Community Update on the Rabbinic Planning Task Force
From the President, to the Members of Adas Israel 
 
Dear Members of Adas Israel Congregation,

I’m honored to announce that the Board of Directors has voted unanimously to support the recommendation of the Rabbinic Planning Task Force (Johanna Chanin, Chair) to begin the process of engaging Rabbis Lauren Holtzblatt and Aaron Alexander as co-Senior Rabbis of Adas Israel Congregation.

The Task Force made its recommendation, also unanimously, and with tremendous enthusiasm, after months of careful study and deliberation. As you’ll recall from previous updates, the Task Force began by conducting a comprehensive congregational survey and drafting a formal job description based on the results. Rabbis Alexander and Holtzblatt then submitted a detailed proposal for a shared Senior Rabbi Partnership. The Task Force’s study of the rabbis’ proposal for joint rabbinic leadership, and the subsequent deliberations of the Task Force, Executive Committee, Past Presidents, Trustees and Board of Directors, led to the enthusiastic conclusion that a partnership between Rabbis Holtzblatt and Alexander, serving as co-Senior Rabbis, presents the congregation with an unparalleled opportunity for our future. It is a pivotal moment in our history, and we are thrilled and grateful that we’ll be led by a rabbinic team that possesses such extraordinary talent and vision, a proven ability to meet the many needs of our diverse and historic congregation, and a deep commitment to serving our growing kehilla and its many members. The final steps in this hiring process will now be for the rabbis and the synagogue leadership to agree on contractual terms, and for the contracts ultimately to be approved by the Board of Directors. 

Rabbis Holtzblatt and Alexander are already recognized as two of the most celebrated and prominent rabbis in the nation, and as role models for clergy working in our movement and beyond. Please read more about their many accomplishments below. They have both distinguished themselves as scholars, teachers, innovators, leaders, and as individuals of extraordinary sensitivity and caring. It is abundantly clear to the Task Force, the Board, and to the many members of o­­ur congregation who offered input throughout this process, that we would be indeed fortunate to have either one of these two outstanding rabbis lead us as Senior Rabbi. Therefore we are truly overwhelmed by our good fortune that they have chosen to lead us together in partnership, a model in which the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

As you would expect, we consulted with our movement partners at various stages throughout this process, and, per protocol as an affiliate of the Conservative movement, notified movement leadership of the Board’s decision immediately. Rabbi Steven Wernick, Chief Executive Officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), was delighted with our selection and asked that we share his statement of well wishes. We’re honored to provide it below.
 
While this partnership model is new to Adas Israel, it is not new to these two rabbis, nor to the synagogue world as a whole. In rabbinical school, students learn how to study texts and debate ideas in pairs called “havruta.” Over the past six months, we have seen Rabbis Alexander and Holtzblatt take this model beyond the world of study and debate, and bring it into the realm of shared leadership. Together, they have led us with wisdom, grace, collaboration and humility. They are cherished and valued by our community, both individually and as a team, and have fostered an environment of warmth, welcome, spirituality and deep Jewish learning at Adas Israel.
 
Under this model, and after the proposed co-Senior Rabbi contracts are approved and finalized by the Board, we intend to commence an external search for an Associate Rabbi for our community. This rabbi will join with Rabbis Holtzblatt and Alexander, and with our beloved Cantor Arianne Brown and Director of Education Rabbi Kerrith Rosenbaum, to complete our clergy team. We look forward to sharing details regarding that process soon, as well as plans for opportunities to celebrate and meet and greet with our rabbis, and to hear from them about their vision for our congregation.
 
We again want to extend our deepest gratitude to our Rabbinic Planning Task Force for the enormous amount of time, energy, and thought they put into to this critical process, and to the professional and holy manner with which they sought to serve the needs of the entire congregation. Yasher Koach to this committed group of Adas members for their incredible work: Johanna Chanin (Chair), Cathy Gildenhorn, Rae Grad, Judd Holzman, Laurie Moskowitz, Al Munzer, Melanie Nussdorf, April Rubin, Adam Rubinson, Rob Satloff, Brian Schwalb, Amy Schwartz, Joyce Stern, Ari Strauss, Healey Sutton, Dennis Yedwab, Julia Gordon (Chair, Religious Practices Committee, Ex-Officio), Debby Joseph (Ex-Officio), and for the record, me (also Ex-Officio).

We also extend our continuing and eternal gratitude to Rabbi Gil Steinlauf for leading our congregation to this remarkable period of vision, possibility and growth. It is upon the transformational foundation that he laid, and the energy that he created, that we can now build our exciting future together. We look forward to benefitting from this talent and vision as he continues in his Senior Rabbinic Advisor capacity this year, and as he addresses us from the bimah these coming High Holy Days.  
 
I am confident that under the guidance and leadership of Rabbis Alexander and Holtzblatt, as well as our remarkable Executive Director David Polonsky, we are poised to write the next outstanding chapter in the history of Adas Israel Congregation – filled with meaning, connection, Torah, and boundless possibilities.  I look forward to spending the High Holy Days with you. And on behalf of the Officers, Trustees and Board of Directors, I wish you a happy, healthy and fulfilling 5778.

Shana Tova,

Ricki Gerger, Synagogue President
 
 
About our two rabbis:
 
Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, is celebrated by the Forward as one of the 32 most inspiring rabbis in the country. Last year, she was named one of Jewish Women’s International’s (JWI) “Women to Watch,” and is a current recipient of the coveted Schusterman Fellowship, a leadership development program for individuals who are committed to growing their leadership in the Jewish community (a tremendous honor, and one rarely bestowed on rabbis). Among Rabbi Holtzblatt’s many achievements here at Adas, she has completely revitalized our caretaking (Hesed) and bereavement efforts, co-created the acclaimed MakomDC adult learning curriculum, launched and leads our wildly successful “Return Again” worship services, and directs the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington, which has twice been recognized as one of America's top innovative Jewish projects by the annual Slingshot Guide for Jewish Innovation. Previously, Rabbi Holtzblatt served as the Hillel Foundation Director of Campus Initiatives and as Associate Rabbi at the Yale University Hillel. Rabbi Holtzblatt was also a rabbinic fellow at B’nai Jeshurun in New York. She is married to Ari Holtzblatt, and their two children, Noa and Elijah, attend the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital. As many members of Adas Israel Congregation can attest, to encounter Rabbi Holtzblatt is to encounter a deep and loving neshama, a visionary spirit, a thoughtful leader, and a wisdom for the ages.
     
Rabbi Aaron Alexander served for ten years as Associate Dean and Lecturer in Rabbinic and Jewish Law at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, where he also received his ordination. He has long sat on the highly prestigious Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) for the Conservative movement, the governing body determining Jewish law and practice for our entire movement. He is widely regarded as one of the nation’s leading authorities on Halacha (Jewish law) and is considered one of the foremost Talmud teachers of his generation. Rabbi Alexander was recently appointed as a Rabbi Samuel T. Lachs Fellow of LEAP, a joint program of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He is also a certified mashgiach (kosher supervisor) by the Conservative movement's Rav Hamachshir program. Among his achievements here at Adas, Rabbi Alexander has elevated our Social Action work to a high level of recognition throughout the Washington, DC community, and has reinvigorated our adult learning, bringing it to a level and quality that now serves as a model for synagogues across the country. Rabbi Alexander and his wife, Rabbi Penina Alexander, have three young sons, Ariel, Eliav and Amos. Rabbi Alexander’s unique presence, pastoral skills, powerful sermons, and ability to create meaningful access points into prayer and tradition have significantly enhanced our Jewish experience at Adas Israel.

 
About the process and the partnership:
 
The Task Force members, coming from a wide range of approaches and initial views, took seriously their deliberations and responsibility throughout this process. They carefully weighed the survey results, the congregation's needs, and the implications of a partnership model, including the experiences of other congregations that have used it. They likewise gave substantial time and consideration to the pros and cons and the possible impact of conducting an external search to fill the role of Senior Rabbi, in addition to weighing the proposal from Rabbis Holtzblatt and Alexander. Both before and after the rabbis’ presentation of their proposal in August, they sought out and considered the perspectives of an extensive number of internal and external sources. The Task Force received input from numerous Adas members, both those who volunteered their perspectives and those who were solicited, as well as the guidance of numerous professionals within the Conservative movement, such as movement organizations and lay leadership at a number of synagogues that have experienced a shared-leadership structure. They met frequently, both as a whole and in subgroups designed to explore each of the issues involved in selecting new senior rabbinic leadership. The proposal the rabbis submitted specifically deals with issues that could arise under a shared-leadership model, such as how portfolios will be divided, questions of dispute resolution and communication, etc. These issues were thoroughly reviewed by the Task Force and recommendations for implementation have been made. The Task Force also deliberated with, and eventually brought its final recommendations to, the Executive Committee, Past Presidents, Trustees, and the Board of Directors. The Task Force members emerged from this process with the firmly and unanimously shared belief that this partnership model, which is grounded in the very same Talmudic values that animate so much of synagogue life, will strengthen our community and will continue to foster a culture of dialogue and collaboration.  



Statement from our movement:

We are pleased to share the following message on our selection from Rabbi Steven Wernick, Chief Executive Officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), delivered to us immediately upon sharing our news:

“We are thrilled and proud to celebrate this selection by Adas Israel Congregation. Rabbis Holtzblatt and Alexander are certainly among the best and brightest in the movement. They are both extraordinarily talented rabbis, and some of the nation’s leading advocates for an authentic and dynamic Judaism. We are also particularly proud that a kehilla in our movement has embraced this emerging leadership model built upon a partnership, a true havruta. In this particular moment in our history, earnest collaboration and partnerships will be the essential ingredients as we strive to achieve a shared vision for a revitalized Jewish landscape. We commend you at Adas Israel for stepping forward, as you so often do, into a new paradigm of what collaboration looks like, for the betterment of both your own community and beyond. This model is one in which two talented rabbis, motivated not by an “ego-system,” but by an “eco-system,” have embraced a partnership-leadership approach, whereby relationships and collaboration produce outcomes, not just hierarchy. We look forward to continuing to deepen the relationship between USCJ and your remarkable kehilla, and wish Rabbis Alexander and Holtzblatt continued strength, wisdom, and open hearts as they lead your congregation into its next exciting chapters. L’Shana Tova Tikatevu!”
 
 
Adas Israel Congregation • www.adasisrael.org 202-362-4433
Cleveland Park Metro •  2850 Quebec Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008
 
 
 
 
 
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