In the spring of 2009 when the current senior rabbi announced his retirement, Beth Emet, The Free Synagogue, an approximately 800-member unit congregation in Evanston, Il, was faced with the need to select a new senior rabbi for only the second time in the congregation's sixty-year history. In accordance with the bylaws of the congregation, the board of trustees of the congregation, which was responsible for making the decision as to the next senior rabbi, created a "Senior Rabbi Selection Committee," which would in turn make a recommendation to the board. The Senior Rabbi Selection Committee consisted of a diverse group of about 15 congregants. As part of its process, this Committee sought to engage and involve the congregation and collect the congregation's input about their hopes and dreams for the next senior rabbi.
The "Senior Rabbi Selection Criteria Discussion - Help Shape Beth Emet's Future" was held on Sunday March 1, 2009, from 9:30 - 12:00, during religious school to facilitate attendance by parents of school-age kids. Over 130 congregants attended and participated, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. (This group of 130 participants represented a wide array of demographics such as empty nesters, seniors, young parents, youth, active committee members, founding families, as well as newer congregants.) The event brought together the congregation physically and emotionally and allowed congregants to share their own views and to hear the views of other congregants about what qualities and skills were most important in the next senior rabbi. Congregants with differing perspectives appreciated the opportunity to hear from one another in a structured and respectful format. The Committee gained the congregation's input and participation in the process strengthened everyone's commitment to the congregation.
The model that Beth Emet used for this program could be adopted by other congregations to develop consensus about the qualities and skills that are most important in hiring any member of the professional team. For Beth Emet's senior rabbi, a document developed by the Selection Committee and distributed at the outset of the program listed and described the following criteria for discussion: spiritual and worship leader; congregational community builder; pastor; manager and organization leader; scholar and teacher; fundraiser; community representative; social and environmental action leader; and Reform Movement leader. The event did not include any discussion of individual candidates. The event consisted of four primary parts:
- An Introduction by Beth Emet's President and the Selection Committee Chairs that explained the search process generally and the reading of a prayer from Mishkan T'filah that included the language "that there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together."
- Small group discussions—among 10-12 congregants with each group led by a member of the Selection Committee to discuss the following questions:
(At the outset of the small group discussion, each congregant was given a copy of the draft selection criteria developed by the Committee.)
- What is the most important criterion to you, personally, for Beth Emet's next senior rabbi?
- Given your understanding of Beth Emet, which criteria are most important and why?
- Is there a criterion that is not on this list, and should be?
- Is there an issue that is important to you that we have not discussed?"
- A dot voting exercise in which each congregant was given three dots to allocate among the 10 selection criteria in accord with his or her preferences. Congregants placed the dots on large poster-boards (one for each criterion) so that all congregants could see which criteria were attracting the largest number of dots. Congregants were also given post-its to write any explanation that they wished to place on the poster along with their votes. The notes on these post-its were transcribed by the Committee and used in refining the selection criteria.
- Thank you and concluding comments from the Committee Chairs that included a summary of the results of the voting and an explanation as to ways to continue to participate in the search process.
RESOURCES: draft criteria circulated to the congregants; facilitation guide used by members of the Selection Committee who acted as a discussion leader during the small group discussions.