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Monday, July 6, 2015

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Rabbi’s sabbatical leads to ‘transition plan’

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Holy Blossom Temple

TORONTO — Rabbi John Moscowitz, bound by a confidentiality agreement, declined to comment on the recent brouhaha at Holy Blossom Temple – one of the world’s best-known Reform congregations – and on what his role would be during his upcoming three-year sabbatical preceding his retirement as senior rabbi June 30, 2015.

In an April 24 letter to congregants, Holy Blossom president Mark Anshan – who is also under confidentiality restrictions – wrote that the rabbi and the temple’s board had, “after many months of negotiations, reached an agreement” that Rabbi Moscowitz would serve as rabbi emeritus as of June 30. 

The 60-year-old rabbi – who has been with Holy Blossom for 25 years, the last 13 as senior rabbi – will be on sabbatical until his retirement, but will lead High Holiday Services at the synagogue in September, the letter said.

A followup letter from Anshan, dated May 8, said the rabbi’s role and responsibilities would change during his sabbatical, but that he would “continue to keep his office, and officiate at weddings and funerals, if he is available.”

Anshan wrote that “a comprehensive transition plan” was being prepared and that Holy Blossom would search for its next senior rabbi “in due time.”

“We continue to be in good hands with Rabbi [Yael] Splansky, Rabbi [Karen] Thomashow, and Rabbi [Edward] Goldfarb,” he wrote, naming Cantor Benjamin Maissner and cantorial soloist Lindi Rivers as well, among other non-clergy staff.

The letter began with comments that did little more than hint at divisions in the temple, which were highlighted in a May 25 article in the Globe and Mail. The newspaper article referred to “a bitter controversy [over] the de facto ouster” of the senior rabbi.

In his second letter, Anshan said the first one “did not properly reflect or recognize the dedication and contribution that Rabbi Moscowitz had provided to the congregation during his 25 years of service. I wish it had been otherwise. It was not my intention to upset any member of our congregation but merely to send out an announcement, the content of which was previously agreed to be a joint communiqué by the Temple’s board of directors and Rabbi Moscowitz.”

He credited Rabbi Moscowitz for building up the temple’s adult education program, being with congregants at times of joy and sorrow, and “crafting a vision for the congregation’s future.”

Anshan noted in the letter that the temple board would be reaching out to members, and encouraged them to contact him. He wrote that he would respond to each e-mail and would be happy to meet members in person as well.

The Globe and Mail reported that the rabbi’s sabbatical would be fully paid, and that his settlement was “said to be worth more than a million dollars… hammered out in protracted legal negotiations.”

The article quoted temple member Senator Linda Frum accusing the board of mismanagement, and saying, “I am so upset about the way he has been treated. I feel so poisoned by the atmosphere created that it’s not a place I could continue to feel comfortable. I know others who are leaving and others who are considering it.”

The temple, which was founded in 1856, has seen a decline in membership in recent years to 1,950 family units. According to the second edition of the Ontario Jewish Resource Directory, published in 2001, it had 2,500 families at that time.

A congregant who declined to speak for attribution told The CJN that it’s time now “for healing... It will take some time for that to happen.”

With files from JTA

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