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Rabbinic Careers

CCAR Interim Rabbis: Helping Jewish Communities Navigate and Maintain Strength During Transition

One of the many rabbinic roles that the CCAR helps Reform congregrations fill is that of the interim rabbi. Congregations searching for interim rabbis may need additional time to hire the right rabbi: a long-term rabbi may have retired or left, or there may have been a crisis in the synagogue community, and the synagogue is in need of revitalization. Interim rabbis fill a crucial need in synagogues, partnering with lay leaders and staff to prepare a congregation for the arrival and success of a long-term rabbi, helping bridge important gaps in Reform communities, and ensuring that these communities receive the care, attention, and strong Jewish leadership they so deserve.

For most congregations, rabbinic transitions function best when an interim rabbi steps in to help maintain continuity, drive necessary change, and help ensure and grow vitality.

The work of an interim rabbi can be extraordinarily meaningful as much of the focus of this work is on strengthening Jewish communities in ways that will help the congregation’s next settled rabbi succeed. All kinds of rabbis—included retired or active—should think about doing interim work.

What makes a good interim rabbi? Rabbis interested in helping communities navigate and maintain strength during a year of transition, or active rabbis who are looking for a change or a new challenge.

The CCAR offers annual training for rabbis interested in the interim rabbinate and provides ongoing learning opportunities for members currently serving in an interim capacity. 

Below are some voices of current interim rabbis who share the many reasons why this role is so meaningful.

We encourage CCAR members to consider becoming an interim rabbi.

If you’re interested in learning more about interim rabbis, visit CCAR Rabbinic Search Services. CCAR members can sign up for December 2024 Interim Rabbi Training here.


RABBI BATSHEVA APPEL

Serving a congregation that has acknowledged their transition is fulfilling. My very presence opens a space for them to expand their thinking about who they are and who their next rabbi might be. Sharing best practices with the staff and leadership offers new possibilities that they may never have considered or thought too difficult to enact.

Seeing the institution as a whole, including systems and things that have receded to the background, because that is the way that it has always been done, allows them to reflect on what is working for them. Listening to a broad swath of the constituent communities of their congregation uncovers strengths and challenges that might not have been considered.

No matter what else, the congregations and institutions that we serve are not static, they change. That change might be long-planned or sought. That change might be abrupt or tragic. All institutions change and all institutions go through transition. Interim training is key for those of us who are serving as interim rabbis or are interested in serving as interim rabbis, but it is helpful for rabbis serving congregations in general because it helps us to understand how to support congregations in transition, and all congregations are in transition. The skills learned in interim training will be useful in your rabbinate.

RABBI DENNIS ROSS

As an interim rabbi, I’m often asked if it’s hard to leave each year. It is. We go through intense times together, on a personal level and as a congregation. It is hard to leave. But it is also my privilege to serve the Jewish people this way.  An interim rabbi serves, as well, albeit one congregation at a time. We sustain and build communities, address congregational needs, and enhance the leadership capacity of staff and leaders. Everything we do helps prepare the congregation for the next rabbi, who benefits from a smoother transition, stronger start and, hopefully, a longer and a more fulfilling tenure.

I’m going into my sixth interim position, and it continues to be my “privilege” to:

  • Support a staff member in finding a less confrontational way to express their upset in challenging situations.
  • Ensure that the synagogue governance structure is working effectively and efficiently
  • Take initial steps to rebuild or recreate a teen engagement program.
  • Bring reassurance, hope and focus following a congregational trauma.
  • Uplift the legacy of an emeritus/emerita when years of service are taken for granted.

… And more.

It is only recently that our movement has begun to embrace the idea of interim service. For many years, a congregational rabbi would retire or take another position, a new “settled” rabbi would arrive, and the congregation would move forward in a positive direction, and this still happens in many situations. Yet, our congregations and entering rabbis find they are in a much better place when an Intentional Interim Rabbi serves the Jewish people by serving them.

Congregational leaders and staff enjoy a morale boost when an interim highlights the community’s strengths that were “hiding in plain sight” until the interim speaks about them. The community benefits when longstanding and beloved practices are identified, sustained, and strengthened. Everyone is better when unaddressed program needs are met, and the capacity of staff and leaders is enhanced.

RABBI DARRYL CRYSTAL

I have served 18 congregations as an interim rabbi over the last 20 years. I have learned that without a doubt that interim rabbis do important and meaningful work: An interim year is a critical time in the life of a congregation. A colleague may retire, move to another position, become ill, or there may have been conflict related to the colleague’s departure. Congregants are concerned about the present and future of the temple. Interim rabbis learn about the dynamics of transition. Interim rabbis can be an experienced leader who is a non-anxious presence.

There is also the rich opportunity to learn from congregations: As each person has a unique mitzvah that they bring to a congregation, so does each congregation have unique gifts. It may be a dynamic musical tradition, inspiring tefillot, social justice, new ways to engage people, commitment to youth, or Jewish learning. There is incredible creativity in the Jewish world today.

Overall, interim rabbis get to become part of the great story of Judaism in North America. Many of the congregations I have served are part of the extraordinary history of Jewish life in the United States. From Congregation Mikve Israel, the third-oldest synagogue in the United States, to founding congregation of the Reform movement, to temples that represent the growth of suburban Judaism, to synagogues that are embracing the future and shaping Judaism for today and tomorrow, as an interim rabbi you are part of the story and a messenger of the dynamism of Judaism.

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CCAR Press Rabbinic Careers

Helping Shine the Inner Light: A Rabbi as Editor

CCAR Press Editor Rabbi Annie Villarreal-Belford discusses bringing a rabbinic touch to the work of guiding authors and their books through the publication process.

When I left the congregational rabbinate after eighteen years and started working for CCAR Press as their new editor, I had no idea what to expect. It is true that I worked for the URJ Press for two years as an intern while in rabbinical school, but my entire working life since ordination consisted of serving congregations. Being a rabbi, for many of us and definitely for me, was never just a job—it was holy service, it was my identity, it was my soul’s calling. What kind of rabbi would I be now?

We all have a different understanding of what it means to be a rabbi: a teacher, a leader, a guide, a counselor, a sh’liach tzibur (prayer leader), a manager. The list stretches on, and while I spent a great many hours in all of these roles, I have always believed that being a rabbi means recognizing and affirming others’ inner lights, and helping them shine those lights into the world. I worried that even though I was ready to leave congregational work I would no longer be able to do that work of seeing and uplifting inner light. In the past two years as editor at CCAR Press, I learned how pointless that worrying was.

As an editor, I am extremely privileged to read and work with our authors, phenomenal colleagues who already have a strong sense of their inner light. Sometimes, though, it is hard to translate that sense into words on paper, and this is where I can lean into my sense of what it means to be a rabbi. I try to find the essential voice that flows through the books I edit and clarify, refine, and shine a light on it. I am an editor, yes. And I am also serving as rabbi to the text and its author—recognizing and affirming the author’s inner light as revealed through their words, and helping them shine their lights even more clearly and brightly into the world.

When I left the congregational rabbinate after eighteen years and started working as an editor, I didn’t know that I would still be serving as a rabbi, albeit in a novel (no pun intended) way.


Rabbi Annie Villarreal-Belford is the editor at CCAR Press. She is a contributor to Inscribed: Encounters with the Ten Commandments (CCAR Press, 2020).

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Rabbinic Careers

How the CCAR’s New Rabbinic Career Services Department Helps Reform Rabbis Navigate Their Paths

Maintaining optimism and hope while reflecting on these last challenging months in our communities may seem like a tough goal to achieve, but as Rabbi Alan Berlin and I begin our new roles in the CCAR’s Department of Rabbinic Career Service that is precisely our mission. Recognizing that the rabbinate has changed significantly in the last decade, the Conference made an interim shift in the department structure last year that is now expanded and firmly in place. By creating a team to work with our congregations, communities, and rabbis not only for placement work, but by looking at the whole of a rabbi’s career and the relationships they build with congregations, organizations, and communities both inside the institutional framework of the Reform Movement as well as outside, we have the potential to introduce even more people to the beauty and integrity of Reform Judaism. 

Even in the first days of working together and with many of you and your communities, Rabbi Berlin and I, in our separate but inherently connected positions of CCAR Director of Rabbinic Career Services and Director of Search Services, have already found that offering the rabbis and communities of our Movement the guidance of 4,000 years of Jewish wisdom is extremely fulfilling and rewarding. My role will be specifically working with the rabbis of our Movement: those looking for new positions, those who may be heading on a different path than pulpit work, and those who may just be looking for new inspiration in the work they are already doing. Rabbi Berlin will work primarily with our congregations and organizations in the search process. He will also oversee the CCAR Interim Rabbi Program.  

In the few short weeks since we joined the CCAR as staff members, we have had the opportunity to offer equal measures of empathy, experimentation, firm counsel, creativity, and join conversations centered in curiosity and inquiry. We believe that these are just the beginnings of the conversations we will have and the types of discussions we will all be in together as we support Reform rabbis and Reform communities in navigating the future of our collective sacred work.  

As Director of Search Services, Rabbi Berlin works closely with congregational and organizational leaders as they seek rabbinic leadership. He envisions facilitating a rabbinic search process rooted in Jewish values where CCAR members feel that they are treated with kavod before, during, and after the process. At the end of a rabbinic search, candidates and interviewing congregations and organizations should feel that they engaged in a good and fair process. And, of course, Rabbi Berlin intends to facilitate a process that leads to excellent matches between rabbis and their congregations/organizations.  

My vision for the role of Director of Rabbinic Career Services is one inspired by the interconnected themes of storytelling and collaboration. By weaving these elements together, I hope to help my Reform rabbinic colleagues continue to experience the Reform rabbinate in ways that are meaningful and inspiring. I am hopeful that I can help identify the individual story that each rabbi wants to share most about Judaism. I look ahead with excitement to working with Reform rabbis to find the communities that will appreciate them most and allow them to develop their strengths. Ultimately, my goal is that through this work, the Reform rabbinate will be represented by people sharing their highest level of creativity and insights with the many people rabbis walk alongside. 

Some of you may be familiar with the story about the daughter and father who were traveling far from home. On their way back, hoping to arrive home by the start of Shabbat, their wagon lost a bolt. They stopped and encountered a farmer who offered them anything they wanted. After asking for a wrench, a bolt, and some oil, still unable to fix the wagon, getting more and more nervous about the arrival of Shabbat, the farmer reminded them of the one thing they had not requested: his help, upon which he sat with them and helped them fix their wagon.    

Rabbi Berlin and I both hope you know that the whole Rabbinic Career Services team is here to offer Reform rabbis as much assistance, advocacy, and help as we can to help you on your path. 


Rabbi Leora Kaye is CCAR Director of Rabbinic Career Services. She resides in Brooklyn, New York. Rabbi Alan Berlin is CCAR Director of Search Services. He resides in San Antonio, Texas.