Temple Beth El of South Orange County (TBE), got its start in 1981 and grew into a vibrant reform synagogue. However, in the fall of 2010, Temple Beth El took an unusual step, and welcomed a smaller conservative congregation into the synagogue family. This “new” community became a multi-denomination congregation incorporating Reform and Conservative traditions and worship styles. Now, once again Temple Beth El is forging a new path and “breaking the boundaries of ‘old’ and re-writing the future of synagogue life.”
“We did this first with the introduction of Shabbat Chai, moving our religious school from Sundays to Friday afternoons,” says Bonni Pomush, Executive Director. “Then we did it again with the merging of a conservative shul into a reform shul. And, now,” she added, “we are breaking through the outdated mold of synagogues’ clergy hierarchies and charting new territory by initiating the co-rabbinic model.” Rabbi Rachel Kort and Rabbi K’vod Weider will now serve as co-rabbis of TBE.
“Through a series of congregational meetings and surveys, the community articulated that partnership is a really important value for our institution,” said Rabbi Weider. “To be more fully engaged in Jewish life—everyone must feel a sense of ownership and have a vested interest in what happens in our community.”
“It wasn’t just the board that decided but all of us; there is great consensus about our direction,” said Rabbi Kort. “We were all on the same page and K’vod and I are both in sync as to how we want the community to move forward collectively to achieve our goals.”
The co-rabbi model offers many benefits. Individual rabbis have different strengths as well as styles that can provide members with diverse opportunities for worship and learning and the congregation also benefits from the different experience and perspectives of each rabbi as well.
Rabbi Kort and Rabbi Weider have described their roles as “everyone’s rabbis who embrace both Reform and Conservative as liberal progressive movements.” They will both officiate at all lifecycle events according to Jewish tradition and be present and leading worship on Shabbat—both Friday nights and Saturday mornings. They will also cater to their congregations pastoral needs and be involved in visioning, strategic planning and leadership development for the community.
While both rabbis will be involved in every aspect of synagogue life, each one has specific portfolios that they are responsible for overseeing. Rabbi Kort will oversee Temple-wide engagement initiatives (ECC, Shabbat Chai and Hebrew School, Adult Education, social justice work), leadership development initiatives and Rabbi Weider will oversee worship, pastoral care and caring committee, teen programming and fundraising.
Both rabbis agreed: “We become the most effective leaders when we can help each other grow.” And in turn help the community grow as well.
Florence L. Dann, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.