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Yeshiva U. Gets Into the Matchmaking Biz
That's where Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future comes in, specifically the Morris and Gertrude Bienenfeld Department of Jewish Career Development and Placement, which places rabbis and educators in communities and congregations that need them -- such as when Shmidman made his move from Alabama to a position with Lower Merion Synagogue.
"The rabbinic placement office brought it to my attention," Shmidman said of the Lower Merion job opening.
The rabbi and his wife "felt the social needs of our children were such that perhaps moving to a larger community would be in their best interest. We considered a number of different possibilities, and this is something they brought to my attention."
The placement services are free of charge to synagogues or institutions, rabbis and educators, explained Rabbi Elly Krimsky, assistant director of career development and placement. "Any rabbi who's a graduate of Yeshiva [or its rabbinic school], or is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, they're entitled to the services and placement."
That's standard practice for many rabbinical schools, but the Center for the Jewish Future also includes networking tools and online features, like a recent Web seminar geared toward rabbis that offers advice on helping congregants through this recession.
In the 2007-08 academic year, the center, which began in 2005, placed about 65 rabbis and educators, though that number varies by year, said Krimsky. "We can't create the demand or the market; we can only respond to it."
For Shmidman, the placement process took about a year, but Krimsky noted that the time frame can often extend well beyond that.
"A large shul in a strong Jewish community can take a year-and-a-half," said the assistant director. "Sometimes, a rabbi will announce he's leaving in two years, and you run into issues, and it can take several years."
He indicated that when a rabbi has been with a synagogue an especially long time, the process can be more difficult.
He had high praise for the way Shmidman was placed at Lower Merion, calling it "one of the best we've seen."
Shmidman's predecessor was with the shul for four decades, and Krimsky said that a situation like that has the potential to be "a major trauma" for congregants. In this case, he felt, it was handled well.
"My wife and I came and saw for ourselves the strengths and weaknesses of the different communities we visited," stated Shmidman. "We made a determination on the basis of what was best for our family. We were in the fortunate position to have the option of making decisions. Not all of my colleagues are always that fortunate, and have to go to what's available to them."
Of course, the interplay between rabbis and congregations is similar to any other relationship, and sometimes, things don't always work out.
"Sometimes, things go sour," admitted Krimsky. "We've been involved in dialogues with rabbis' contracts, with synagogues claiming to have run out of money, and they can't pay the rabbi. We try to convene resources at Yeshiva that we can, whether it's money or legal or P.R.
"We're trying to help both the rabbis and the rabbinate -- both the individual and the calling."
Krimsky added that location also plays a large part in the placement process.
"Communities outside New York have a much tougher time finding Jewish leaders, and we're very sensitive to that, and encourage students and rabbis and leaders to leave the New York area."
Wherever the rabbis are eventually placed, added Krimsky, they can rest assured that Y.U. is backing them up.
"We're like the Verizon commercial," he quipped. "There's a network behind you."