Beth Radom Congregation has announced that Rabbi Steven Schonblum, spiritual leader of the congregation since 2001, is on sabbatical as of Feb. 8. The sabbatical will last until the end of July, when his contract ends.
The unaffiliated Conservative egalitarian synagogue, which has 350 families, is in a period of transition following a board decision in October 2012 not to renew the rabbi’s contract, and a subsequent unsuccessful challenge by a group of members seeking to replace the board and overturn its decision.
Among other issues cited, the board alleged that the rabbi had performed “unauthorized” conversions.
A group of five members who sought to replace the board challenged the allegations in a letter to congregants, claiming the rabbi had complied with requests to make changes and had in fact acted in accordance with authorization from the board.
The group also blamed the board for what they termed a “financial crisis” at the shul.
Jordan Cait, a shul vice-president, told The CJN in December the financial issues were due to “a seasonal cash-flow problem.”
Some congregants had withheld their dues because of the controversy.
In a Feb. 7 good-bye letter to congregants on the shul’s website, Rabbi Schonblum asked that members who had not yet paid their 2013 dues call the synagogue office “forthwith” to make payment.
He wrote that he had come to “an amicable arrangement” with the board.
“Although the past number of months have been a difficult time for all of us, it is now time both for me, my family and the [congregation] to move on,” he wrote.
“A healing process needs to commence for the benefit of us all, and the shul must continue to survive and meet the needs of all its congregants,” the rabbi added. “To survive and be in a position to meet all its financial obligations, including its obligations to its employees, including myself, the synagogue relies primarily on the payment of dues from its congregants.”
Beth Radom president Henry Icyk wrote in his own letter on the website that the past few months have been “a time of re-assessing and learning… What we have learned is the importance of keeping you all updated and in the loop about the goings on here at shul, and that is why I am writing to you today.”
In the letter, Icyk assured members that Cantor David Rosen and “many” lay leaders have committed to ensuring that “all services, events and simchahs will continue at the shul uninterrupted.”
A transition task force was formed at the shul in December and will unveil its plan at a town hall meeting Mar. 6, Icyk wrote.
Cait told The CJN that the past few months have been “a difficult time.
“We believe it’s best for both Rabbi Schonblum and the congregation, for him to be on sabbatical… This is going to help facilitate healing.”
Cait said that only a small number of people – “literally, a handful” – have left the synagogue, but that most of the board members who were part of the “petitioning” group have resigned from the board.
He said it would be premature to comment on how effective the rabbi’s request for dues payment has been, but that “the situation has been improving.”
Part of the purpose of the upcoming meeting is to get “lots of input” from members. “That’s part of the healing process,” Cait said.
He said that there will definitely be a rabbi on the pulpit for the High Holidays. “We’re moving forward with Cantor Rosen, who will be our main clergy person for the next little while.”
Elliot Berlin, a supporter of Rabbi Schonblum and a regular at Beth Radom, said he has lost faith in the board and that he would have to make a decision together with his family about whether to wait and see how things proceed or resign as a shul member.
One of an estimated 30 people who followed Rabbi Schonblum to Beth Radom from his previous position as ritual director of Pride of Israel Synagogue, Berlin said, “A declaration that there’s going to be a healing process does not do it.”