March 26, 2014
To the Beloved Members of our CBE Community:
It is with mixed emotion and after much soul searching that I am writing this letter to inform you that I do not intend to pursue a fourth contractual agreement as Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim. I am taking the step of informing you now since the general guidelines of the Central Conference of American Rabbis recommends that synagogues undergo a 15-18 month search process for Rabbinic Placement.
With my contract set to expire on June 30, 2015, this affords the synagogue a wide berth in developing a plan for succession.
Additionally, as our synagogue community navigates a temporary fiscal challenge, I remain committed to helping partner with you and the leadership over the next 15 months in order to strengthen our finances for the near and distant future.
Much thinking has gone into this decision, taking me back reflectively over a lifetime of service since my youth in Wisconsin, through college, on to rabbinical school and into the pulpit. At a critical stage in my life, at age 20, I made the decision to focus specifically on Jewish service. Inspired by my own great-grandparents commitment to Tradition and Israel, I found particular meaning in the centuries of Jewish texts and wisdom that animate our moral and ethical life as a people. From Hillel at UW and NYU to Brooklyn Jews and CBE, I have found the work to be exceptionally inspiring and rewarding. Lifelong friendships, mentorships, intellectual and political battles “for the Sake of Heaven” have animated every step of the journey.
Last year, the combination of watching our community’s response to Hurricane Sandy as well as the fortuitous and inevitable rite of passage of turning 50, I began to explore the idea of moving beyond strictly Jewish service and contemplate seriously the idea of serving disadvantaged communities broadly throughout New York City. The issues of poverty, hunger, homelessness, education, and violence remain central to my own concerns as a citizen of New York. And so as I thought of another chapter to my professional life, I became increasingly inspired by the opportunity to serve communities in need in Brooklyn and beyond.
I don’t know where this will lead and there is still much time to decide what that next professional step will be, but I can assure you that Rachel and I, along with Audrey, Lois and Minna, will remain devoted members of the CBE community for years to come. My Jewish soul will have a special place here at CBE in Brooklyn (and of course in Israel) but I am ready to move on to new challenges in my career.
What a privilege it has been to serve this historic Congregation.
I am enormously proud of our achievements together at CBE and grateful to the Congregation and its members for the opportunity to serve and share my vision for Jewish life in the 21st century.
Together we have:
- Grown the Synagogue membership from 500 to more than 1000 families
- Hired the most gifted and talented recent graduates of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion--Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, Cantor Joshua Breitzer, and Rabbi Marc Katz--to bring a revitalized commitment to Judaism in the 21st century
- Replaced and repaved the Temple House Roof
- Reinvented the Religious School as Yachad, an innovative Jewish family education program centered on Shabbat
- Created a dual-language Hebrew immersion program in our ECC
- Integrated Brooklyn Jews into the fabric of CBE's ongoing efforts to reach out to young Jews in their 20s and 30s.
- Written a new Torah Scroll in honor our community's 150th Anniversary
- Led numerous trips to Israel for Teens and Adults, strengthening our people's relationship to our brothers and sisters in the State of Israel
- Created innovative cultural programming like Brooklyn by the Book, in partnership with the Community Bookstore and the Brooklyn Public Library, bringing leading authors from the United States and Israel to speak to audiences of thousands
- Incubated the nation's most successful engagement with Israelis through Israelis in Brooklyn and Keshet/Keshetot
- Welcomed Altshul, an Independent Minyan, into CBE to help enrich Jewish spiritual life in our community
- Successfully raised more than $3 million dollars (including a prestigious award of $250,000 from American Express) for the repair and restoration of the Main Sanctuary's roof, exterior and stained glass windows
- Partnered with CAMBA to open a Men's Respite Shelter
- Partnered with John Jay High School to offer ongoing tutoring to neighborhood children in need
- Partnered with the Osborne Association to aid children in their visits to incarcerated parents in the New York state prison system
- Founded the CBE Gun Violence Prevention Group
- Responded in a moment of historic crisis to Hurricane Sandy by providing meals to thousands of New York City's poorest residents most deeply effected by the storm. CBE Feeds remains one of our community's most deeply meaningful statements of Judaism's prophetic command to comfort the afflicted and feed the hungry
- Engaged a number of foundations and family philanthropies from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, the Covenant Foundation, and UJA Federation of New York in the sacred work of developing and growing Jewish life in Brooklyn
Besides my devoted and brilliant clergy colleagues, Rabbis Epstein and Katz as well as Cantor Breitzer (along with past partners here at CBE, Rabbi Emeritus Gerald Weider and Rabbi Daniel Bronstein) I have been blessed to work with the most extraordinary team of Jewish program professionals I have ever known--April Mellas, Cindy Greenberg, Lauren Shenkman, Isabel Burton, Debbie Brukman, Yehudit Feinstein, Jaci Israel, Ilana Friedman, Bobbie Finkelstein, Lisa Rosenberg, Laura Landau, Shuli Zilberfarb-Sela, Shelley Klein and countless others. Local leaders like my dear friends Reverend Daniel Meeter, Councilmen Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, past and current Brooklyn Boro Presidents Marty Markowitz and Eric Adams, have helped forge enduring friendships across neighborhoods that make Brooklyn truly special. Throughout the past many years, I have benefited from the ongoing wisdom and guidance from Shifra Bronznick, Nessa Rapoport, Julie Sandorf, Dana Raucher, Rabbi Dan Bronstein, Dr. Michael Berkowitz, Dr. Ari Kelman, Rabbi Dr. David Ellenson, Rabbi Mishael Zion, John Ruskay, Mitchell Moss, Jay Kriegel, Pam Brier, and of course, as ever, the great Naomi Levine.
In addition, the past animates so much of what we do in the present in Jewish life. I have been buoyed in imagining what is possible in Jewish life today by my late friends and teachers Lisa Goldberg, Dr. George L. Mosse, Dr. Irv Saposnik, Rabbi Dr. Arthur Hertzberg, Rabbi Dr. Stanley Dreyfus and most recently, Edgar M. Bronfman.
Finally, in addition to working with our current president Charles Nathan, I have been blessed to have the support of past-presidents Jules Hirsch and David Kasakove as well as our current and past trustees, committee members and volunteers. Building and strengthening our synagogue with all of you has been a true blessing.
At age fifty-one and after nearly 25 years of work in the broader Jewish community, I am eager to pursue other areas of interest and public service in New York City. Rachel and the girls join me in expressing our heartfelt emotions at this time of transition and know that this strong and historic community will continue to thrive and grow for generations to come.
With sincere gratitude,