HomeJuly 2012Well-Defined Roles

Well-Defined Roles

After serving as spiritual leader of Temple Bat Yahm for 35 years, Rabbi Mark S. Miller has made the transition into the role of Rabbi Emeritus, enabling Rabbi Gersh Zylberman to assume the role of senior rabbi.  As transitions go, this one has been unique and almost seamless.
“We started the transition two years ago,” said Rabbi Miller, “with Rabbi Zylberman assuming more and more of the responsibilities associated with the position of senior rabbi.  It was time,” he added.
Rabbi Miller has a long and illustrious history of contributions to the community.  He not only helped the fledgling congregation become one of the foremost in Orange County, but was an important part of the Orange County Jewish community.  He taught the sole Judaica course at U.C. Irvine for 22 years, taught the senior Judaica course at Tarbut v’Torah Community Day School for two years and taught Hebrew scripture for 7 years at Chapman University.  In addition, he has served as president of the Orange County Board of Rabbis and has taken numerous leadership missions to Israel.  And of course, Rabbi Miller and his wife, Wendy, raised their five children along the way.
“There are three phases in a rabbi’s career,” pointed out Rabbi Miller. “Young dynamic rabbi, distinguished senior rabbi and then beloved rabbi emeritus; beloved,” he added, “because in that position you don’t make any decisions that might upset people.”
However, moving into the role of rabbi emeritus in this case is very unique.  Rabbi Miller will still be a vibrant part of the temple’s life, but not involved in the day-to-day running of the temple.  While most emeriti appear at the temple infrequently on state occasions and have minimal association with the congregation, “I am very fortunate to have been allowed to write my own job description,” said Rabbi Miller.  To that end, he will remain in his office, offer a Shabbat service once a month and teach a Shabbat class twice monthly.  “I will also deliver two High Holiday sermons and continue with the adult education series, send out a weekly thought to college-age students and participate in life cycle milestones.”
Rabbi Miller is looking forward to more of a statesmanlike position while retaining those aspects of his rabbinate that he so clearly loves.  “I will be 65 in October, and I see this position continuing for 5 years – at which time I will be 70 and will have served the community for 40 years.”  And like his namesake “Moshe,” he feels that might be a sufficient length of service.
In the past two years, Rabbi Zylberman has directed more and more of the day-to-day responsibilities, and both rabbis feel that it has been an exemplary transition.  “It has been a wonderful opportunity for Rabbi Zylberman to introduce and experiment with new programming,” said Rabbi Miller.
Having served as a rabbinic intern from 2002 to 2005, Rabbi Zylberman was known to most of the congregation when he began as associate rabbi two years ago.  The congregation was also fortunate to have his wife, Rabbi Rayna Gevurtz, who served as assistant rabbi during that time become part of the clergy team at TBY.
Rabbi Gersh Zylberman, a native of Melbourne, Australia, had been active in synagogue life from a young age, particularly in the musical sphere.  After his ordination from the LA campus of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in May, 2005, Rabbi Zylberman served his home congregation of Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne.  Prior to entering the rabbinate, Rabbi Zylberman completed his training as a physician at Monash University and worked in a variety of specialty areas at The Alfred Hospital, a leading Australian hospital.
As part of his duties in Melbourne, Rabbi Zylberman was the coordinator of the Victoria Union for Progressive Judaism’s Introduction to Judaism program, a member of the Alfred Hospital Ethics Committee, the Zionist Council of Victoria and the B’nai Brith Interfaith Committee, and sat on the board of the local Reform Day School, The King David School.  He also served as an honorary chaplain in the Victoria Police.  At Temple Beth Israel Rabbi Zylberman developed young adult programming and supervised liturgical and musical transformation, as well as serving on the editorial team for the World Union edition of Mishkan T’filah, the prayerbook used in many Reform congregations.
In his role as associate rabbi, Rabbi Zylberman not only led Shabbat services and Torah Study but introduced two discussion series: “Coffee Talk”/”Coffee Talk-Special Blend” and “WWJD:What Would Judaism Have Us Do?”  He and his wife, Rabbi Gevurtz, lead family-friendly programs such as the monthly Shabbat Morning Children’s Service and are very involved in the preschool and religious school.
“I have been very warmly welcomed,” said Rabbi Zylberman, who greatly appreciates the opportunity to have gradually moved into the position of senior rabbi.  “It is not every congregation that has this overlap,” he said.  “It has allowed us to avoid a rapid change, which can be very upsetting for any congregation, but especially one that has enjoyed 35 years of superior leadership.”
Rabbi Zylberman remains firmly committed to the motto of TBY, “strength of tradition and warmth of community,” and will continue to build the congregation on both of those principles.  “We want people to know that we are a place where anyone can feel comfortable, regardless of his or her background,” he added.
Rabbi Gevurtz is excited to continue to work with the temple’s innovative JCAL religious school program where children select from five experiential areas through which they learn about Jewish culture and history.  “I will also be part of our lunch time adult learning program, rotating with Rabbis Zylberman and Miller.”  Rabbi Gervurtz  will also continue to lead the congregation’s very special women’s Rosh Chodesh group, “Midrash and Margaritas.”  Each of those groups has been steadily growing over the past year.
“It is the clergy team, Rabbis Miller, Zylberman and Gevurtz along with Cantor Jonathan Grant,” said Bill Shane, executive director, “that has been so significant in the success of our temple.  Along with a devoted staff and dedicated lay leadership, we have been able to introduce innovative programming into the community.”  Fireside chats at private homes partner one of the rabbis with a lay leader to focus on a specific issue, a book club and movie night are a few of the programs that are part of TBY activities.
“And then there’s Moishe House – part of an international movement where a few 20-somethings are provided with a stipend and charged with the responsibility for putting on events for singles,” said Shane.  TBY not only provides financial assistance, but Rabbi Zylberman is the organization’s rabbi.
Rabbi Miller’s last Shabbat is June 29.  He has “quashed” any plans for an extravaganza – no honors, no proclamations.  “I don’t like those,” he said.  “We are just having an enhanced oneg.  And after all, this is not a farewell; I will still be around.”

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