After a dozen years as the executive director of Minnesota’s oldest synagogue, Mount Zion Temple’s Larry Solomon quietly announced last month to the synagogue community that he would be retiring at the end of the year.
“[My wife and I] are both in good health and we want to do stuff while we still can,” said Solomon. “These executive director jobs take a lot of hours. I usually work seven days a week and a lot of evenings.
“There’s also a little peer pressure: A lot of our friends are retiring and they brag about how they don’t have to get up early, or not worry about what they’re doing tomorrow.”
Over his time at Mount Zion, Solomon has seen changes in how synagogues do many things – which was accelerated over the past two years because of the pandemic.
“We had to shift the processes of how we do everything,” he said. “We all work at home many days, so don’t see each other; everything is on Zoom or phone or [Microsoft] Teams. We moved everything we can to electronic communication. We stopped a lot of mailings, and we don’t produce a lot of documents.”
Solomon sees this shift continuing once synagogues go back to pre-pandemic programming.
“I don’t see us going back to sending a lot of letters,” he said. “Nothing is going to go back to exactly the way it was before. I think it’s a good thing. We’ll go back to having services (in-person) but we’ll keep broadcasting them.”
During the pandemic, Solomon said Mount Zion picked up members from around the country. He said he’s not sure if they’ll ever step foot in the synagogue building, but they thought enough of the services they watched to join.
“We had all the foundations in place technologically but took things to the next level,” he said. “We upgraded our cameras and sound system, which is a positive. The negative is that we had to upgrade security as antisemitism rises, and we’ve worked the JCRC to upgrade systems.”
Solomon talked about the remodel of many of the spaces in the building, which is a bit of a challenge because the synagogue, the last building designed by famed architect Erich Mendelsohn, is a historic building which limits the types of projects.
Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker and board president Michael Wall, in an email to the Mount Zion community, said that a human resources consultant with experience working with synagogues will help Mount Zion with its organizational structure to determine what is best for the synagogue moving forward.
“Larry’s constant presence at services, events, and lifecycle moments has made Mount Zion a welcoming home for so many,” said Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker and board president Michael Wall in an email to the Mount Zion community. “We are in conversation with Larry to find a time to honor him and are grateful for the time to assess next steps for Mount Zion.”
Solomon is excited to see what those next steps bring.
“I’m encouraging them to hire a young person because in order to see the future, you need to have some of that generation to lead us into the future,” said Solomon, who had a career as a human resource professional at large companies before going to Mount Zion. “Executive director jobs were traditionally filled by people who were retiring from the corporate world and it was a second career. Now, more young people are making the decision to be executive directors at a younger age because it’s really leading a non-profit.”