Update on The Joint Commission on Rabbinical Placement

The sacred work of rabbinic placement, the task of helping RA colleagues find meaningful and fulfilling work in the diverse areas of the rabbinate, goes into high gear in the months of December and January. In addition to fine opportunities at Hillel, in the military, in education and in hospital chaplaincy, there are currently twenty-five congregations seeking rabbis, with as many as twenty-five more at various stages of submitting their applications. We remain confident that most colleagues who are seeking employment will find a challenging opportunity that best matches their interests and skill set.

At our most recent meeting on December 11, Rabbi Schoenberg reviewed a book called Forces for Good by Crutchfield and Grant. The book comes out of the business sector, but has excellent and obvious applications to the non-profit sector. The book is available from Amazon.

In working with our partners at USCJ, we reviewed and approved a document drafted by our colleague, Rabbi Paul Drazin, on FAQ’s from congregations in the search process. These questions address some longstanding misunderstandings of the current placement process, misunderstandings that go back more than twenty years, before Rabbi Schoenberg began to head the Joint Placement Commission. 

As a further indication of the cooperation between the RA and the USCJ, the Placement Commission addressed some criticisms of the new version of the Congregational Questionnaire that synagogues need to submit in order to enter the placement process. Congregations pointed out that the current formatting of the questionnaire makes it impossible for the Search Committee to work collaboratively to complete the questionnaire. The Commission therefore decided to re-issue the document in Word rather than in its present iteration as a PDF. This will ease the work of selection committees and will, in turn, make the questionnaire more complete and more useful to colleagues. Congregations will need to submit a real salary or salary range in dollars rather than saying “salary to be determined.”

Rabbi Cheryl Peretz reviewed the Career Development Conference held in November. The conference focused on such topics as resumé writing, interviewing skills, using technology in searching for a position and the art of negotiating salary and a contract. The relatively small size of this conference, which we hope to make into an annual conference, allowed participating colleagues to get one-on-one support from both Rabbi Peretz and Rabbi Schoenberg.

One of the goals of the Placement Commission is to move the placement process from being a largely transactional process to one that embodies a covenantal model. Nearly three years ago, our colleague, Rabbi Danny Nevins, Dean of the Rabbinical School at JTS, drafted a two-page document, entitled A Vision for Inclusive Conservative Jewish Communities, Infused with Love of Torah, People and God. The Commission, as a whole, worked on tweaking and revising the document to make it one that congregations in general, but especially those in rabbinic search, could and should use before beginning the search process. To make the document most useful, the Commission suggested creating a brief study guide, made up of leading discussion questions that could devolve from reading the document. Rabbi Schoenberg will work with Rabbi Jim Rogozen of the USCJ staff to develop the study guide. Our hope is that it will be in the hands of congregations for the 2014-2015 placement season.

Finally, the Commission met for nearly two hours with Rabbi Ronald Schwartzberg, the Director of the Morris and Gertrude Brenenfeld Department of Jewish Career Development and Placement for Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future. Most of Rabbi Schwartzberg’s work is with rabbinic placement. While there are some differences in the process, Rabbi Schwartzberg reported on some of the same challenges that we face in the Conservative movement. Since Rabbi Schwartzberg and Rabbi Schoenberg maintain close collegial relations, it is not surprising that Rabbi Schwartzberg follows many of the same procedures that we follow in the R.A. His handbook on rabbinic placement borrows generously (with Rabbi Schoenberg’s blessing and permission) from the exquisite manuals that Rabbi Schoenberg has published for both rabbis and congregations.

The Commission will meet again on January 29, 2014 and Interview Week for graduating seniors will take place from February 10 to 13.

The Commission is always anxious to get feedback from congregations and rabbis alike. Members of the JPC are always available to listen to and where possible, to address your concerns. (Complete list of members of the JPC)

We, at the JPC, look forward to continuing to serve both our rabbis and our congregations in the most beneficial and transparent manner possible.

Lionel Moses
Chairperson, Joint Commission on Rabbinic Placement