According to the Wall Street Journal (Houses of Worship Face Clergy Shortage as Many Resign During Pandemic), leaders of the Conservative movement sent an email to some synagogues last December to warn them that at least 80 of some 600 synagogues would be headhunting for a rabbi this year, but only about 60 rabbis would be job searching. The Reform movement is seeing a rise of 5% to 10% in congregations looking for new clergy.
Noah Farkas, currently the President & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who was named by The Forward as one of America’s most Inspiring clergy when he served from 2008 to 2021 as a clergy member of Valley Beth Shalom, the largest Jewish congregation in the San Fernando Valley, told the WSJ: “You get to a point where, after being in the place for over a decade, and you see your friends and parents of your friends dying, it takes a toll.”
Conservative Congregation Mosaic Law in Sacramento, Calif., spent the pandemic without a full-time spiritual leader, after its clergy of 25 years retired in 2020. They got a retired clergy to lead services on Zoom from Montreal, and the congregants took turns officiating in funerals and bar mitzvahs.
The congregation eventually hired a full-time clergy, but Executive Director Caren Rubin said she doesn’t expect him to remain there a quarter-century like his predecessor. “It’s like corporate culture,” she told the WSJ. “People don’t stay.”
On the Orthodox side, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah-ordained Rabbi Jason Weiner, the senior rabbi at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, continued to serve as a rabbi at Knesset Israel, a local Orthodox congregation. In October 2021, he told the Forward: “I was trying to be uplifting and positive. But at the same time, I was seeing so many dead bodies, and suffering, and family members crying… As a rabbi and clergy, you see horrible things, and it’s inside of you and it stays there. If you don’t talk about it, it makes it even more difficult.”
Chabad.org devotes an entire section on its website to the coronavirus, including Coronavirus Resources & Inspiration that declares: “No matter where we live in this ever-shrinking world, almost everyone has been affected by Covid-19. In addition to inspirational articles along with practical guidance, we are also offering a free quarantine Kaddish service.”
In an article titled Six Things You Can Do About Coronavirus, Mendy Kaminker recommends, in addition to following health guidelines, Know Someone in Quarantine? Reach Out!, Check Your Mezuzahs, Have Faith, Not Fear, Give Charity, the author recommends: Be Infectious!
“Let’s take a page from the playbook of this nasty virus. It’s infectious, it’s spreading, it’s separating people and even causing us to be suspicious of each other. So be an antivirus! Just by adding a little goodness and kindness to the world, you can be infectious in a positive way. Use your social network to spread kind words, helpful actions, and a little more love and caring to the planet. And may our collective good stop the spread of anything negative!”
How can you argue with that? But I would still check the mezuzahs.