Monday, September 24, 2012

Hiring a Rabbi - The Saga Continues - Part 2

Last I left you, the shul decided to conduct a search for a rabbi for the community, which was split into three camps: those who want a rabbi (group A), those who don't (group B) and those who don't seem to care very much (group C). While group A seems slightly larger than group B, and won the vote over whether or not to even have a rabbi, group C seems largest by far, not having voted at all.
Once the community decided to have a rabbi, the board commissioned a very well-meaning committee to steer the search. They went through an extensive process of evaluation, interviewing members of the shul, speaking to candidates, communicating with experts in the field of shul rabbis (they exist here, even though there aren't that many shul rabbis), finally culminating their work with the conclusion that the main goals of the shul's new rabbi would be:
  • Uniting the community
  • Inspiring the membership
  • Working with the youth
To a seasoned American-trained rabbi, none of these rabbinic tasks seem at all shocking; they're actually well within the purview of your standard community rav. But think about the items that are not on the list: psak halachah; giving shiurim; serving as the representative of the community in communal affairs - these not only weren't in the top three. They're not on the list. And, it's not because the community takes these things for granted. Rather, most people already have a personal posek (the rav of our yishuv is an amazing man) and community members already give a ton of shiurim.
Also, it's important to understand that while, as an American, these tasks seem perfectly suited to a shul rabbi, when you think about them critically, they're more oriented towards social work (other than inspiration) than rabbinic work. That's fine, because your average Chutz L'aretz rabbi really is, to a large degree, a social worker. He counsels. He organizes. He visits the sick. He arranges events and programs. Those are all aspects of social work. Sure, he teaches and paskens and speaks publicly as well. But I always saw each of the elements of my job as core to the rabbinic mission.
Israelis haven't really experienced that type of rabbi. By and large, Israelis have really only seen the rabbi who they see in shul or call to ask a question. They don't see their shul rabbi as having a major role in their lifecycle events, nor do they look for a personal connection with a rabbi the way people raised in Chutz L'aretz do. So, when they hear "hire a rabbi", it's just another person who will give another shiur, or add another layer of beaurocracy (and expense and infighting) to the community. I sense that in our shul, the Anglos and Israelis are using the same words (hire a rabbi), but are envisioning very, very different things.
The shul advertised, and was ready finally to invite candidates only by early summer, very very late in the process. Out of the dozens of resumes that we received, only about 15 were remotely relevant, and only four candidates would fit the requirements that the shul was looking for. (Meaning, some were respected rabbonim, but they wouldn't be willing, interested or qualified to reach out to individual members, unite the shul, or work with the youth).
In the end, two candidates dropped out - one because he was hired by another shul, and another decided he just wasn't interested - leaving us with two rabbis who would visit for Shabbat over the waning summer weeks. Both are relatively young (late 20s - early 30s), and none has communal shul experience.
All of this leads to a delicious irony. When I announced my decision to make aliyah, I was told over and over again that I would have great trouble finding work as a community rabbi, because the job simply didn't exist, and also because Israel is overrun with rabbis. (Let me be clear: I wasn't asked, nor do I want to be the rabbi of our shul. I like being a member and contributing to my community in my own way. I also like the freedom to be a regular person too.) Ironically, in my own shul we discovered that there aren't enough community-minded rabbanim in Israel. There are not enough rabbis trained to serve their communities, run programs, reach out to the unaffiliated - to simply do the work that the Orthodox community in America takes for granted. And all the American rabbis making aliyah won't really make a dent in that need because they won't hire us. For better or for worse, the language and culture barriers can be singificant, and even if they aren't, Israelis by and large won't hire an American rabbi anyway. That's just how it is.
What happened with the candidates? That's for the next post.