Looking For A New Rabbi
Author Stephen Fried's visit comes at a perfect time for Congregation Beth Shalom.
SHELLI LIEBMAN DORFMAN
or a synagogue in search of a new rabbi, a
visit by an investigative reporter with
years spent studying the process was a
Armed with insight gained from reading The New
Rabbi: A Congregation Searches For Its Leader,
Congregation Beth Shalom mem-
ber Bobbie Lewis of Oak Park
jumped at the chance to invite its
author Stephen Fried to speak at
His talk, a program of Beth
Shalom's 50th Jubilee Year cele-
bration, will take place at 7 p.m.,
Sunday, March 21.
"My Beth Shalom Sisterhood
book club read The New Rabbi
last year and loved it," said Lewis, who, along with
Mandy Garver of Bloomfield Hills, co-chairs the
synagogue's Cultural Commission, the lecture spon-
With the announcement of the 2005 retirement
of Rabbi David Nelson, Beth Shalom joined at least
six area synagogues — including Conservative,
Qrthodox and Reform — actively searching for new
So, Fried's topic, "The Challenges and Pitfalls of
Choosing New Leaders," will interest those far
beyond the search committee at Beth Shalom.
Fried said his theme will not be limited to rab
binic search insight, but also will discuss American
Judaism in general as well as political, personal and
congregational insights he gained doing research for
Outside of the rabbinic search process, Fried's
book focuses on his own personal return to the syn-
agogue while saying Kaddish for his father.
"If people come to the talk because they are on a
search committee, that's great," he said. "But if they
just lost a parent and want to follow somebody's
journey of mourning and return to land of living or
want to learn about an exploration into contempo-
rary Judaism, I'm here to share that, too."
In his book, Fried chronicled three years in the
life of the Conservative Har Zion Temple in
Philadelphia during their nationwide search to
replace departing longtime pulpit Rabbi Gerald
Wolpe. Fried was allowed access into the private life
of the rabbi and his family as well as into the poli-
tics of the congregational leaders and members.
Fried had a first-hand view of the process and
obstacles encountered in Har Zion's search for a new
rabbi. He was witness to many unexpected tribula-
tions. He watched as a rabbi was finally chosen,
only to decline the offer at the last minute. He was
also privy to the friction and dissension between
members of the congregation and among members
of the clergy.
Outside The Synagogue
During his exploration, Fried realized his findings
were representative of experiences beyond the syna- •
gogue walls. 'All the things I found can happen any-
where," he said. "Not only in synagogues and in
non-Jewish houses- of worship, but also in business
and in life.
"This is only Jewish because it takes place in
To the issue of Detroit's half-a-dozen or more
ongoing rabbinic searches, he said, "The recruit-
ment of clergy in all American religions is down.
But the problem is not in the amount of rabbis
being ordained, but rather that so many rabbis are
not looking for pulpits," he said."
Referring to one of the rabbis named in the
book, he said, "[Rabbi] Lee Buckman [head of
school at the Jewish Academy of Metropolitan
Detroit] is a perfect example of a quintessential
"FaR.-inaum; . Beneath the story
about synagope polities is a
novel-like stot ylove and loss.
'Brave • rernark:Thie
about leadmnir that y(yc, don't
Dave to be Je,,\ i h appreux.e
—"Mc Phi I o d r,:ti in q i
rabbi who is choosing to run a day school rather
than run a pulpit."
The book also includes other familiar names with
local ties, like Rabbi Daniel Nevins who is men-
tioned in a section on Adat Shalom Synagogue's rab-
Prior to his talk at Beth Shalom, Fried will speak
with the synagogue's executive board.
"What we hope to get is some advice based on
his experience at Har Zion and his knowledge of
other shuls' experience, especially on the pitfalls to
avoid in our search," Lewis said.
"We're really pleased to be able to speak with
Stephen Fried and get one more perspective — that
of someone intimately involved with a rabbinic
search, but outside the 'official' process," said
Garver, who is also chair of Beth Shalom's rabbinic
Congregants Of Divorce
Before searching for a new rabbi, Fried reminds that
congregants need time to either mourn — or cele-
brate — the departure of the old rabbi.
"Congregants can feel like children of divorce
when a rabbi leaves," he said. "Even if he or she
leaves for a good reason."
Fried feels strongly that a way to ease the situa-
tion is through the use of a position that is little-
used in Detroit — the interim rabbi. "This is a
rabbi, who is hired by the congregation for one year
to work through the rebuilding time after the rabbi
leaves, before a new rabbi is hired," Fried said. "The
interim rabbi is skilled in helping the congregation
to get to the place where it can make decisions on
what it wants and needs and shepherd them through
the process of the search."
One thing Fried confirmed through his investiga-
tion is that, in general, people dislike change. "Even
those who think they were unhappy with their rabbi
are even more unhappy about change," he said.
"Even if they don't like the rabbi, they get used to
how they don't like the rabbi."
Overall, he found that even congregants with dif-
fering opinions ultimately have the synagogue in
their best interest — even though the process of hir-
ing a new rabbi can take its toll on the membership.
"The rabbi search can be either totally frighten-
ing or frightening and exciting," he said. "But it can
be as amazing as starting a new congregation."
Stephen Fried will speak and sign copies of The
New Rabbi at 7 p.m., Sunday, March 21, at
Congregation Beth Shalom. Cost of the program
is $12. For information, call (248) 547-7970.