Beth El Rounds Out Clergy Team With Two Hires

After a long search, Beth El Synagogue announced two clergy hirings to fill key positions on its team. Matt Goldberg, a sixth-year student at Hebrew College in Boston will be a rabbinic intern to fill the position that opened when Rabbi Avi Olitzky left the synagogue earlier this year, and Cantor Wendi Fried will fill the newly created role of b’nai mitzvah program coordinator and ritual director.

The additions bring different levels of experience to the clergy team.

“We’re really excited about not only Rabbi Goldberg, but we’re really excited about this opportunity to have someone who brings brand new perspectives, still forming perspectives and the opportunity for us to learn from him, but also to shape him,” said Beth El’s Senior Rabbi Alexander Davis.

Fried’s role fills the role of two part-time staffers at the synagogue.

“We realized that so much of our b’nai mitzvah work has a direct impact on the ritual life of the congregation,” Davis said. “Torah readings and aliyot, and the how the service on a typical Shabbat unfolds that it made sense for us to combine. We’re really blessed and excited to have Cantor Fried join our team. She comes with incredible experience.”

Goldberg visited the synagogue earlier this year and came away with a positive impression of both the synagogue and Minneapolis.

“To be able to learn and work in a place that has so much going on, I think it’s just an amazing opportunity for me as a rabbinical student and someone who wants to do a lot of the work that is happening there already,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg is part of Hebrew College’s joint Rav-Hazzan program, which will allow him to be ordained as both a rabbi and a cantor upon graduation.

“I’m here to find all the tools that will make me the best person to serve the Jewish community. That’s ultimately what I want to do,” he said. “Picking up cantorial school as not really an elective, but as more learning or extra learning seemed like the way to do that.”

The rabbinical search, like so many in the Conservative movement, was challenged by a large number of openings with not as many graduates. Of the two finalists that Beth El had publicized in the winter, one had interviewed before taking a job elsewhere, while another took a job prior to his weekend visit.

“We’ve worked very closely with the Rabbinical Assembly throughout this search process,” Davis said. “And they’ve been incredibly flexible. They recognize that this is a national problem. It’s not a Beth El problem.”

Fried is coming to the position after a long career working on the pulpit. She said had a different idea of how her current synagogue in Norfolk, Va., should be moving than others a the congregation.

“It was very attractive to me get off the pulpit and be able to do some of the things that I’ve always wanted to do,” said Fried, who has run the “alternative services” at the Cantors Assembly gatherings. “To be able to then get off the bema and offer some of that to the community is kind of thrilling, actually.”

Fried’s role combines the jobs that had been done by Mary Baumgarten and Jill Blustin. 

“She is really so talented in which her love of people and of teaching exudes,” Davis said. “She came here for a Shabbat and I think we fell in love with her and she fell in love with us. By the time she was done on Shabbat morning, she knew as many names in the congregation as I do.”

Fried had spent several summers working at Ramah Wisconsin and was thrilled to see many people she had spent time with years earlier.

“When we walked into the Kiddish room, I kind of expected that I would know a couple of people from Ramah,” she said. “But there were 15 people there that just on a random Shabbat. It was so crazy.”

Both Goldberg and Fried grew up in the conservative movement from youth groups through the Nativ program. 

“I’m Conservative born and bred, I’ve always have had it in my blood, and to be going to a place where USY was born is extremely attractive,” she said. “I think that because it’s so ingrained in this community, so lively, it’s so exciting. It’s part of every strand, as far as I’ve seen, and it’s woven throughout the community. And I just love that.”

Fried is also excited to work with Cantor Ben Tisser, who joined Beth El’s clergy team last summer.

“He has such great energy and vision for the way our positions will work together,” she said. “His passion is inspiring and I am really excited to work with him and the rest of the team.”

Davis said there was a clergy team Zoom meeting last week once the new hires were officially announced. The two searches were happening parallel to each other, and Goldberg and Fried hadn’t spoken to each other until then. 

“It was wonderful, and you could already tell the chemistry’s there,” Davis said. “I think it’s going to be really magical.”

Said Fried: “I got off that call just so energized for the rest of the day. I’m so excited to be working with them. And to have a team that’s so passionate, and on the same page about a lot of the direction we’re going.”