dardick was set to
But Rabbi Dardick was worried,
complete his ordination process at the
despite the congregation's relatively small
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological
size. "What if I don't know enough?" he
Seminary, or RIETS, the rabbinical
asked himself. "I've never been a rabbi
school of YeshivaUniversity, modern
and it's a big Torah. That was my great-
Orthodoxy's banner institution.
est anxiety — that I couldn't handle it."
Like many seminary graduates who
say demand in the rabbinical market-
place remains steadily strong year after
Difficult Search
year, Rabbi Dardick found a land of
the congregation's perspective, hir-
opportunity: He sent resumes to 13
is no small task, either. The
shuls and was invited for interviews at
new rabbi, especially a sen-
can stretch for months and
One position was at Congregation

double-blind rating system not unlike
the process used for medical school
applications. The system is based on
algorithms developed by the Maryland-
based Institute for Operations Research
and Management Science.
Congregations and students get paired
if they rank one another as their top
choice in anonymous lists. Rankings are
weighted in favor of the students.
Theoretically, "a congregation or stu-
dent could get their sixth choice," says
Rabbi David Komerofsky, associate dean
of HUC in Cincinnati. But that rarely
happens, says Aaron Panken of HUC's
New York headquarters, who co-
authored a study on the system in June.
According to a report on the ratings sys-
tem that Panken co-wrote, placements
between 1997-1999 and 2001-2002
show that most HUC graduates and
congregations secured their first or sec-
ond choices.
In 1997, for example, 18 of 26 stu-
dents got placed with the top-ranked
synagogue, while 16 of 35 congregations
seeking rabbis got their top choice. In

2002, 10 of 14 students got their top
job choice, while eight of 22 congrega-
tions got their top choice and three got
their second choice.
In those years, as in other years rated,
a minority of students and congrega-
dons settled for a third choice or did not
get placed at all.
The rankings in 1997 supplanted a
more informal system that many also
likened to an old-boys network, and the
new system aims to level the playing
field so that candidates and congrega-
tions "have real access to each other,"
says Rabbi David Komerofsky, associate
dean of HUC in Cincinnati.
According to Reform rules, a newly
ordained student is eligible to serve as an
assistant at any sized congregation and
as the sole rabbi at congregations up to
300 families. After three years, a rabbi
can head a synagogue of up to 600 fam-
ilies; after five years, up to 1,000 fami-
lies; and after eight years, more than
1,000 families.
Like the Conservative movement, the
Reform movement prefers that rabbis

involve large search committees that
messiah," says Rabbi Levin, of the
spend many hours interviewing candi-
Yeshiva University rabbinical school. "I
dates. In 1997, Sinai Temple in Los
share with them that it's great to have
Angeles convened a 55-member search
those expectations but they can handi-
committee that spent six months inter-
cap your search, and it might be more
viewing candidates before picking Rabbi
helpful to deal with people in the world
Wolpe, who had conducted High
we encounter."
Holiday services there.
At Oakland's Beth Jacob, most offi-
Kenneth Korach, president of the
cials believed that the small congregation
1,000-family Temple Emanuel in
stood little chance of finding another
Cherry Hill, N.J., says even the quest for veteran of Rabbi Zack's stature to step
a junior rabbi involved interviewing 15
in, so they looked for a more junior
people at Hebrew Union College. "You
rabbi. Briane Kaye, who led the shul's
interview everyone," Korach says, in part search committee, helped interview 18
because the rabbinical market remains
candidates by phone, 10 of whom made
highly competitive, with more openings
a second cut, and three of whom,
than candidates to fill them.
including Rabbi Dardick, became final-
But even a more condensed search
ists after three months.
saw its share of dilemmas, says Abner
Despite some anxiety among mem-
Goldstein, former president at Sinai
bers over choosing a younger replace-
Temple in Los Angeles, who helped
ment, Kaye says the committee drafted a
secure Rabbi Schuldenfrei. Sinai
list of characteristics the
Temple officials screened 10
synagogue sought in a
candidates in a short time, some
leader and realized Rabbi
of whom quickly began fielding
Dardick embodied them.
competing offers. "You really
"We were realistic," he
have very little time to spend
recalls. "We realized no one
with your candidate," Goldstein
person would be every-
says. "It's hard to feel comfort-
able that your impressions are
The non-Orthodox
denominations steer new
Seminary officials say congre-
rabbis into assistant rabbi
Schuld enfrei
roles — partly to alleviate
gations' competing desires for
the pressure of being in the
youth and experience are a
main pulpit in the shadows
dilemma every new rabbi faces.
"Every congregation is looking for the
MATCH-MAKING on page 110

first take assistant or associate positions,
usually at larger synagogues with greater
clerical needs.

Looser Rules

No such rules exist in modern
Orthodoxy or the Reconstructionist
movement, in part because they deal
with fewer rabbinical students each year
and usually smaller congregations.
Rabbi Joel Alpert, placement director
for the Reconstructionist movement,
says its system is "completely open" and
that a search is based more on meeting
the needs of congregations and candi-
dates and less on years of experience.
In modern Orthodoxy, the hiring
process is similarly informal. In some
cases, a rabbi who has served at a small
shul for only a few years can jump to a
much larger synagogue, says Rabbi A.
Mark Levin, director of the rabbinic
services division of Yeshiva University's
rabbinical school, the Rabbi Isaac
Elchanan Theological Seminary.
Ultimately, the congregation's require-
ments shape the hiring process, Rabbi

Levin says.
He often counsels congregations to
rank their needs, and even draft a sec-
ondary wish-list of qualities. "Is this a
congregation looking for a young rabbi
whose great strength is giving shiurim"
— lessons — "in Talmud, but speaking
and administrative skills are not as
important?" Rabbi Levin says. "Or is
someone needed who can give a syna-
gogue a strong public face, but depth in
midrash is not as crucial?"
The very nature of the Orthodox syn-
agogue world doesn't allow for the same
tight control over rabbinic hiring, says
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice pres-
ident of the National Council of Young
Israel, the modern Orthodox synagogue
organization that also trains and places
rabbis. "Anybody can open a shtiblin
their backyard," he says, referring to the
small, storefront-type shuls that meet in
homes or beit midrash study halls and
rarely seek pulpit rabbis.
"They don't need us, so you can't sit
them down and make demands." ❑




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