I read with interest Rabbi Gerald Zelizer’s Opinion piece, “The Evolving Role Of The American Rabbi” (Oct. 23), on issues around the conservative rabbinate in the past, present and future. Overall I found the article interesting and pretty much on the mark for the past. But there is an issue I think Rabbi Zelizer omitted.
He mentions that “he purposely encouraged a cadre of 150 lay Torah readers and daveners of various ages …” He then goes on to talk of the rabbi’s role in encouraging participation and “extending the rabbinic presence …” All well and good. But the rabbi never acknowledged that he could not do this job alone and required the help of others in the synagogue
While the rabbi might have encouraged participation in his synagogue, Neve Shalom of Metuchen, N.J., it was the cantor who, many years ago, initiated the program for lay Torah readers and personally trained and encouraged these 150 congregants, young and old. And it is the current cantor who carried on the program. In addition it was the cantor and other professionals who led the Hebrew school of about 100 children, and it was lay leaders who acted as gabbais [sextons] encouraging congregants to participate. And it was the office staff who kept the synagogue running and, in fact, was the face of the synagogue to the congregants.
Rabbis must recognize that they are not alone. It takes both religious professionals and lay leaders to reach out to the community, welcome them and encourage participation in synagogue life.
Only with this holistic approach will synagogues start to grow again.