|IN THE MEMBERS SECTION:
I have thrilling news: At our special meeting on March 30, the congregation enthusiastically voted to hire Cantor Vera. Both Cantor Vera and I (representing the congregation) have signed her contract, which had been approved by the Board. Cantor Vera will commence her term on July 1.
I am deeply moved by the community’s engagement in the process. Many of you joined us for one or more of Cantor Vera’s visits, and 150 of us voted on Thursday evening. Your questions and comments that evening revealed a deep sense of caring for Beth El’s future, in the near-term and in the long-term.
Members who met Cantor Vera had such positive responses to her, commenting on:
Anyone who witnessed the Shabbat morning service on March 25 came away amazed — Cantor Vera led the entire service with little advanced notice because Rabbi Josh was out sick. And she led a beautiful and thought-provoking service!
Some members asked, “When can she start?”
I can’t begin to express my gratitude to our Search Committee co-chairs, Janet Strassman-Perlmutter and Judy Goldberg, who started their work last May. Your dedication to detail, wisdom and leadership have benefited our community. Let me also thank, on behalf of our community, the many others who were essential to bringing us to this point:
The rest of this year’s Search Committee: Jess Baker, Janet Buchwald, Jim Billings, (who each served both years) Dan Goodman, Nancy Silver, and Marty Weiskoff. A wise and collaborative group!
Thanks again to our engaged community — I’m so excited to usher in this next era of Beth El’s history with you all! Wishing you a Chag Pesach sameach – A Passover of joy and sweetness!
Michelle Fineblum, President
Did you miss Shabbat AM services with Cantor Vera this week? Or are you eager to hear her again? The livestream recording is available here.
It’s also not too late to share feedback on your experience of our cantor candidate. You can access the online feedback form here.
The congregational vote for Beth El’s next cantor is Thursday evening, March 30, at 7:30 PM in person and by Zoom. The Search Committee is writing today to recap the process which brought us to this point, and in a separate email, our congregation’s president, Michelle Fineblum, will be writing to guide you on what to expect at the special congregational meeting.
Last spring, then-President of Beth El, Jim Billings, asked us to serve as co-chairs of the next Search Committee. Building on the important work of the prior Clergy Search team, led with dedication by Howard Boles and Bonnie Jensen, we took stock of lessons learned in the first year.
Among other adjustments, we refocused the clergy search to a more concentrated cantor search. We revised a broad and deliberately flexible job description to one with more definition. We researched salaries for cantors in our region. And we consulted with placement professionals at Reform, Conservative, and pluralistic cantorial and rabbinic seminaries, to hone our ability to recruit the best clergy professional for Beth El’s needs.
|Cantor Search Committee
Judy Goldberg (co-chair)
In addition, we learned a great deal from the rabbi and other staff about the role of cantor beyond the few hours a week in which one leads services. What emerged was that the cantor our community asks for is not only a musically talented spiritual leader but also an educator, pastoral counselor, program coordinator, and an exceptionally strong “people person.” We came to value how important it is, given the small professional staff at Beth El, that every hire bring skills which are both broad and deep, because every staff person is called upon to fulfill many roles.
We came to recognize that the congregation needed a full-time professional. This has been displayed over the nearly two years without a full-time cantor: the rabbi and other staff work extraordinarily long hours, our talented lay leaders as well are feeling spent, and both professional and lay leadership have been making heroic efforts to meet congregational needs and expectations.
We also discovered through our research that the salary range posted for our clergy position last year was not adequate to recruit the cantor the congregation is seeking. Our finalists last year were emerging or recent graduates, and by some estimates, our proposed salary was low even for those newly ordained.
Mid-fall, we brought our proposal to the congregation’s finance committee and to the Board of Directors. In October, the board authorized the Search Committee to post the cantor position at a salary appropriate to the role and experience Beth El was seeking.
We posted the job description in November and began interviews immediately. By early January we had considered 25 applicants through review of resumes and video recordings, telephone screenings, and/or Zoom interviews. Our strongest candidates were invited to meet with the rabbi, also via Zoom, as we considered whom to invite for a 2nd interview.
Throughout the process, one candidate set the bar by which every other candidate was considered. Cantor Vera Broekhuysen, ordained nearly seven years ago at Hebrew College, has served as cantor and then sole spiritual leader at Temple Emanu-El in Haverhill, MA since 2016. On a tip from a mentor, a cantor familiar with our congregation, Cantor Vera reached out to Rabbi Josh this past summer, about three months before we’d reposted the cantor position. By fall, she had already researched Beth El in depth. So when we opened applications and invited her to interview, she was ready at our earliest opportunity to meet.
The Search Committee sensed Cantor Vera’s wide-ranging strengths in that first interview, then reiterated in a second, and built with each experience of her leading services at her current congregation. Those qualities include what many at Beth El reported from Cantor Vera’s visits with us these past two Shabbatot. Congregants’ feedback forms and in-person conversations with committee members highlighted her warmth, energy, musicality, authenticity, Jewish knowledge, creative engagement, flexibility, groundedness, passion for tikkun olam, and a gift for connecting with others at all ages.
We know that in hiring you have to be prepared to compromise. We were asked after the cantor’s recent visit, “Were there boxes she didn’t check?” We simply haven’t found them. Cantor Vera meets and exceeds the criteria which emerged from this congregation over our nearly two-year search. She comes to us endorsed by our professional staff and Board of Directors. Collectively, we see in Cantor Vera a terrific fit for bringing Beth El into the future with strength, joy, vibrancy, and creativity.
We have so much information to share. We hope you will read this update in its entirety!
Thank you for your patience in waiting for all of these details. Please, out of respect for our candidate, keep all information confidential within Beth El until after the congregational vote at the end of this month.
So, who is our candidate? Cantor Vera Broekhuysen has been serving Temple Emanu-El in Haverhill, MA since becoming ordained as a Cantor in 2016. She is an experienced spiritual leader, musician, and educator. In her letter of interest to the Search Committee when applying for the Cantor position, she wrote nearly 2 pages eloquently describing the fit between her passions and interests and what she had come to know about Beth El. In part, she said,
“The level of ritual, musical participation your community enjoys is a gift to any cantor – lay chanting, eagerly attended services, an enthusiastic choir. Your beautiful, lightfilled, art-adorned, flexible space invites and inspires. The time and resources you dedicate to education, to tikkun olam, and to robust and nuanced engagement with Israel, particularly the HiBuR program, resonate with my own Jewish priorities. Your multi-congregational joint projects, Jewish and interfaith, show your commitment and generosity as a community partner, which I value greatly. I appreciate every opportunity to work with interfaith couples and families, and I see that reflected in your values also.”
What the Committee found is that Cantor Vera’s pulpit leadership and professional affiliations support the values she espoused in her application.
We are tremendously eager for you to meet Cantor Vera and discover for yourself her fine qualities and her fit as Beth El clergy. So please mark your calendars to join us during her visits to Beth El in the coming weeks:
Friday, March 17: Cantor Vera will join us for Shabbat Rinah at 7:30pm. She will lead us in one song and participate in others. Then, there will be an Oneg in sumptuous Beth El style, where everyone is encouraged to mingle with the candidate.
Saturday, March 18: Parents, students, teachers and lay leaders will participate in a Pre-Pesach teaching and Havdalah from 4 to 5:30 pm. Cantor Vera will teach music for Passover and chat with attendees from our younger generations.
Saturday, March 25: We’ve invited Cantor Vera to participate in a combined Torah Study at 9 AM led by Rabbi Breindel. She and Rabbi Breindel will lead Shabbat services beginning at 10:30 am. Kiddush lunch will offer another opportunity for the cantor and congregants to get to know one another.
In addition, various committees and lay leaders have been invited to meet with our candidate in smaller conversations to facilitate an exchange of information.
At or after every event, congregants will be encouraged to fill out feedback forms for
submission to the Search Committee. An online feedback form will also be
available for virtual viewers.
Thursday, March 30: The Board of Directors and the Search Committee will convene a special congregational meeting to allow the congregation, as required by our bylaws, to vote whether to hire our candidate to the position of Cantor.
Please help us to extend a warm welcome to Cantor Vera by attending as many events as you can, in person when possible, remotely as an alternative. Food sign-up requests will be circulating to ensure that we create Shabbat experiences of hospitality and joy. We encourage you to contribute generously to the oneg and/or kiddush celebration(s) you will be attending, by bringing food or assisting with clean up.
As noted in our announcement email a couple of weeks ago, we are eager for you to get to know the candidate, speak with Search Committee members, and prepare to vote at the Special Congregational meeting.
The Cantor Search Committee has identified one candidate whose fit for Beth El dramatically exceeds every other applicant for our clergy vacancy. Vigorously endorsed by the Board of Directors and the Search Committee and enthusiastically supported by Rabbi Breindel, we are eager to introduce this candidate to you. We look forward to sharing her name in the near future; we are protecting her confidentiality at this time.
fThis cantor was ordained at Hebrew College, where she also earned her master’s in Jewish education. She brings 7 years of pulpit leadership experience in a synagogue, which, like Beth El, identifies as Reform while integrating strong pluralistic practices. She is vibrant, creative, highly professional, and hard-working. We have observed her leading Shabbat services on 3 occasions and were impressed with her ability to engage with youth, older adults, and in collaboration with the larger community. This cantor is clearly dedicated to tikkun olam. The ways in which she lives out her social action values are evident in the professional choices she makes and are integrated into the davening she leads.
Importantly, we found that this cantor draws from a very wide musical repertoire, ranging from traditional to recent influences in Jewish music as well as Ladino, Yiddish, world folksong, and much more. As someone who expresses her spirituality through music and tikkun olam, we think she is an excellent choice for Beth El, and we find it easy to see how her passions drew her to seek out Beth El months before we’d officially opened our revised search.
In the last 10 months, search co-chairs have consulted with deans and placement directors at four cantorial and rabbinic schools and kept in contact with them throughout the search. The Search Committee reviewed applications from 23 cantors, rabbis, and cantorial soloists from three continents and across the U.S. representing Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, pluralist, and nondenominational backgrounds. The committee interviewed many of the best candidates. None, apart from this candidate, has warranted this level of consideration for the role of Beth El cantor.
We look forward to introducing this candidate to you. The dates scheduled so far include Shabbat Rinah on March 17 and Shabbat morning March 25. In addition, a program geared towards youth and families is being coordinated between the cantor and Scott, and other meetings with various cohorts of the congregation will be arranged. We are eager for your feedback and will provide forms for your written input at and after each of the candidate’s visits.
As our congregation did in its selection of Rabbi Breindel, Rabbi Thomas, and clergy before them, we are bringing forward one candidate to the congregation. We want you to engage with her, talk with members of the Search Committee, give us feedback, and join us Thursday evening, March 30 for the congregational meeting and cantor election. We are excited to look towards the next phase in Beth El’s life as a community.
You may recall that the Cantorial Search Committee set among its intentions to cast our net far and wide in seeking candidates to fill our clergy position. We’ve been pleased to have received applications from Israel, Latin America, and across North America, from candidates identifying with Reform, Conservative, pluralistic, and non-denominational backgrounds and perspectives. As we near the end of first round interviews, we are more than satisfied with the range of candidates whom we’ve had the privilege to consider.
We were advised along the way to make use of the network of clergy placement professionals from various cantorial and rabbinic schools and others who could help inform us in this process. It was excellent advice. We’ve been particularly grateful to Rabbi Dan Judson at Hebrew College, Cantor Jeremy Lipton at the Cantors Assembly, and Rabbi Beth Kramer-Mazer –a former Beth El “kid”–now at Academy of Jewish Religion. They have been more than generous with their time in helping us navigate the search process.
Second-round interviewers are preparing to start their work. Those the Search Committee recommends to move forward will soon meet with a team comprised of Rabbi Breindel, Board President Michelle Fineblum, VP of Tefilah/Ritual Judith Lytel, Temple Administrator Beth Schine, Melissa Novakoff representing parents of children in our Educational Program, together with the Search Committee co-chairs Judy Goldberg and Janet Strassman Perlmutter.
We know it’s been a long process. Thank you for your patience, your support, and your trust in our hardworking committee.
We’re pleased to report that this has been an incredibly busy few weeks in moving the cantor search forward. Earlier this month we posted the position with Hebrew College, Cantors Assembly, Academy of Jewish Religion, Guild of Temple Musicians, and at JewishJobs.com. We also reached out to each of the individuals who contacted Beth El this summer and early fall to inquire about the vacancy.
Resumes began arriving immediately. The Search Committee has logged, acknowledged, and reviewed 10 resumes, from ordained cantors, rabbis, cantorial soloists, and those studying towards ordination as cantors and/or rabbis. We promptly reached out to the candidates who seemed most promising and began scheduling interviews. The interviewing team, now expanded to include our Board President, Michelle Fineblum, had a rich and inspiring meeting with one candidate this past Sunday and have two more interviews scheduled over the next week. We will continue to assess the resumes and music samples received to consider who else to interview. We have been told by various referral sources that we can expect more resumes to arrive in the weeks to come. We are excited about the quality of the resumes we are receiving and feel positive about the candidates applying.
It is our goal to create a unifying process in assessing and selecting Beth El’s next cantor. Towards that end, we have been working in close contact with Rabbi Breindel and Michelle. We’re setting up a schedule of frequent meetings with the rabbi to ensure that we stay “on the same page” throughout this process. We’re grateful to Michelle for making time to join us in the interview process at this early stage. Further, we intend to keep the entire congregation apprised of our work through these updates as frequently as we have information to share.
Last week the Cantor Search Committee shared our proposal with the Board of Directors, asking them to approve our request to post the clergy vacancy as a full-time position. We are thrilled to report that their support was unanimous. The Search Committee is putting finishing touches on the job description, which we expect to post widely in the next couple of weeks. We’re pleased to share below the essence of our conversations with the Board.
Some have asked, What leads us to expect a different outcome this year from last? For starters, there truly have been lessons learned. We’ll be casting a broader net. In addition to Hebrew College, we’ll be posting the position with the two campuses of the Academy for Jewish Religion, the Conservative-based Cantor’s Assembly, the Guild of Temple Musicians (an organization of Reform cantorial soloists), and various Jewish job search websites.
The revised job description will specify that we primarily seek an energetic, spiritual prayer leader. We intend to consider candidates who may be ordained cantors, may come from a rabbinic background, or bring spiritual and musical leadership experience without any ordination.
Additionally, with time and experience, and continued conversations, we have a deeper understanding of this congregation’s needs and wants. It is clear to us that the Beth El community yearns for an energetic cantor; someone who conveys their spirit; who has the ability to draw in participants and bring us with them in song and prayer; who complements the rabbi; and, in time, will get to know us and help us get to know them–a connecting presence.
Further, we were advised by placement professionals from 3 different Jewish organizations that the salary we posted last year was very likely not high enough to recruit the vibrant, substantial full-time professional which this congregation wants and deserves.
Accordingly, we proposed to the Board a higher salary range than was requested last year. We are grateful to report that they resoundingly supported this investment in the future of Beth El.
Next steps include finalizing the job description, posting it and reviewing resumes as they arrive at our designated mailbox email@example.com.
We are excited to be opening the mail soon! We will keep you posted.
Judy Goldberg and Janet Strassman-Perlmutter
Co-chairs, Cantor Search Committee
We’re writing to update you on the work of the Cantorial Search Committee over the last month.
The early stages of the committee are really about setting the groundwork for posting the position this fall and screening and interviewing candidates this winter. We will continue to keep you informed all along the way.
We are pleased to share updates on the preliminary work towards identifying and hiring Beth El’s next cantor. Meeting more than weekly, we (Judy and Janet) feel like we’re off to a strong start, thanks to the groundwork laid by last year’s committee. The prior co-chairs, Howard Boles and Bonnie Jensen, and their dedicated and skillful committee, identified resources and designed a robust search process. We stand on their shoulders as we move forward with the new search. Gratitude goes out to all who participated in last year’s process as well as to Rabbi Breindel and our former and current presidents, Jim Billings and Michelle Fineblum, who have helped us get up to speed.
We offer abundant thanks to the many congregants who have been in touch to offer to serve on the committee and/or to share observations, suggestions, and support regarding the work ahead. We are a congregation blessed with many incredibly hardworking volunteers, and we are moved by how many who already give much time and talent to Beth El shared their eagerness to do so as part of the Search Committee. Ultimately, we had to choose a committee of a functional size, representative of the congregation in numerous ways, to share the tasks of the next 9 months or so. We regret that, as a result, many who could be terrific contributors will not be on the working committee. We want all congregants to know that your input is welcome, and towards that end, we have set up a dedicated email address at firstname.lastname@example.org. On our end, we are committed to communicating regularly with Beth El congregants and leadership about the process and progress of the search.
We welcome the newly formed Cantorial Search Committee, a blend of those who served on the prior committee and those new to the process:
Judy Goldberg, co-chair
Janet Strassman Perlmutter, co-chair
This committee, reflecting many years of tremendous dedication to Beth El as a spiritual home for ourselves, our families, and our community, will begin meeting in the next few weeks. We feel confident that the diverse talents, experiences, and backgrounds of this group, regarding music, prayer, Jewish life, leadership, and much more, will serve the community’s goals well. In addition, we will solicit input from our talented staff and lay leadership as the search proceeds.
A key task this summer has been identifying organizations that can send us candidates for the role of Beth El Cantor. Knowing that we are a congregation that defies easy definition, we intend to cast a wide net. We have already had valuable conversations with placement leadership at the Cantorial Assembly (Conservative-based) and the Guild of Temple Musicians (Reform-based), who represent a broad mix of cantorial candidates, both ordained and non-ordained, from wide-ranging backgrounds. We expect to resume our relationship with the placement staff at Hebrew College (non-denominational), as well as network with recent guest cantors and others. And we will post the position on relevant websites. Even though we have not yet posted the opening anywhere, we’ve begun receiving resumes; so clearly word is out that Beth El is looking for an engaging ritual leader for our music-loving congregation.
Please know that the timeline of a Cantor Search is shaped in part by the institutions who train and place cantorial candidates. This means that organizations such as the Cantorial Assembly will not send applicants our way until November at the earliest and that January is not particularly late to be hearing from candidates. So the crux of our work will take place this winter, with a goal of selecting our next cantor this spring, to start work next summer.
Given this year-long timeline, we are particularly grateful to the tenacious work of Carolyn Schwartz, Rabbi Breindel, and others who have created a robust, creative, and exciting plan for cantorial leadership in this interim year, including the upcoming High Holidays. Their efforts help pave the way for the long term cantorial leader we expect to welcome next summer.
We write today to update you on the clergy search process. Jim Billings, as Beth El president, has asked us, Judy Goldberg and Janet Strassman-Perlmutter, to chair the next phase of the search for Beth El’s next cantor, and we have begun our work.
We have met with outgoing chairs, Bonnie Jenson and Howard Boles, who have generously offered to continue to work as advisors to the process. Howard and Bonnie have debriefed us on the committee’s work of the past year and remain available to us. We are grateful for their tireless dedication to the search and the work of the past year’s committee. We look forward to building from their experience as we move ahead.
We’ve met with Rabbi Breindel, as we expect to do regularly until the search is complete, to exchange information with one another with the goal of finding the cantor who will be the best fit to meet the needs of this community.
We understand, with these meetings as background, that we have agreed to take on a holy task, embedded with an array of practical challenges. In the coming weeks we will be (in an order yet to be determined):
We intend to provide regular updates to the congregation as we complete these tasks and move forward with the search.
Please note, a separate group is working on recruiting an interim cantor. Stay tuned for separate communications on that front.