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September 5, 2015 | 21st Elul 5775

Synagogues, Rabbis and the Financial Crisis: Comments to the Union Board

Synagogues, Rabbis, and the Financial Crisis
Comments to the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President
December 14, 2008
Tampa, Florida

We have spent a lot of time this weekend dealing with the great issues of the day. And yes, we must understand these issues and what is going on in the world around us. But let’s not lose sight of a very simple fact: the ultimate test for the synagogue in these difficult times is the pastoral test. Are we helping our members with the tensions and the fears that they are experiencing in their personal lives? However much they may be pondering the big picture, what really concerns them right now is: What impact will all of this have on me, on my family, on my retirement? They are worried about whether they can provide for their families and keep their jobs. And while they don’t expect their synagogues to solve these problems, they do expect to hear words of comfort there, to find support for their families, and to find as well sources of consolation and hope.

That is why our clergy, and our rabbis in particular, are so important now. We ask our rabbis – unfairly in my view – to do a thousand things and to play a thousand roles. But as most of them realize, and as we need to realize as well, what is critical now is for them to put aside these other duties and to tend to the frightened and troubled Jews that they serve. They need, now more than ever, not to be administrators, CEOs, interfaith spokespeople, or program directors. They need to be counselors, teachers of Torah, and role models of faith, serenity, and prayer. They need to build communities that are open, supportive, uplifting, and inspiring—communities that respond to people’s hurts and tend to their souls. They need to be seen as seeking the best, not the worst, in all of us, and as advocates, with both reason and with compassion, of the great and ancient religious traditions of the Jewish people.

So yes, by all means, let’s do what I have done and what David Saperstein and Mark Pelavin have done: let’s talk about the president, and the economy, and criteria for the common good. But most important, at this critical moment, let’s encourage our rabbis to do what they do best: speak to their members, teach them, meet with them one on one, and remind them that Jews live for certain values and are part of a community that they embrace and which embraces them in return. If we encourage our rabbis to do that, if we allow our rabbis to do that, and if they do it well, our synagogues will be strong.


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