The Search Process for Our Next Rabbi

Dear Members of the WJC Community,

As you all know, WJC is engaged in a search for a new Rabbi upon the planned retirement of our beloved Rabbi Segelman in the Summer/Fall of 2020.  We wanted to give you a description of the process and how your voice and opinion will continue to be reflected and represented in the search.

As explained in his August 27 letter to the congregation, our President Jeffrey Lavine appointed a Rabbi Search Committee to be co-chaired by Seth Schafler and Alynn Perl.  Other members of the Committee are Ali Abrahms, Bobby Cohen, Elise Dowell, Wayne Goldstein, Amy Levine-Kennedy, Jill Miller, and Craig Rubin.  The Committee was carefully chosen to reflect a cross-section of our congregation – members for 5 to 40 years, families with children in the ECC, Religious School and high school, empty nesters, members who have a more traditional, religious background and those who are on their own Jewish journey.  They are already hard at work.

The process of searching for a new Rabbi is largely dictated by the placement rules promulgated by the Rabbinical Assembly’s (RA) Joint Placement Committee (JPC).  The Rabbinical Assembly is an organization in the Conservative movement that, among other things, places Conservative Rabbis into Conservative congregations.  As a member of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), which serves Conservative congregations, we may only hire a new Rabbi through the RA placement mechanism. In order to post a rabbinic job, a congregation must fill out an extensive questionnaire about the position, information about the community, the synagogue, and other matters.  The RA has rules that govern seniority of Rabbis based on the size of the congregation, under which our congregation may hire any RA member commencing at minimum his or her third year of service after graduation from rabbinical school.  Once the questionnaire is completed, it is posted on the RA website and is available to any member of the RA.

Jeffrey Lavine convened a Let’s Talk Rabbi Task Force led by Sarene Shanus, Susie Miller and Ilana Moskowitz that met with nearly 100 members of our Congregation, senior staff, and clergy over the summer and into the fall. Based on the extensive feedback it received, the Committee completed the RA questionnaire, which was posted on October 12 and resumes have started to come in.  This is a rolling application process, so we can expect applicants to apply any time through the spring, though most will likely apply over the next few months.

Our goal is to be in a position to make an offer to a candidate before Passover (April 20) so we have time to negotiate terms with our new Rabbi before the summer.  The intent is to have a new Rabbi hired by July 2019, with an overlap year of support by Rabbi Segelman before he steps down in 2020.  The Committee will review resumes, conduct a series of interviews to winnow down the number to a small number of finalists, and invite finalists to congregational Shabbat weekend visits in February and March.  These visits will include a Shabbat sermon, other teaching sessions, Q&A with the congregation, meetings with senior staff, congregational leaders and members at large, to be followed by surveys of the congregation.  The Committee will make its recommendations to the Spiritual Life Committee, which, under WJC’s by-laws, acts as the “lead committee” for purposes of hiring a new Rabbi.  But the ultimate decision will be made (as required by NY law) by all of you at a Congregational meeting in which all members will have the opportunity to vote.

Our mandate is to find a new Rabbi who is a great fit for our congregation.  We are told by RA representatives and others that our congregation should be highly desirable to applicants based on the strength of our community, our involved lay leadership, our history of positive and long-term relationships with members of the clergy, proximity to the city and other factors.  Our mandate is to find someone wonderful, not to settle for the best available.  If we are unable to find such a candidate before Passover, we will continue the search as needed.

Assuming we hire a new Rabbi for next year as planned, Rabbi Segelman would stay on for another year to assist the new Rabbi in the transition and would perform most of the functions currently performed by our Assistant Rabbi.  The new Rabbi would help our congregation assess our needs for additional clergy support and the responsibilities of an Assistant Rabbi going forward.

We want to be as open as we can regarding the progress of our search, recognizing that we are obliged to maintain confidentiality regarding certain aspects of the process such as the identity of applicants—at least in the early stages. We recognize the critical importance of involving you in the process, soliciting your input and hearing your views. To that end, we have established a link (www.wjcenter.org/rabbinic-search-update) on the WJC website to post communications from the Search Committee and to keep you apprised of our progress as we move forward.

Please feel free to discuss this process with any member of the Search Committee.  If you have suggestions we would like to hear them, and thank you for your continued support!

—Seth Schafler and Alynn Perl, Rabbinic Search Committee Co-Chairs

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