The Germantown Jewish Center has opted to take more than a year-long transitional period to determine the center goals for the future. Once this is done the GJC says it will then select its next leader.
After the resignation of its leader of 16 years, the Germantown Jewish Center (GJC) has opted to take more than a year-long transitional period to determine the center goals for the future. However, the center’s transitioning method may seem somewhat out of the ordinary to those familiar with the process.
The GJC, which has been around in one form or another since the 1930s, is a place of worship for some 525 “units”, either families or individuals, that add up to roughly 1300 congregants. While the center is associated with the conservative movement, its congregation has the somewhat uncommon distinction of possessing members who are conservative, orthodox and Reconstructionist Jews.
Each group, while similar, has differences as well, and holds its own services at the synagogue. “I wouldn’t say we’re unusual,” Christine Levine, president of the GJC, said. “But it’s a very diverse congregation.”
As of April, Rabbi Leonard Gordon, whose contract was up for renewal, had announced that he would be leaving GJC for Boston, where his wife had accepted a position at Northeastern University. Gordon found a new congregation in Boston, but his leaving also left a gap to be filled at GJC, Levin said.
According to Levin, after a long-term leader leaves the congregation, it is a common practice for a synagogue to take time to evaluate a congregation’s current position, in matters financial and spiritual, before making plans for the future. “The congregation can have different needs at different times,” Levin said. “The best approach is to step back and take a year while the congregation assesses that.”
Soon after Gordon announced his departure, a transition committee was set up that included Levin, a past president, and six members of GJC representing each division of their congregation. “There were a lot of different constituencies that needed to be represented said Levin.”
Levin said that it is common practice for synagogues in transitional period to hire rabbis from a professional class of interim rabbis that exists within the Jewish religion. These figures work with a congregation for a limited time until it finds a more permanent fixture.
Instead of hiring an interim rabbi for the transition period, however, GFC opted to sign a two-year contract with Rabbi Adam Zeff, who has been with the congregation since 2002, first as a student rabbi, then as an assistant rabbi. Zeff, who is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, must apply to become a part of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly in order to take the position. “We decided not to go with an interim rabbi, but we did agree that we needed to take at least a year’s time,” Levin said. “So we’re trying a hybrid approach.”
In this manner, GJC has the time to develop plans for the future while remaining in somewhat familiar territory with Zeff, but will also manage to circumvent a religious regulation that prohibits the permanent hiring of a rabbi that has been previously hired as an interim.
Levin would not say if taking this approach meant that Zeff is being considered for a permanent position. “That’s not a question we’re even addressing at this point.” She also said that there are no other candidates in mind for the position as of yet.
Whatever the case may be, Levin expects that GJC will have a strategic vision in place by the time Zeff’s contract is up.
Until then, GJC is sending out surveys to get their thoughts on what the organization’s priorities should be in the years to come. These surveys will be crucial in selecting a new leader for GJC.
With such a diverse congregation, however, Levin’s not sure what to expect. “It’s a challenge for a rabbi to come into that setting and not feel threatened by the congregation,” she said. “Whether there will be a clear consensus on the qualities (the congregation is) looking for, I just don’t know. I hope there will be.”
Under Gordon, a mission statement was developed that stated the organization’s goals to be the encouragement of diverse religious practices under Judaism, the importance of social activism and community building, and the need for financial stability. “There’s no reason to think we’ll be changing our mission statement as a part of Rabbi Gordon’s departure,” Levin said.
Levin said that Gordon’s success could make it difficult to find a replacement. “I think it would be difficult to find another Rabbi Gordon,” she said. “But we are in a different place than we were 16 years ago.”