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September 26, 2003 - Image 106

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

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Focus

The Match Game

Hot Profession

The rabbinical job market is booming, with supply and demand up.

JOE BERKOFSKY
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

New York

or more than two decades,
Suzanne Singer produced TV
news, documentaries and
other programs, rising to the
top of her field and winning two
Emmys. The daughter of a woman who
survived Auschwitz, Singer still felt
vaguely dissatisfied with her life.
She began studying midrash, then
Hebrew. She enrolled at the Hebrew
Union College Jewish Institute of
Religion in Los Angeles for a master's
degree in Judaic studies, then decided to
go
t, for a doctorate. But in 2000 she
switched to HUC's rabbinic program.
This summer, at age 50, Rabbi Singer
became the assistant rabbi at a 900-
family Reform congregation in
Oakland, Calif, Temple Sinai. "I felt
like I had found myself," she says.
The rabbinate may be Singer's true
calling, but she also could hardly have
followed a more opportune career path.
The rabbinic job market is booming.
Buoyed by an apparent growth in
young people seeking spiritual pursuits,
especially after Sept. 11, 2001, and by
older people seeking a second career, the
rabbinical seminaries are boasting
record registration levels.
Upon ordination four to five years
later, newly minted rabbis have an
unprecedented array of career paths
open to them. In addition to pulpit
jobs, they are choosing positions in day
schools, Jewish communal organiza-
tions, social agencies and at chaplain-
cies.
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, director of rab-
binic development for the Conservative
movement's Rabbinical Assembly, says
rabbinic unemployment in the move-
ment has been nearly zero for at least
the past five years.
For most rabbinical job hunters seek-
ing a full-time job and willing to be
flexible about location, Rabbi Schonfeld
says, "there is opportunity for nearly
100 percent employment. There is an
ongoing trend for a demand for clergy."
The forces pushing this rabbinic
explosion began emerging decades ago,
during the post-World War II economic
boom. Urban Jews moved to the sub-

9/26

2003

106

urbs and built new synagogues. Many
congregations grew large and wealthy
enough over the years to staff several
rabbis. "All you need is a couple of
dozen Levittowns and there's a job for
every rabbi," says Rabbi David
Komerofsky, associate dean of the
Reform movement's HUC campus in
Cincinnati.

Enrollment Up

These days the rabbinic assembly line is
humming. Each year, the
Reconstructionist movement fills an
average of 24 pulpits; the Reform
movement around 75; the Conservative
movement between 50 and 75 and the
modern Orthodox movement 48, large-
ly via the seminaries affiliated with New
York's Yeshiva University.
Such post-denominational seminaries
as the Academy of Jewish Religion in
New York are also churning out gradu-
ates. Rabbi Andrea Myers, dean of
admissions at the academy, says there
were 12 graduates in 2003, nearly twice
the average. And Hebrew College in
Newton, Mass., is launching a new
multi-denominational rabbinic school
this fall.
Those numbers don't tell the whole
story, however. Placement officials in
the movements say that in most years
some pulpits lie, fallow — not for a
shortage of rabbis but because the syna-
gogues are not among the more plum
assignments.
Observers say that in the Orthodox
world pulpits often remain empty
because graduates of Yeshiva U's rab-
binical school — modern Orthodoxy's
main source of rabbis — pursue non-
rabbinic careers. Aside from the field of
education, many of Yeshiva's rabbinic
graduates go on to become lawyers,
businessmen or other professionals.
Other movements also have problems
with insufficient rabbinic supply to
meet the demand for pulpit posts.
"There are always 20 to 25 congrega-
tions that go unfilled every year," says
Rabbi Arnold Scheer, placement direc-
tor for the Central Conference of
American Rabbis, the Reform rabbini-
cal group that's the largest of all the
movements.
Those synagogues are typically small-

er, isolated temples in shrinking Jewish
something his grandfather, one of sever-
communities, often in the South or
al rabbis in his family, said to him about
Midwest, he adds.
baseball that sparked his interest in the
But the path one rabbi took to just
rabbinate.
such a smaller venue reveals the spiritual
Before the World Series one year, his
power many feel pulling them to the
grandfather likened being a rabbi to
job no matter where they end up. Steve
being a pitcher — "the most important
Gutow, 54, was a lawyer and political
player of the game."
organizer who, like Rabbi Singer,
The recent rush to rabbinical school
embarked on a new career in the 1990s.
has sent enrollment skyrocketing. At the
In politics, Gutow launched the south-
RRC, enrollment has hovered between
west chapter of the American Israel
19 in 1999 and 14 in 2003, one of the
Public Affairs Committee and the
few seminaries to see a slight drop. At
Washington-based National Jewish
the HUC's three campuses in New
Democratic Council.
York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles, the
But he began relating to people large-
total incoming class size shot up from
ly as political assets, he recalls. "I wasn't
37 in 1999 to 67 in 2003 — the largest
looking at people as humans." In 1992,
class since the Vietnam War a quarter
his younger brother was killed in a bike
century ago.
accident, and Gutow began a spiritual
The Conservative movement's rab-
trek that took him to Israel, Cambodia
binical schools, the New York-based
and, finally, to teach Sunday school in
Jewish Theological Seminary and the
Dallas. He was invited to speak at the
University of Judaism in Los Angeles,
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College,
have also seen strong enrollment. At
the movement's seminary in
JTS, rabbinical school
suburban Philadelphia, the
enrollment for the new
day after Israeli Prime
class climbed from 26 in
Minister Yitzhak Rabin was
2001 to 31 in 2003,
assassinated in 1995.
while the University of
The RRC "was like a spiri-
Judaism, which began its
tual haven," he says. "I
ordination program in
walked away from there with
1999, mushroomed from
tears in my eyes, positive
six to 20 students.
that's where I would be
And Yeshiva's Rabbi
going." When he graduated
Isaac Elchanan
this spring, Rabbi Gutow
Theological Seminary, the
looked for a smaller, more
flagship school of modern
low-key synagogue, aiming
Orthodoxy, has seen
to avoid a job where he
enrollment for its newest
would be required to spend a Rabbi Yechiel Morris
students climb from an
good deal of time raising
average in the low-60s for
money.
the past four years to 86 in 2003.
He interviewed for a solo pulpit job
All would-be rabbis have their own
in Montana and for an assistant post at
reason to seek a pulpit, but Rabbi
a larger Washington, D.C., synagogue,
Martin Cohen of the Shelter Rock
but he settled on the Reconstructionist
Jewish Center in Long Island, N.Y., a
Minyan of St. Louis, a 15-family, start-
Conservative congregation, says the
up congregation, where he says he
recent bounce in numbers was spurred
found a connection.
in part by a "shock wave" rumbling
from the horrific events of Sept. 11,
2001.
Southfield "Pitcher
"While 9-11 was not the impetus for
Among the latest crop of graduates who
people to drop what they're doing and
went straight to rabbinical school from
become clergy, 9-11 was the catalyst for
college is Yeshiva graduate Yechiel
people to think about what they're
Morris, 27, who this summer replaced
doing with their lives," says Rabbi
an 18-year veteran at the Young Israel of Cohen. ❑
Southfield, a 120-family shul. It was

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