Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For the last five years I served on a very sensitive committee in my
synagogue: religious affairs. There are lots of political issues involved,
including a chairperson who thinks she is a rabbi (she’s not), another
woman who wants to be a lay leader and sing (she can’t), and a
former major lay leader whose cognitive decline may make him unfit
to track page numbers let alone lead a congregation (it does). I’m
ready to be off the committee but the newly installed rabbi has instead
asked me to be the chair, saying how difficult it is for him to say what
he thinks in these meetings, but that I am always “so level-headed,
honest, forthright, and dependable” that he fears what will happen if I
leave. I feel like I’ve served my time and earned the right to just be
able to go to services and pray, rather than being caught in
congressional-level mix of inefficiency and backbiting. But it’s hard to
say no to your new rabbi.


Dear Help:

Yes you have served your time and you have the right to decline. But
you could also choose a middle path and accept the position with a
firm commitment of serving for exactly one year, “a term to begin now
and end with the next High Holidays.” In a private meeting with the
new rabbi explain that you are not going to seek anyone’s approval
during your tenure. If you are wanted for your forthrightness then
demonstrate it. Ask what his role will be in crafting guidelines for
services, selecting and training lay leaders, and making final decisions
about ritual and observance.

You can treat this the way you would an assignment at work. Help get
everything in order to pass on to your successor. Get the committee to
address long-standing issues that the prior chair was unwilling or
unable to do. Help the committee identify guidelines and criteria for
everything it does. Meet with the rabbi often to steer the committee to
a set of outcomes you can be proud of. Who knows, maybe you’ll be
inspired to stay on.