Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
This is somewhere at the intersection of politics and friendship. Almost
two years ago I was asked to serve on a rabbinic search committee. A
beloved rabbi of decades was retiring; a junior rabbi had been hired a
few years ago (NOT as a successor); the search was to be national.
The committee was made up of a dozen people who represented
various stakeholder groups in the congregation. Most of us had never
met, but as the process unfolded we began to learn and trust one
another’s discernment, reliability, and integrity.
We conducted a multi-stage process that included a community dialogue
to identify priorities for the new rabbi, completed the affiliation’s application
form, assessed applicants, interviewed by Skype and in person, and
conducted weekend teachings (services, committee meetings, open
Q&A forums) for three finalists. The local junior rabbi was one of the
finalists. Even though he had not been hired with the idea of a
promotion, many in the community felt that we should just not bother
with a search and promote him. A more silent majority had not been
inspired by him, or had not received the pastoral care or spiritual
guidance they wanted. The community split in a very vocal and
divisive manner during the process.
One of my friends, whom I see regularly socially, was on the other
side of the argument. She complained bitterly throughout the process.
I relayed each of her complaints to the committee and we incorporated them
as best we could. She remains convinced—completely inaccurately–that the
junior rabbi was the victim of a conspiracy to out him. I cannot describe the
immense number of hours that everyone on the committee invested. It
would have been far easier to recommend a promotion than go
through the process. In the end, a three to one majority of the
congregation approved the committee’s choice, a different candidate.
But she has decided I am somehow responsible for the loss of “her”
rabbi. How I can repair the damage?
Nothing is more toxic than politics. I suspect synagogue politics equals
the US Congress or is even worse, because holiness is at stake and
every feels more self-righteous. There’s the old joke about the Jewish
man rescued after thirty years alone on a deserted island. The
rescuers ask about the two buildings the man has constructed. He
answers: They’re both synagogues. One is where I prayed every day
for God to rescue me. The other one? I wouldn’t step foot in there!!!
If indeed the decision is made and there was a three to one majority of
congregants supporting the committee’s choice, your friend will either
have to learn to assess (and hopefully embrace) the new rabbi, or go
off in search of a different congregation. As for the repair to the
friendship, people with closely held beliefs surrender them very rarely
and even less often embrace the person who told them truths they did
not want to hear. If the degree of suspicion is that great, then it is
more likely time that will heal this than words, and preferably words
from others as well as your own.
You can try to communicate one on one, or you can suggest to the
powers that be in the congregation that some sort of public healing
process (think Northern Ireland, South Africa, etc) be undertaken. It
may feel weird to encounter a friend in a public setting like that, but
without a formal structure you may do more damage to what’s left of
the friendship. Perhaps you should attend services together often and