Restructuring the Synagogue
Kol Yisroel Chaverim
On Friday, January 18, 2008 I received a phone call at 5:30 a.m. to the effect that Rabbi Charles Shalman had resigned his office at Temple Shaarey Zedek on Thursday evening, January 17. The resignation, I was told, was effective at once so that the congregation was given no advance notice nor an opportunity to find another rabbi.
This seemed so incongruous to me that I only
believed it after I found no rabbi at the temple on Saturday morning, January
19. I was then told what I had already heard from my telephone informant.
Evidently , the rabbi resigned at once when he and the president of Shaarey
Zedek were informed that the Rabbinical Assembly had been contacted by the
husband of a congregant with a complaint that the rabbi had “an inappropriate
relationship” with the complainant's wife.
In view of accusations concerning Rabbi Shalman stemming from possible similar activities nine years earlier, this further charge of wrongdoing evidently led the rabbi to make a precipitous panic decision. Like all acts not well contemplated, this decision has had negative consequences not only for the rabbi and his family, but also for the congregation.
While moralists will argue that a rabbi accused
of sexual misconduct must be removed, it needs to be understood that neither the
board of directors nor the president of the congregation asked the rabbi to
resign. He did so of his own accord, prompted by the knowledge that the
rabbinical assembly intended to send a delegation to Buffalo to investigate the
allegation. Nine years earlier, that same assembly recommended that Rabbi
Shalman not continue as a rabbi.
Now, nearly three months later, Temple Shaarey Zedek
still has no rabbi. No “interim rabbi” has been assigned by the Rabbinical
Assembly, so that the vacuum left by Rabbi Shalman has now been filled by a
minuscule cadre of self appointed elitists and their insidious sycophants to the
exclusion of all other congregants.
The evidence therefore is that it was a gross
error on the part of Rabbi Shalman to become entangled in a sexual relationship
with a congregant. The error was then compounded by making the congregation the
victim of the domestic problems of one family. Calling the Rabbinical Assembly
was not only unnecessary, it was destructive, because the R. A. foolishly
deprived the congregation of its rabbi and thereby made further attendance at
Shabbat services spurious. This is so because Rabbi Shalman is a master pulpit
rabbi. His discussion of the Torah reading each week, his involvement of the
congregants in the proceedings each Shabbat morning, his homilies and his humor
cannot be equaled. Hence, the amateurish efforts of laymen to do the same has
failed ipso facto.
Buffalo has two Conservative congregations.
Temple Shaarey Zedek, founded in 1969, and Temple Beth El , the oldest Jewish
congregation in Erie County, N.Y. Because both congregations have serious
financial problems, a merger of the two congregations will be effected in May of
2008. This merger had been contemplated for some time but was delayed because a
number of Beth El members would not consent to the merger as long as Rabbbi
Shalman was still employed. With his resignation, the merger has become certain,
although some legal formalities need yet to be concluded.
No doubt, the merger of both
congregations into a synagogue of about 700 families will make the financial
position of the new congregation stronger than that of the two separate
“shuls” now. Nevertheless, the old age of the majority of members, the
constant movement of members to the “sun belt”, and the failure of at least
one half of all Buffalo Jews to belong to any congregation make the prospects of
Jewish life in Buffalo and Erie County doubtful.
Therefore, the new congregation about
to be formed needs to avoid the elitism which plagues most Jewish congregations
in both the Conservative and Reform movements. In both of these denominations it
is customary to use the congregation as an alternative status system, allowing a
few politicians to dominate all activities to the detriment of everyone else.
This method of operating our congregations defeats the purpose of having a Beth
El, Beth Hamigdosh, a synagogue. It repels potential unaffiliated Jews to see
that they are invited to send their money but are otherwise excluded. This is a
systemic problem and not one pertaining to any one congregation. From coast to
coast, our synagogues allow insidious politicians to ”take over” while the
vast majority are left out of all events and congregate activities.
Therefore, we must abolish such offices as
president, vice president, chairman of the board, committee chair, trustee, etc,
etc. etc. A Jewish congregation needs to practice equality among its members.
Everyone, not only a few politically astute individuals, should be given an
opportunity to participate. Such a policy will increase the membership and bring
in those many Jews not now affiliated. Inclusion, not exclusion, needs to be
practiced by all Jewish congregations.
For established synagogues this advice can hardly
be followed, as the entrenched bosses would never allow anyone to lessen their
dominance. However, a new congregation, about to be formed by the proposed
merger of Temple Beth El and Temple Shaarey Zedek, has an opportunity to avoid
all the mistakes of the past and to promote a spirit of equality and inclusion
in the yet to be formed new family of Jews.
If a rabbi can be found to lead such a
congregation then Buffalo and Erie County will yet have a chance of continuing a
vigorous Jewish life despite all obstacles which demography has imposed on us.