President’s Message: Interim, Intern and Settled Rabbis

Richard Lesse, President

As you’ve probably heard, our beloved Rabbi Lisa Edwards will be retiring on July 31, 2019, after 25 years as our rabbi. At last summer’s congregational meeting we had a lengthy discussion on the pros and cons of employing an interim rabbi, as opposed to directly hiring a new “settled” rabbi.

As we discussed, based on many years of experience, both the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) strongly recommend the interim rabbi approach. Interim rabbis are specifically trained to help guide congregations through the retirement of a long-time rabbi and transition to a new settled (permanent) rabbi. We, as a community, will have a lot to process, emotionally and otherwise, around the idea of having a new rabbi. The interim rabbi is experienced at helping us with this.

To be clear, hiring an interim rabbi is not a “trial period” for a new prospective rabbi. Interim rabbis are hired for one year. At the end of that year we’ll welcome a new settled rabbi and the interim rabbi will move on to their next assignment.

Following the congregational meeting, BCC’s Board of Directors voted to move forward with this approach. We formed an Interim Rabbi Search Committee chaired by Ginger Jacobs. It also includes Davi Cheng, Mark Homyk, Jay Jacobs, Naomi Katz, Jack Kelly and Amy Pomrantz as well as Cantor Juval Porat ex-officio. The committee has been interviewing candidates and will hopefully be making a recommendation to the Board soon.

It’s also common practice for the retiring rabbi to “step away” from the congregation for one year to allow the interim rabbi and the congregation to work through these processes. The exact way that’ll work depends a bit on who the interim rabbi is and how they like to work. I think Rabbi Lisa will likely be present for any major lifecycle events, etc, though she won’t be around on a day-to-day basis.

Some of you may be aware there’s been some discussion of hiring a student rabbi or rabbinic intern. BCC has a history of having some amazing rabbinic interns, though it’s been some time since we’ve had one. I don’t want there to be any confusion. A rabbinic intern is not an interim rabbi and cannot fill that role. A rabbinic intern would be at BCC at most 10 hours a week, maybe more around the Days of Awe. There are pros and cons to having an intern at the same time as an interim rabbi. No decision has been made about this. We’ll let you know if and when it’s going to happen.

Following are some key dates and processes around this rabbinic transition.

  • We’ll be forming a Rabbinic Transition Committee to help with the logistics around this first part of our rabbinic transition, including determining what Rabbi Lisa’s Emerita role will be.
  •  In Spring or early Summer 2019, we’ll be planning various opportunities to show our gratitude and appreciation to Rabbi Lisa and Tracy.
  • On July 1, 2019, the interim rabbi will begin a one-year tenure at BCC.
  • On July 31, 2019, Rabbi Lisa Edwards will retire and begin her “year away.”
  • In Summer 2019, the Settled Rabbi Search Committee will be formed to begin the search process.
  • In Winter 2020, the search committee will select their one or two top candidates, and once the Board agrees to move forward, that candidate(s) will come and meet the congregation and conduct a Shabbat service.
  • There will then be a special congregational meeting to approve the new settled rabbi.
  • On July 1, 2020, the new settled rabbi will arrive at BCC and the interim rabbi will depart, and Rabbi Lisa will return to BCC as Rabbi Emerita.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, or if you’d like to join any of the committees, please don’t hesitate to contact me at president@bcc-la.org

BCC Board Approves Anti-Harassment Policy

Elizabeth Savage

At its December 2018 meeting, the BCC Board of Directors unanimously approved an anti-harassment policy entitled “Equal Employment Opportunity Policy, Policy Against Sexual Harassment and Other Workplace Harassment, and Retaliation Prevention Policy.”

With this decision, the Board plays a critical role in eliminating sexual harassment by establishing a policy and strongly reinforcing a commitment to creating and maintaining a harassment-free workplace, regardless of the position of the alleged harasser. The harassment policy prohibits harassment, backed by a procedure for investigating allegations that protects the privacy of all parties to the extent possible.

BCC’s labor attorney Joan Smiles provided us with the policy framework. The policy is a legal document based on the requirements of BCC as an employer and states that “BCC has a policy of zero tolerance toward harassment.” Thus, we now have an updated internal complaint, reporting and investigation process.

Building a harassment policy for BCC is good timing within the larger effort led by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) to bring all U.S. Reform congregations current in having an anti-harassment policy in place. Here is an excerpt from Rabbi Rick Jacobs’s Address to the URJ Biennial in December 2017.

We must approach this issue as religious leaders. As educators. As an employer. And as a movement…. As an employer, we must do all we can to create a workplace that allows all of our staff to work without fear of harassment – and with the knowledge that consequences and accountability exist. Accountability is imperative, whether you are a Hollywood mogul, a United States senator, or a member of the URJ staff and leadership.

The BCC Board also approved an implementation plan for staff and the Board, and a review by the membership committee for how this policy might apply to members. The training for staff and the Board will be conducted through the URJ webinar entitled Sacred Communities/Safe Workplaces. The training asserts that we must look at our behavior through a Jewish lens, and recognizes that everyone is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the divine.

Implementation of policies with training along with a zero-tolerance philosophy will help us meet our obligations as an employer and as a Jewish organization.

As BCC President Richard Lesse said, “We owe a special debt of gratitude to Joan Smiles, attorney at law, for her work on this project.”

If you would like a copy of the policy, please send an email to Rabbi Jonathan Klein, Executive Director.

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