Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Plight of the Bumble Bee

Good evening folks.

Actually, it started off as "The Plight of the Assistant Rabbi," but I just could not resist.

The year before the Gorman family moved to Toronto was spent in a job search. Jennifer and I had decided that we were leaving New York. It got to be pretty harrowing not having a position locked in place by March. We were facing me taking an extended trip to Baghdad. During that time, I remember speaking with a potential senior rabbi (and therefore potential boss). He said to me that he would not want an assistant who was content to remain an assistant. Having been both a senior and an assistant, I must disagree with what he said.

I would have been quite content to remain an assistant in my first assistant position. We were all very happy there. The bills were getting paid. We were comfortable in our home. Trust me when I tell you that I had no desire to risk that stability. Senior rabbis and boards should not confuse a desire for stability with a lack of ambition.

Furthermore, congregations that require an assistant usually give that assistant more than enough to do. It is thus quite similar to being a senior. There are decisions. There is teaching. All of the pastoral work is there. If the assistant rabbi has ambition, there is more than enough to satisfy that ambition. Moreover, a rabbi who feels that he/she has a potential future at the congregation will not constantly have one eye on the door.

Last, from the congregation's point of view, a happy assistant rabbi is very important. It avoids bitterness of having to move on when one is not ready to do so. It avoids the potential revolving door. Sometimes congregants want to go where all the rabbis know their name. To send off the assistant after just a few years forces the membership to learn to trust and like someone new. It is not a recipe for successful congregation building.

The advantage to those congregations that will take an assistant for a few years and then shoo him/her out the door is that when the rabbi gets to the next place, no one will look at the rabbi and say that there is no experience. It remains one of those annoying things, that one cannot get a position without experience.

Have a good evening.


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