Many of our congregations have been directly affected by the critical shortage of Jewish professionals, particularly rabbis, cantors, and educators. We are writing to suggest some avenues which may help to alleviate the burden on your congregation in the short term and to let you know what is being done to resolve the issue over the coming years. We all know there are no quick fixes for this problem. The Reform Movement is growing: More congregations are forming and joining the Union, and existing congregations are growing and creating additional positions-and they are all competing for the same pool of candidates. We are confident, however, that, working together, we can find ways to meet the needs of our members in the short-term and recruit and train professionals to meet our growing needs in the future.
Recruitment Initiatives Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the academic and professional development center of our Movement, is aggressively recruiting more students to its rabbinic, cantorial, and education programs. Enhanced staffing for the National Office of Admissions and Recruitment, aggressive marketing and outreach to universities and Hillels, outreach to potential "second career" students, and the development of new promotional materials have already been put in place. We are exploring innovative and effective ways of increasing the number of qualified and motivated students preparing to be Jewish professionals at the College-Institute. HUC-JIR has established an on-line admissions web site, increased interaction with UAHC College and Youth programs in North America and Israel, and is participating in a joint UAHC/HUC-JIR/CCAR Task Force on recruitment.
Nonetheless, it is important to remember that even if our recruitment efforts are terrifically successful, they will not yield results for at least five years. Of course, we are always open to suggestions from congregational leaders as to how our recruitment program can be improved, and you can help us by suggesting a career as a Jewish professional to worthy candidates.
Lay Leaders: Our Most Valuable Resource We know from traveling to congregations across North America that a growing number of Jewishly literate lay congregants are prepared, with some training and mentoring, to assume a variety of administrative and professional duties in their synagogues. Many of our congregations have already demonstrated that it is possible to identify these people and give them the support and recognition they need to take on additional responsibility.
How is this being done?
First, we find that congregational leaders are thinking creatively about the members of their congregation and community. Is there a master teacher who, with some help from a regional educator, would be able to administer your school, or teach the parent class you've hoped to start? Is there a "Shabbat regular" who, with some training and practice, could lead your minyan services? Is there a member of the volunteer choir who would be willing to be a cantorial soloist but is not yet comfortable with the liturgy?
Second, some congregations have taken the funds that would have been paid to the professional they were seeking and used them to train, and perhaps pay, lay leadership.
Third, many congregations are taking advantage of the programs that we -- the Reform Movement's institutions that you support -- have developed to provide lay people with these skills. The model for these programs is the para-rabbinic program, which was initially established to assist congregations too small to engage a rabbi. Over the years, however, it has become clear that para-rabbinics also play an important role in larger congregations. As Jonathan Kosarin, president of the more than 1100-member Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, VA, recently said in a posting to the presidents' chat group:
We have three, soon to be four para-rabbinic fellows at our temple. The training is great and prepares the para-rabbinic for his/her role in your congregation. The para-rabbinic's role is agreed to between the Rabbi and para-rabbinic before the course, and the rabbi (or UAHC regional rabbi) supervises the para-rabbinic once the course is completed. Para-rabbinics are trained in life-cycle events, but may not do weddings or conversions.
Our para-rabbinics conduct the parallel Shabbat morning minyans, assist in Shiva minyans, conduct Torah study, and conduct services at nursing homes and assisted living centers in the community. Many of my classmates (there were 30 of us) do much more in their communities because their Temples either do not have full time Rabbis or have part-time student Rabbis.
The UAHC, HUC-JIR and our partners have created the following programs to serve your needs:
Para-rabbinic training program (see above)
Mifgash Musicale: An intensive summer program on the "what, why and when" of prayer for singers, organists and music directors
A Kallah for Educators: A summer program to help lay educators gain necessary administrative skills
Outreach Fellows: A summer program to train lay people to work in partnership with the clergy to mentor and train those seeking conversion
For more information about these programs and others, go to the UAHC web site at: http://uahc.org.
Your Regional Office We urge you to view the professionals in your UAHC regional office as your partners in developing a plan to meet the needs of your members during this time of shortage. Whether it's developing a job description or identifying appropriate training programs, the regional staff is there to help. Your regional office is also the place to begin if you need help finding someone for a High Holy Day pulpit.
Note, also, that over the past few years the UAHC has been putting additional resources into the regional offices to provide direct services to you. Every region has an outreach director, every region but one has a full-time youth worker, and there are regional educators in 10 of our 14 regions. Please be sure to take advantage of the resources we have created to help your congregation.
In the long term? The shortage of professionals is rooted in the strength and growth of our Movement. It is caused in part by economics -- in good times we can afford to create additional congregational positions. And we also know the shortage is due, in part, to our success in raising the general level of Jewish literacy in the Movement: our better-educated members are demanding larger numbers of well-trained professionals. And we know that to some extent this is a cyclical issue: we've experienced such shortages before.
We are, however, working hard to ensure a growing pool of professionals in the coming years. A joint UAHC/CCAR/HUC-JIR task force, chaired by Robert Heller, is already hard at work studying the issues and developing solutions. Their tasks include finding ways for both the College-Institute and our congregations to more successfully recruit people into our programs.
We will do everything in our power to provide our Movement with the leaders they require to preserve and transmit the message of Reform Judaism.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie UAHC President
Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman President HUC-JIR
Russell Silverman Chairman of the Board
Burton Lehman UAHC Chairman, Board of Governors, HUC-JIR