Below are key components of our application that has been shared with the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). The questions are from the CCAR's common application that congregations searching for clergy all answer. The Temple Israel search committee answered these questions based on our input from congregants, meetings with clergy and staff, and discussions during our committee meetings in the winter and spring of 2016.
What three qualities are most important to your congregation in your new rabbi?
Since convening in early March 2016, the Temple Israel Senior Rabbi Search Committee has held weekly meetings, facilitated a community-wide conversation, conducted an online survey, listened personally to congregants of all ages and interviewed our current clergy. As a result of this process, we can say with confidence that we have identified three qualities that are most important to our entire congregation.
First, the theme that has come through the clearest is the desire for a rabbi who exudes warmth and genuine caring for us as individuals and as a community. The words approachable, inclusive, warmth, welcoming, sense of humor, relationship builder, and caring were the most frequently used words in our community conversation and continue to emerge in conversations between the search committee members and congregants. Many congregants have mentioned our long history of congregants and clergy feeling close to one another.
Second, our senior rabbi needs to be a dynamic leader skilled in balancing the needs of our diverse congregants and to engage the broader Jewish and Omaha communities. While the primary responsibility is to attend to the needs of our congregants, the senior rabbi of Temple Israel plays a significant role in the vitality of the entire Jewish community and is a leading Jewish resource for the entire state. We expect that balance to always tilt internally, but the opportunities and responsibilities that come with being the largest Jewish congregation in a significant geographic region are an unusual and exciting component of this job.
Third, it is important to Temple Israel that our senior rabbi is an inspiring teacher. Beyond classes and the bimah, our congregation will look to our rabbi as someone who can teach us how to think differently about ourselves and our multiple communities. We look to our senior rabbi for the insights and questions that help us connect our own lives with our tradition and with one another. We are looking to our next senior rabbi to build on Temple Israel’s strong traditions of formal learning programs and our dynamic culture that has supported many innovative and informal learning opportunities.
The three most important priorities of our rabbi should be:
The top priority for our senior rabbi will be the building of warm, caring relationships with our congregants of all ages. Our committee has gained deep appreciation for the role that our rabbis have played as significant social connectors. Over long periods of time and across our diverse congregation they have been the facilitators of strong relationships between congregants. Our new senior rabbi will have to prioritize nurturing one-to-one relationships with congregants and continuing to strengthen the relationships that exist among members.
The second priority for our new senior rabbi will be to engage with the broader Jewish and Omaha communities. Our congregants are proud of the strong relationships between all of the local Jewish institutions. Across all denominations, the Jewish clergy, professionals, and lay leadership here coordinate and collaborate to help our community thrive. We are confident that the leadership of other Jewish institutions will welcome our new senior rabbi warmly and we expect our senior rabbi to be a positive and leading partner in Jewish Omaha. Beyond Jewish Omaha, our next senior rabbi must also get to know why so many of us believe Omaha to be a wonderful place to live and raise our families.
The third priority will be to bring new ideas to invigorate the congregational experience and to make Jewish life even more vibrant and meaningful. While change is always difficult, we are eager to embrace a new rabbi and will look to that rabbi for leadership: for our staff, our congregation, in Tri-Faith, and the community.
The single most important thing a rabbi needs to know about our congregation is:
Temple Israel is a healthy congregation with a diverse, vibrant, engaged membership and committed leadership. Rabbi Azriel’s retirement and the departure of our associate rabbi, Josh Brown, who moved back to his family’s home state, have challenged congregants to think more deeply about the role that clergy play in their lives. Our next senior rabbi will guide us through the unknowns that so much change brings and build on our history with warmth and caring.
What are the three primary goals of your congregation?
To forge strong caring relationships with our new rabbinic leadership.
To strengthen the sense of community across the congregation so that all members feel welcome and find meaning in their participation in Jewish life at Temple Israel.
To enhance our practices, programs, and prayer in order to create meaningful Jewish experiences for our congregants.
What are the three most important issues to confront in your congregation in the next five years?
The most important issue we face is transitioning to new rabbinic leadership with two new clergy. Temple Israel is a living example of Brit Kodesh, a sacred partnership and we have a tradition of embracing our clergy as members of our Temple family and community.Our congregants are accustomed to having close, warm relationships with our rabbis and cantor. They are included in many families’ simchas, and are truly valued as counselors, teachers and friends. We are confident that this tradition will continue as we work through the transition. But in the short term, people struggle to see beloved clergy move on to retirement or to another position.
Growing and retaining our membership is a second area of focus. While affiliation rates are quite high in Omaha, we find that newcomers from the coasts do not always have that same inclination to join. We know that we cannot assume that affiliation is a “given” for every Jewish family. We have been working to reinvigorate our membership committee and consider new ways to engage potential members. One specific opportunity is engaging our young adults and young families so that they find value in the Temple Israel experience. We have a strong “Temple Tots” community and a general sense that many more young families with some Omaha connection are moving (or moving back) to Omaha. An important issue for us will be to keep our current members energized and engage the next wave of newcomers. We are acutely aware that we need to be relevant to the next generation so that Jewish life continues to thrive and we will look to the senior rabbi to be involved in engaging this group.
Third, Temple Israel will have new neighbors in the next five years that will inspire us and many more around the world. We are part of the Tri-Faith Initiative with strong partners in the Muslim and Christian community who are building houses of worship literally across the creek from us on a large shared campus. In the next few years, Countryside Community Church, the American Muslim Institute, and the Tri-Faith organization will all move into their new buildings adjacent to Temple Israel. Each of these groups will retain a strong and distinct identity; in the next five years our clergy and lay leadership will work to find the balance to make the vision of Tri-Faith come together while strengthening our own community at Temple Israel. The positive opportunities of TriFaith have been stated regularly by a large majority of our board and our congregation, but it is important for our next senior rabbi to know that there are some in the congregation who do not share that perspective. Our culture strives to make all members feel welcome and navigating these differences will certainly be a task for our next senior rabbi. This is an evolving relationship as our partners begin their building campaigns, but currently we participate in some social and educational programming together.
Please provide your congregation’s Mission Statement
We will engage our community with a modern spiritual, educational and social Jewish
experience that uplifts our lives.
To be an inclusive, connected and expanding Reform Jewish community.
Torah, Tzedakah, Tikun Olam
What are your congregation’s core values?
Temple Israel values life-long Jewish learning. All of our clergy are active teachers and we bring in scholars-in-residence and local teachers to provide additional inspiration. We are committed to raising our children to be strong Jewish adults through positive Jewish experiences in religious school, youth group, summer camp and travel to Israel. We are an inclusive community that welcomes families and individuals from diverse backgrounds. We have a long tradition of supporting inter-faith families. Interfaith weddings performed by our clergy are part of our minhag. Individuals exploring Judaism are greeted warmly at services and welcomed to weekly Torah study. Over 20 years ago, we were one of the first congregations of any faith in Omaha to perform a same-sex commitment ceremony.
What are your congregation’s strengths?
Our most recent clergy team of Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, Rabbi Josh Brown and Cantor Wendy Sherbet worked well together for four years. All of them have enjoyed extremely warm and positive relationships with our congregants. Although we are going through a time of transition in our clergy team, we will continue to have our long-serving cantor and our expert executive director who is a life-long congregant to provide continuity. We also have a strong professional staff that brings an energy and enthusiasm to the team.
Temple Israel has a long tradition of committed lay leadership that works in close partnership with the clergy and professional staff. We pride ourselves on positive, open communication and a sense of shared responsibility for the health and well-being of our congregation.
Our religious school underwent a rigorous review in 2013-2014. As a result of that process, a new mission statement was crafted and the Chai curriculum was adopted. The religious school has been a magnet for young families and is well regarded for meeting the needs of individual learners and engaging the whole family in Jewish learning. Moreover, our madrichim program has helped retain our teens. Wednesdays from 4:00-8:00 and Sunday mornings are loud and vibrant and the building is full!
Finally, what underpins our work is the fact that we are financially sound and have a new beautiful facility (2013) that has inspired programming and built a strong sense of community.
Candidates can hear directly from our congregants about our strengths. One of our high school congregants spoke with members to create a brief video about our congregation and attached are two word clouds from our community conversation that document our members’ feelings on who we are and the qualities we are looking for in our next senior rabbi.
What are your congregation’s greatest challenges?
Change is hard for many people and Temple Israel is about to face considerable change in our rabbinic leadership. We haven’t had a “new” senior rabbi in 28 years and there is some uncertainty about what our next chapter brings. Temple Israel has engaged Rabbi Darryl Crystal as our interim rabbi to help guide us through the first stages of our transition.
Navigating Temple’s role in the Tri-Faith Initiative is a challenge because it has been closely associated with Rabbi Azriel’s leadership and there is a new Christian partner in the project. While most of our congregation is supportive of Tri-Faith, there are some who are not. The lay leadership has tried to accommodate these differing viewpoints and it is an ongoing conversation that impacts congregational life.
Finally, we appreciate that finding and nurturing the next cadre of lay leaders is essential to the future of the congregation. We have created an exciting leadership training series, where 10-20 emerging leaders learn about the congregation and form small groups to develop and lead new initiatives. We have an endowed fund to support this work and have had three cohorts of temple members go through the program. Beyond this, we need to increase the meaningful opportunities for new lay leaders to build their skills and take on more responsibilities.
A note about Omaha:
The Omaha Jewish community is one of the most philanthropic in the nation, often leading the UJA campaign for medium-sized communities. Our Jewish Community Center campus is home to the newly remodeled Rose Blumkin Jewish Home for the aged, the Friedel Jewish Academy, JCC Health Club, the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Omaha, and the Pennie Z. Davis Center for Early Childhood Education. Under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Omaha, area synagogue presidents and rabbis meet monthly to build a stronger sense of community and address our local needs.
The joys of living in Omaha are many. Affordable housing, outstanding public schools, a well-educated population, and low unemployment make this a great place to live and grow. With a population of nearly 800,000 in the metro area, Omaha is home to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Medical School, Creighton University and Medical School, the Omaha Symphony, Opera Omaha, the world-renowned Henry Doorly Zoo, the Joslyn Art Museum with major shows and educational programs, the Rose Theatre for Young People, the CenturyLink Arena and Convention Center, the Holland Center for Performing Arts and the nationally recognized Film Streams, a non-profit founded by a Temple Israel member that is dedicated to presenting and discussing film as an art form. Every June we are host to the NCAA College World Series. And of course, in Lincoln only 50 miles away is the University of Nebraska, home of the Cornhuskers - free tickets are often offered by generous congregants!
You can find more information about Omaha at the Visit Omaha website:http://www.visitomaha.com/ and at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce:https://www.omahachamber.org/
Temple Israel Communications
Please visit our Tidings page to read Temple Israel's recent congregational newsletters.