I am honored to be appointed as Temple Emanuel’s Interim Rabbi for this coming year. I can’t tell you – but I think it will show – how much I enjoy the role of Interim Rabbi. I have served as Interim Rabbi for the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL and Temple Beth Am in Framingham, MA. I am currently at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, NJ. Temple Emanuel will thus be my fourth interim congregation.
As an Interim Rabbi, my first priority will be to be your Rabbi, there for you, the members, in all the ways a spiritual leader should be, providing all the clergy presence you have come to expect and deserve. During our year together, I, partnering with Rabbi Locketz, will be there for you to celebrate and sanctify the joyous times and to stand with you during the difficult times of illness, heartbreak, and loss. One of my strengths has been the ability to connect with people heart to heart in a relatively short time, which has served me well in officiating at life cycle events for individuals and families whom I have just met. In that regard, I know that the families of youngsters becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah are naturally concerned about a Rabbi whom they do not know working with their children alongside Rabbi Locketz and being part of this most important family life cycle event. One of my first priorities will be to reach out to the Bat/Bar Mitzvah students and create opportunities for us to get to know each other.
An Interim Rabbi is more than a clergy placeholder until you get your next Senior Rabbi. My other mission is to help Temple Emanuel through this year of transition. It will be an important time to regroup after 38 years of Rabbi Mahler’s dedicated leadership, experience what his retirement means for the congregation, to mix continuity with change, and to pursue the search for the Rabbi you believe will best serve your needs and begin with you the next chapter in the life of Temple Emanuel. The fact that Rabbi Mahler has had such a long and energetic tenure at the Temple is a precious blessing. It says a great deal about him, about the Temple, and, most importantly, about the relationship between Rabbi and community. Of course, the blessing of a long-term rabbinate also presents a challenge. What will Temple Emanuel be like without Rabbi Mahler at the helm? How will the Temple change and how will it remain the same? Without Rabbi Mahler, will it still be Temple Emanuel? (Not to give too much away, but the answer is yes.)
In one way or another, Temple Emanuel faces the same challenges that most synagogues and churches face: demographic shifts, financial concerns, a shrinking volunteer base, and a general cultural climate in which “I” over-shadows “we.” But from what I saw and what I learned from speaking with people in and out of the congregation, Temple Emanuel is well-poised to meet these challenges in positive and creative ways. I am looking forward to partnering with President David Weisberg, Rabbi Locketz, Leslie Hoffman, Iris Harlan, and the rest of the dedicated Temple leadership and staff.
Just to be clear, the term of an Interim Clergy is one year. I have no intention of becoming your “settled” Rabbi nor would it be appropriate. My job is to serve the clergy needs of the members for this year and to set up the congregation so that it can find the best clergy fit for its future.
Prior to my interview visit, I had only been to Pittsburgh once for a rabbinic convention. The Pittsburgh area looks to be a wonderful place to live – small enough to be manageable, but large enough in vision to offer a treasure-trove of cultural resources. Fran and I are looking forward to living in the community, making new friends, and taking advantage of all that Pittsburgh offers!