Posted December 4, 2013
Dear Fellow Congregants,
It is my great pleasure to inform you that Central Synagogue’s Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to recommend Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl as our next Senior Rabbi, effective July 1, 2014, based on the Transition Committee’s similarly unanimous recommendation to the Board.
We will hold a special meeting of the congregation at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 to vote on the Board’s recommendation.
The Committee and the Board believe wholeheartedly that Rabbi Buchdahl is the right person to lead Central forward. We should all be proud that our next Senior Rabbi will be one of our own; it is a mark of Central’s commitment to excellence, and of our leadership of the Reform movement, that one of the movement’s leading lights already sits on our bimah alongside Rabbi Rubinstein. We should also be proud of the intensive process that has brought us to this significant and exciting moment – the Committee and the Board have deliberated and acted with a level of insight, seriousness and integrity that our congregation expects and deserves.
The Right Leader for Central Synagogue
From the start of our search process, we have been committed to identifying a Senior Rabbi who is capable of inspiring the congregation spiritually, has impeccable intellectual credentials, shows personal warmth and magnetism, and connects with people and cares for their personal needs. We have sought someone who can lead and motivate the Central team and can proudly represent our congregation on a citywide, national and international level.
While we know Rabbi Buchdahl best as our Senior Cantor, her actual role at Central – and at her prior synagogue – has been filled with traditionally rabbinic duties. Moreover, in the many hours that the Committee spent with Rabbi Buchdahl, we were overwhelmingly impressed with her vision for deepening our engagement as a congregation, and her commitment to bringing meaning, relevance and joy to the practice of Judaism. She will continue to make these core qualities of our community. We noted Rabbi Buchdahl’s proven track record of innovation and mentoring, and we were struck by the intellectual rigor and Jewish scholarship and insight that she brought to bear on virtually every topic we discussed.
The Board and Committee believe that as our next Senior Rabbi, Rabbi Buchdahl will further Central’s mission of working tirelessly toward a world in which Judaism is central to the lives of Jews everywhere – starting with our own congregation and community – and is a profound and positive force for humanity. She will lead us vigorously in pursuit of that goal, and help Central evolve and seek new ways to raise the bar. Rabbi Buchdahl clearly shares our view – and the view of Rabbi Rubinstein – that we need to reach deeper to serve our own congregants, while also looking beyond our walls, and that we need to continually redefine what it means to be Jewish today.
I should also share with you that Rabbi Buchdahl has been clear that she will not stop singing! She intends to draw on the strengths of her rabbinic and cantorial skills to inform and enrich how she leads the congregation. Put simply, she views her voice, and her command of the traditional and modern Jewish musical canon, as an integral part of how she leads us in prayer. That will remain.
Following the special meeting, we would expect to launch a search for a new Senior Cantor. In order to select the absolute best person, we may be comfortable extending the search to include candidates who might not start until July 2015.
Rabbi Rubinstein was insistent and consistent throughout the search that the selection of a Senior Rabbi is the sacred responsibility of lay leadership. As such, by mutual agreement with the lay leadership, he remained outside the process and did not attempt to influence the outcome in any way. Now that the Committee and Board have recommended Rabbi Buchdahl, Rabbi Rubinstein enthusiastically endorses Rabbi Buchdahl’s selection and joyfully looks forward to her succeeding him as Senior Rabbi.
Our Transition Process: Thorough and Transparent
From the outset of this search, both the Board and the Committee committed to a process that was as thorough and transparent as feasible.
I am delighted with the myriad of voices within our congregation we heard in the course of this process, especially thanks to the survey we sent out in June, which garnered so many candid, detailed, impassioned and persuasive responses. To share with you some facts:
• The survey was filled out by over 1,100 congregants, and the collected insights helped shape our job posting and the Committee’s interview questions.
• Over 200 congregants attended the three open meetings we held in July and August to learn about the process and express their views. Additionally, we held a town hall meeting with our 7th – 9th graders so we could understand the younger generation’s perspectives on Judaism, Central, and the qualities they value in a Senior Rabbi.
• In the spring and early summer, members of the Committee spoke with institutional leaders within the Reform movement to review the Reform rabbinic landscape and gather names of those rabbis regarded as among the top-tier in our movement. I can honestly say that Rabbi Buchdahl was on every leader’s shortlist – be they clergy, educator, or otherwise.
• Over the summer, prior to the formal commencement of the search process, selected members of the Committee met and/or spoke with a number of Reform rabbis considered at the top of their field. The purpose of this outreach was to meet those, in addition to Rabbi Buchdahl, who were mentioned repeatedly as leading rabbis in the movement.
• In response to our formal posting at the end of August, we received numerous applications for the position – a number apparently consistent with recent Senior Rabbi searches conducted by other large urban congregations.
• Members of the Committee interviewed each of the outside applicants, initially by phone, using a series of questions specially developed to ensure thoroughness and consistency. Committee members also reviewed written and video submissions from the applicants. The Committee subsequently chose to meet in-person with certain candidates, among them Rabbi Buchdahl.
• The entire Committee spent approximately eight hours meeting with Rabbi Buchdahl, discussing with her the topics that we considered crucial to understand her vision for Central and her qualifications for the position. It is no exaggeration to say that these discussions helped all of us truly grasp, in a more profound way, Rabbi Buchdahl’s depth and potential as a Senior Rabbi. Every question elicited a thoughtful, interesting and passionate response. Her command of Jewish history, liturgy, Torah, worship, musical evolution, and, finally, of Central’s future management and development demands, were all extraordinarily impressive. We found ourselves discussing the future in ways that made all of us look to it with excitement, confidence, and peace of mind.
When I announced in March that we would be conducting a search for a new Senior Rabbi, many congregants wondered why we’d do such a thing with Rabbi Buchdahl in our midst. Others – including, I should mention, Rabbi Buchdahl – understood the imperative for an institution like Central to undertake such a process. Speaking personally, I am thankful that we took the time to look outside of Central and consider our congregation and our Senior Rabbi position in a broader context. Based on everything that I have learned over the past eight months, I am more confident than ever that Rabbi Buchdahl is the right Senior Rabbi for Central today. I believe that every member of the Committee echoes this sentiment.
I would be remiss if I did not thank Michael Gould for chairing the Committee – we should all be proud of his seriousness of purpose and his devotion to Central’s future. Likewise let me thank every member of the Committee on the congregation’s behalf for giving so much time to Central and successfully discharging this sacred task with such integrity and focus.
Twenty-three years ago, a predecessor search committee concluded its work certain that they had selected a young Senior Rabbi who would continue to develop further his maximum potential as a leader and prove to be, in that committee’s words, the “finest example of what a Rabbi should be.” Today’s Committee, together with the entire Board of Trustees, unreservedly feels the same way about Rabbi Buchdahl. With Rabbi Buchdahl as our spiritual leader, we look forward to Central’s bright next chapter, one in which, together, we continue to deepen our engagement and connectivity as a community.
In the next two weeks, you will receive a formal notice of the January 7th special meeting – I look forward to seeing you there. You will also receive a proxy form should you want to vote but are unable to attend the meeting.
Wishing you a happy and healthy 2014,
David B. Edelson, President
The Transition Committee’s recommendation to the Board was clear and unqualified: “The entire Committee spent a total of almost eight hours with Cantor Buchdahl over two days discussing every imaginable topic. Her responses were thoughtful and showed a deep understanding of the role of Senior Rabbi. The Committee was impressed with her vision for deepening our engagement as a congregation, and her commitment to bringing meaning, relevance and joy to the practice of Judaism. The Committee noted Angela’s proven track record of innovation and mentoring, and was struck by the intellectual rigor and Jewish scholarship and insight that she brought to bear on virtually every topic discussed. Ultimately, the Committee was impressed with her vision for her rabbinate, for Central Synagogue, and for Reform Judaism…. It is the Committee’s considered opinion that Cantor Buchdahl represents the very finest example of what a rabbi should be. We are happy to present her name for approval as the new Senior Rabbi of Central Synagogue, confident that she will guide Central to new and greater heights while being mindful of its long and wonderful history.”
The formal notice of the Special Meeting will be sent out in mid-December. The meeting will take place on January 7, 2014 at 6:00 pm in our Sanctuary. Members who attend the meeting will be able to vote in person; others will have the opportunity to vote by proxy, which will be attached to the meeting notice.
Yes, Rabbi Buchdahl will continue to sing – she believes music is an integral part of how she leads a worship experience. That said, Rabbi Buchdahl will also work alongside a new Senior Cantor and Cantor Katz to embed music even more deeply into the fabric of Central. In order to select the absolute best person for Senior Cantor, we may be comfortable extending the search we will launch to include candidates who might not start until July 2015.
It would be inappropriate for us to publicly share the specifics of other candidates. We can say that the search was fulsome and that the number of applicants was apparently consistent with recent Senior Rabbi searches at other large urban congregations. The Transition Committee interviewed each and every applicant before moving to its final stage, during which the Committee met in person with certain candidates, including Rabbi Buchdahl.
Rabbi Buchdahl will become our Senior Rabbi on July 1, 2014 assuming the congregation approves her nomination on January 7th. Until July 1st, Rabbi Rubinstein will be our Senior Rabbi, and Rabbi Buchdahl our Senior Cantor. We are looking forward to multiple opportunities to celebrate Rabbi Rubinstein during the spring, and to express our enormous gratitude for his remarkable 23 years of leadership.
Rabbi Rubinstein was insistent and consistent throughout the search that the selection of a Senior Rabbi is the most sacred responsibility of lay leadership. As such, by mutual agreement with lay leadership, he remained outside the process and did not attempt to influence the outcome in any way. Now that the Committee and Board have recommended Rabbi Buchdahl, he enthusiastically endorses Rabbi Buchdahl’s selection and joyfully looks forward to her succeeding him as Senior Rabbi.
Upon his retirement on June 30, 2014, Rabbi Rubinstein will become our Rabbi Emeritus, and he and Kerry will remain part of our community. He will retain an office at Central during his transition but not permanently. From his own experience as a new Senior Rabbi many years ago, Rabbi Rubinstein believes that it is critically important for the new Senior Rabbi to be viewed by the congregation as its spiritual leader from day one. As such, Rabbi Rubinstein wholly supports a clean transition.
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