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Clergy Transition - FAQ


Why is HEA only hiring one new clergy instead of two? 

Clergy searches are large undertakings that require sustained attention and careful deliberations from both an organization's professionals and lay leaders.  Second, the synagogue’s current finances and the overlap between Rabbi Dollin and when a new clergy team will start do not afford us the resources to hire two clergy positions in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.  We will re-evaluate our clergy needs and budget in 2022 to determine when to embark on a search for a third clergy person.   

Why not hire a cantor first, and wait to hire an assistant rabbi? 

Hiring a cantor would certainly help us meet the musical needs of our synagogue.  But hiring a cantor alone would not be sufficient to meet the considerable needs of our 825 member families.  The skills and training of rabbis and cantors are very different, and a synagogue of our size needs no less than two full-time rabbis.   

Couldn’t a cantor fulfill all the roles an assistant rabbi would?   

Cantors are trained primarily in prayer leadership and liturgy, typically with little or no training in pastoral care, counselling, Jewish texts, Jewish law, or Jewish education.  With over 825 member families, HEA could not meet the needs of our congregants with just one rabbi.  Rabbis and cantors fulfill distinct roles in a synagogue and have different training and scope of authority.  In the Conservative Movement, only rabbis are authorized to render decisions on matters of Jewish law and ritual.  Rabbis trained at the Movement’s two North American seminaries receive extensive education in Jewish texts, Jewish law, theology, counselling, and practical rabbinic skills.  Though rabbis and cantors often work together, there are many functions that only a rabbi can fulfill in a congregation.   


What is a Director of Congregational Music?   

A Director of Congregational Music will oversee music and prayer at HEA, fulfilling all the roles that we have come to expect from a cantor.  Expanding our search beyond ordained cantors will allow us to attract the very best talent in Jewish musical leadership. The ideal candidate will have a deep knowledge of traditional Jewish liturgy and nusach (traditional musical modes); and a passion for contemporary Jewish liturgical music.  We are looking for a skilled and dynamic Jewish music professional to inspire participation and support us in our goal to be an energetic and empowered community whose worship and song culture is both lay-led and professionally guided.   

What is the difference between a Music Director and a Cantor? 

Functionally there is very little difference.  Like our cantors in the past, the Music Director will be responsible for ensuring that all of our worship services and musical programs are carried out with the same inspiring quality as we have always expected.  The Director of Congregational Music will provide support and education for our preschool, religious school, youth, and programming.  We will seek a talented Music Director with a wide variety of skills, capable of infusing music and prayer into every aspect of our synagogue.  The focus of this position will be entirely on prayer and music, without clergy duties such as counseling and lifecycle officiation.   

Hiring a Music Director will be quicker and less costly to the congregation than undertaking a cantor search.  This approach – hiring an assistant rabbi and a Music Director – allows us to fulfill the needs of the congregation as soon as possible.   

Does hiring a Music Director this year prevent HEA from hiring a cantor in the future? 

No.  Hiring a cantor will be an option in the future. The music director position will help us fulfill our immediate need for musical leadership in all worship services and throughout the synagogue.  Once our rabbinic search is completed next year, we will reevaluate our congregation’s clergy-related needs and we will revisit our budget to determine whether to embark on a search for an ordained cantor. 

Will ordained cantors be considered for the position? 

Our goal is to cast as wide a net as possible to find the best fit for our congregation.  We will interview qualified candidates who demonstrate the competencies, skills, and character traits we need.  Cantors and other Jewish music professionals are welcome to apply for the position; and, should our final choice be an ordained cantor, we will use their title.    

Doesn’t every synagogue need a cantor? 

According to Jewish law and tradition, any Jewish adult who knows the prayers and has a pleasing voice can serve as a prayer leader.  Over the centuries, different words have been used to describe that individual: shaliach tzibbur (“emissary of the community”), baal tefillah (“master of prayer”), and Hazzan (an ancient term for a lay leader of a synagogue).  In the 1700s, communities in Europe borrowed the term cantor (Latin, “Singer”) from Christian churches.    

For nearly all of Jewish history, prayer leaders learned their skills informally or through apprenticeship.  Only in the mid-20th Century did the Reform and Conservative movements create professional schools to train cantors, and only in the last decade did these movements consider cantors ordained clergy.  In fact, Cantor Reisner was the first formally ordained cantor in HEA’s history.   

Today, the professional cantorate is changing once more.  Very few cantors are being trained.  Last year’s cantorial class at the Jewish Theological Seminary graduated just 3 cantors and this year’s class has 2 students.  Jews who have a passion for music and prayer leading are finding other routes to professional Jewish leadership, and many synagogues are hiring music leaders who are not cantors.   

For more on the history of the cantorate see,  

Why not call our prayer leader a Cantor? 

Despite the short history of the professional cantorate, there are many formally trained cantors working today who deserve to be recognized for their professional credentials with the title Cantor.  Cantor has come to mean someone ordained as such whose primary role is singing prayers.  Our choice of Director of Congregational Music reflects a broader vision for the role this music professional will play throughout our synagogue.  However, should our choice of music director be an ordained cantor, we will certainly use their title.    

What will a music director do?  

The Director of Congregational Music will report to the Senior Rabbi and will partner with the clergy team in providing creative direction and vision for a warm, inviting, vibrant music and worship culture at HEA.  As a teacher of Torah, traditional and contemporary liturgical music, and song, the Music Director will imbue spirit (ruach) into the experience of worship and communal gathering for both adults and youth.  The Music Director will be a worship and song leader as well as a department director, supervising part-time staff in providing musical content for the synagogue.  The music director should be warm, charismatic, collaborative, innovative and creative, while also grounded in traditional Jewish forms of worship and ritual.  

Will the Music Director chant Torah and Haftarah? 

HEA is proud to have many lay Torah readers and we hope to grow that group.  We plan to continue empowering lay people to chant Torah and haftarah.  We recently hired Mallory Bustow, a very skilled Torah tutor and Jewish educator, to serve as our part-time Ritual Coordinator.  Mallory schedules Torah and Haftarah readers and teaches those who want to learn to chant.  Mallory’s role will continue indefinitely, and the new Music Director will collaborate with her to support and train Torah and Haftarah readers.  


How were these decisions reached?  Who was consulted?   

The decision to pursue an assistant rabbi search and hire a music director in 2022 was reached through a thoughtful and collaborate needs analysis led by Rabbi Gruenwald with the Clergy Transition Committee, in consultation with the HEA Board of Directors.  We sought out advice from Rabbi Dollin, researched trends and practices at other synagogues, and we consulted with the leadership of the Conservative Movement.  We received extensive feedback and comments from congregant focus groups conducted over the summer.  Rabbi Gruenwald collected comments during his hiring process and numerous conversations with stakeholders.  Rabbi Gruenwald, the Board, and the Transition Committee will continue to invite participation and feedback throughout our upcoming searches.    

What role does the Board play in the hiring of clergy and staff?  Who is responsible for hiring assistant rabbis, cantors and other professionals? 

The Board of Directors is responsible for hiring and supervising the Senior Rabbi and the CEO.  The Senior Rabbi and the CEO hire and direct programmatic and administrative staff.  In consultation with the Board and CEO, the Senior Rabbi is responsible for hiring and supervising the clergy team (including assistant/associate rabbis, cantors, and other musical/prayer professionals).   

What is the process for hiring an Assistant Rabbi and when will they start? 

Rabbinic searches are typically caried out between November and March each year, and rabbinic transitions usually take place in the summer.  HEA will post our open position with the Joint Placement Commission of the Conservative Movement by December 2021 and review resumes on a rolling basis.  The search committee will conduct initial interviews over Zoom and invite 2-3 candidates for in-person interview weekends.  As with previous searches, there will be many opportunities for the congregation to meet the finalists and provide feedback to the committee.  We hope to make an offer by late February or early March.  A new assistant rabbi will start in July 2022.   

What will the process be for hiring a Director of Congregational Music, and when will they start? 

A job description is being prepared and the job will be publicly posted by the end of November.  We will accept applications on a rolling basis and conduct interviews.  We hope to fill this position as soon as we find the right candidate.     

How can I participate in the process and offer comments? 

Rabbi Gruenwald will facilitate a series of public Q&A forums on November 10, 13 and 18.  Rabbi Gruenwald is available for one-on-one appointments and coffee meetings.  Caron Blanke, Laura Intfen, and members of the Board and Transition Committee are also available to answer questions and collect comments.  As the search process progresses, there will be ample opportunities for feedback; and when final candidates are selected, we will invite the congregation to participate in the interview weekends.    


Why is HEA rejoining United Synagogue of Conservative? 

United Synagogue membership is the hallmark of a Conservative synagogue – signaling to its members and prospective members the style of worship and standards of practice they can expect from their synagogue.  Membership in USCJ brings with it services and supports that will benefit HEA and allows our youth group to be part of United Synagogue Youth (USY) – the national organization of Conservative Movement youth groups.  Rejoining USCJ reaffirms our commitment to the values of Conservative Judaism: ritual practice grounded in tradition, Shabbat observance, adherence to kashrut, and the equal role of all genders in religious life. 

Why is HEA seeking only a Conservative Movement Rabbi? 

Since 1994, HEA has identified with Conservative Judaism and has hired rabbis trained in the Conservative Movement.  Membership in USCJ gives us access to the Conservative Movement’s placement process, which requires that USCJ affiliated synagogues only interview Rabbinical Assembly members.    

Will HEA consider hiring rabbis who were ordained outside Conservative Judaism? 

No.  HEA will only consider rabbis who are members of Conservative Judaism’s Rabbinical Assembly.  Hiring a Conservative Movement trained rabbi who is a member in good standing of the Rabbinical Assembly is the best way to ensure that HEA upholds the practices, values, and philosophical approach of Conservative Judaism.   

Will HEA consider hiring a female rabbi? 

Yes.  As a Conservative Movement synagogue, we are committed to the value of egalitarianism – the equal participation of all Jews, regardless of gender.  HEA hired our first female cantor last year and we will consider all qualified candidates for the assistant rabbi position.   

What role will Rabbi Sherry Grinsteiner play? 

Rabbi Sherry Grinsteiner is currently HEA’s Director of Lifelong Learning and a valued and hard-working member of HEA’s professional staff.  In January 2021, Sherry Grinsteiner received rabbinic ordination through the Renewal Movement’s Aleph Ordination Program.  Her knowledge and skills as a rabbi are an asset to our community.  It is common in large synagogues like ours to have a rabbi in the role of Education Director; and, in fact, the last two professionals to serve as our Director of Education were also rabbis.  In her capacity as Director of Lifelong Learning, Rabbi Grinsteiner is an important rabbinic presence for our religious school students and their families.  As a small portion of her responsibilities, Rabbi Grinsteiner is available to support the clergy team in a limited capacity with lifecycle rituals, shiva minyanim, and occasionally leading services.    


Who will lead services while we search for an Assistant Rabbi and Music Director? 

The Shabbat morning Traditional Service will continue to be led by Rabbi Dollin and Rabbi Gruenwald with the assistance of capable lay prayer leaders and Torah readers.  Shir Hadash will meet once a month for the time being, led by Dani Tavbin and the Davening Team.  Our aim is to bring back Shir Hadash weekly upon the hiring of a music director.    

Once a Music Director is hired, who will lead the prayers in the Traditional Service, Shir Hadash and other worship services?   

The music director will be tasked with ensuring that all our worship services are inspiring and meaningful.  We aspire to be a congregation known for our musical offerings and we also pride ourselves in being a community that empowers congregants to be musical leaders.  The Music Director will lead significant portions of our services and will also train and support volunteer prayer leaders to provide excellence in musical leadership.     

Who will lead High Holy Day services? 

Just as our cantors have in the past, the Music Director will lead many portions of the High Holy Day services in the traditional service along with lay leaders.  The Music Director will provide creative direction and leadership to the Shir Hadash davening team, which will be led by a Shir Hadash Music Coordinator.    

Will there be changes to worship services prior to hiring new clergy? 

The services we currently offer on Shabbat morning – our Traditional Service and Shir Hadash (currently offered once a month) – will remain the same through the transition.  We are committed to the spiritual needs of a diverse and large community, and we are proud to offer multiple ways for Jews to connect to God through prayer.  We have a strong and dedicated constituency for traditional davening, and we will continue to offer a traditional Shabbat morning service that includes a fully halachic liturgy.  We also look forward to offering musical prayer experiences like Shir Hadash, and a new clergy team will work collaboratively with the congregation to create meaningful prayer experiences for Friday evenings, Shabbat mornings, weekdays and holidays.  Any changes that might be made in the future will be the result of thoughtful, transparent, and inclusive processes with great sensitivity to the needs of our members and the legacy of the congregation.  

Will daily morning minyan and Shabbat mincha return to in-person services, as prior to the pandemic? 

Yes.  When the pandemic conditions allow, we will offer daily morning minyan and mincha on Shabbat afternoon. 

Thu, May 19 2022 18 Iyyar 5782