With synagogues hiring new clergy to start on or around July 1, every year brings cantors and rabbis a challenge: Moving to a new city and a new congregation, not necessarily having a lot of congregants around to greet you, and, most importantly, the High Holidays right around the corner.
“It’s not without its challenges,” said Matt Goldberg, the rabbinic intern at Beth El Synagogue. “When you spend so much time together over the High Holidays, there is a certain amount of relationship trust that you have to have between clergy and community to have a productive or meaningful High Holiday season. The calendar, as it is, sort of requires a lot of efficient work to build that relationship.”
Goldberg is one of five clergy members in the Twin Cities who are joining their synagogues in time for the holidays. Two cantors are full-time, one rabbi is joining in an interim role, and Goldberg is one of two rabbinic interns filling in for differing periods of time.
Goldberg is finishing his last year of rabbinic school at Boston’s Hebrew College. He’ll spend the first semester – at least after the holidays – traveling back and forth each week.
Being a Hebrew College student at a conservative synagogue is a relatively new development. Starting Feb. 1, 2022, the Rabbinic Association – the Conservative movement’s rabbi association – said it was putting on hold rules that ensured Conservative synagogues hire only rabbis trained at the movement’s seminaries – Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles – or who have otherwise applied for and been an admitted to the Rabbinical Assembly.
For a school year internship, like Goldberg’s, he said the July 1 start date times well with ordination dates, which in his case is already scheduled.
“My ordination’s scheduled for June 4, and I imagine JTS, HUC and Ziegler, probably, it’s around them, too,” he said. “So the idea of the graduates starting jobs July 1, I think is convenient in that way.”
Another Hebrew College graduate, Rabbi Joey Glick, began his tenure as interim rabbi at Shir Tikvah in mid-June. And even with the benefit of a little more time than those starting on July 1, it’s a lot to jump right into the holidays.
“One thing our training is good at is being solid at the front-of-bimah stuff, but the High Holidays increase stress on everyone in the community,” Glick said. “It provides an opportunity for frontline pastoral care and to get into it immediately with people. We can be there for people in a big way. It can be rough, but it builds immediate intimacy.”
Glick is coming to his role at a different point in his career; he’s out of school and an ordained rabbi, but hasn’t put down roots at a shul – yet.
“I’ve been around the block in a few different ways,” he said. “Over course of school and work, I’ve been drawn to serving in small communities where sometimes a solo-staff person. Here there’s a larger apparatus of people who have done the High Holidays for years and I can be a cog in the wider machine. There is a larger apparatus of people managing fine details. At the same time, totally overwhelming to give a sermon to a community I’ve been in less than three months.”
Short stay, big opportunity
A shorter-term hire in the Twin Cities is Talia Kaplan, who has been hired as a High Holidays rabbinic intern at Adath Jeshurun. The rest of the year, she works as a rabbinic fellow at the Park Slope Jewish Center in Brooklyn and the program coordinator for the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at JTS. This type of internship isn’t unusual for many students.
“Students often work with a community for the High Holidays as part of their professional portfolios,” said Kaplan. “High Holiday positions are wonderful opportunities to serve, get to know, and learn from communities outside of the greater New York area. Many rabbinical and cantorial students have been hard at work for the past few months collaborating with synagogue leadership in preparation for the High Holidays.”
Kaplan said that being at Adath is appealing because of the collaborative clergy team and dedicated lay leaders.
“Adath is committed to relevant Jewish learning, spiritual prayer, and pursuing justice – three things that are very important to me,” she said. “I am grateful to be joining a forward-thinking community that is invested in developing rabbinic leadership during the High Holidays.”
More tenure brings different challenges
For Cantors Inbal Sharett-Singer and Wendi Fried, it’s not just moving to a new community – from New York and Virginia, respectively. It’s getting their families moved, kids in camps, deciding on schools, and learning about their communities.
“I do think that the process of the audition and the interviews made [Temple Israel] and me feel like this is something that we really want,” said Cantor Sharett-Singer, the first female cantor at Temple Israel, who succeeded Cantor Barry Abelson. “We did this fully choosing to be here. I’m not here to cause some kind of a revolution in any way. I am here to evolve together. I am stepping into a very musical, very beautiful High Holiday services.”
Sharett-Singer’s career prior to Temple Israel had been spent in New York at the Riverdale Temple and said that she and her husband knew that at some point, there was going to be an opportunity at a bigger synagogue.
“It was only a question of when,” she said. “When this job appeared, it was a very inviting opportunity. You can already know that it’s a healthy congregation that had a cantor for 37 years.”
Fried’s role at Beth El is not a full-time bimah role, though she will have some of those responsibilities. She is running the synagogue’s b’nai mitzvah program, succeeding Mary Baumgarten, but is least concerned about leading services, which she’ll do with Goldberg.
“I love doing family services, and I’ve just been waiting for the moment that I can do it,” she said. “The opportunity is freeing to me, and that I get to do it with someone who’s also just coming in. We’re both kind of learning the ropes. But I think we’re both creative.”
Fried is looking forward to not having all the focus on her as the cantor in the main service.
“When you are number one, and you’re preparing a choir, and you’re preparing all the davening. And you’re finding all the leaders on you’re finding all the everything and, and you’re inundated with all the planning for it. I feel like it loses that magic,” she said. “And it can only be about the stress of bringing this moment to everybody else, but not necessarily to yourself, or your own family. And so that’s what I’m looking forward to this year, is being able to get back some of that magical feeling of not only times past, but a really exciting future at Beth El.