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December 22, 2014 | 30th Kislev 5775

"Mazel Tov, It's a Rabbi!"

Welcoming your new Rabbi into your Congregation

July 1st marks the date that many congregations welcome their new rabbis into their congregations. To be sure, most everyone entering a new position has a learning curve and has to take some time to "get up to speed." But for the rabbi entering a new congregation, it is far more complex. Every year congregations welcome new rabbis into their communities and every year it has been our privilege to work with the sacred communities during their year of Rabbinic Transition. Here are just a few of the key insights we have learned through this work:

  • Establish a Rabbinic Transition Committee to help the Rabbi and congregation get to know one another. While you have welcomed a new Rabbi to serve as your spiritual leader, if the Rabbi has a family than they, too, are new in your community. Introduce them to families with the same age children (if appropriate) and provide a list with introductions to doctors, schools, neighborhoods, grocery stores, etc.

  • Invite manageable groups within your temple community for a meet and greet with the Rabbi. Try to include as many members of your congregation as possible, while keeping the number of people attending manageable size so your new Rabbi has an opportunity to meet as many people as possible.

  • In many ways a new Rabbi is "walking into the middle of a conversation." Your congregation has a proud history that needs to be shared with your new Rabbi. Focus Groups around the issues of ritual, music, education, Israel, social justice and the local Jewish community can be very helpful in bringing the Rabbi up to speed in those ongoing conversations.

  • Identify members of your congregation for whom this rabbinic transition is not easy. While those members may not be thrilled at having a new Rabbi (and some may even have been opposed) they, too, are members of your congregation and need to be reached. Encourage your new Rabbi to arrange opportunities to meet these members, hear their stories and begin to forge a new relationship.

  • The most vulnerable population of your congregation this year are those families celebrating a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. This constituency should be the very first to meet the new Rabbi.

  • Your professional staff is also going through a transition of their own. Be sure that their voices and concerns are being heard as well. Depending on the size of your congregation you may wish to encourage a Rabbi and staff to go away on a staff retreat which can either be self facilitated or facilitated by an outside professional. July is traditionally a "slow" month in Temple life. August 1 comes along and everything begins to move at full speed ahead. You'll want your staff to be strong and working as one before the year begin.

  • SAVE THE DATE! Each year, the URJ offers the Shallat Rabbinic Transition Retreat, a highly subsidized two-day retreat for congregational presidents (or in-coming presidents, Transition chairs) and their new rabbis in their first year together. The Shallat Retreat will provide presidents and their new rabbis time to "retreat" and assess their developing partnership. Specialists in the field of rabbinic transition will lead the rabbi/president teams through topics such as listening to your constituency, building partnerships (lay and professional), mutual and ongoing review in the synagogue, vision and others.
The URJ stands ready to assist you and your congregation this is very exciting transition in your synagogue's life. For more information, congregational presidents, rabbinic transition committee chair people and newly engaged rabbis are invited to contact either Rabbi David Wolfman, Director URJ-CCAR Joint Commission on Rabbinic - Congregational Relations and our Lay/Clergy Relations and Transitions Specialist at dwolfman@urj.org, 212.452.6735 or Lisa Adler, Board Governance & Leadership Development Specialist, at LAdler@urj.org, 212.650.4186.

 

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