Communities can use High Holy Days to help ease economic angst

With the start of the High Holy Days, the pace of communal life starts to change, and our focus is on reflection, reconciliation, repentance and the annual response to new beginnings.

For too many in our community, however, this season will hold more angst than joy.

The economic situation in our country presents us with challenges unseen for nearly a generation. Too many will sit in synagogues through this season and be equally concerned with their own economic situation as they will the state of their soul. Increasingly, senior citizens on fixed or limited incomes are seeing their resources challenged. Young adults are concerned about job security. Too many of our people of all ages have lost jobs, been downsized or live on the edge of job and financial uncertainty.

This reality presents our community with a unique and necessary opportunity to become an even more meaningful “caring community.” This is a time when no one should be left to feel that they are “l’vado” (alone). This is a time for community and relationships to be enhanced and expanded, so that our congregations can be seen as responsive to and involved with those who are hurting.

In every community are untapped human resources: people who may have some time to give, who have experienced life and, if asked, might be willing to assist leadership in developing support systems for individuals and families in need. At the least, a call can be made to members who have experience in the workplace, who have counseled people in job changes and career moves.

Establishing a congregational or communal service corps with members willing to give advice and direction — or just lend a sympathetic ear to those who might be searching for new directions — is one possible course of action.

During a similar economic downturn in the early 1980s, I worked in Philadelphia and was involved in helping congregations create a communitywide job bank. It had some success helping people in our community get back to work. We simply polled the members of the community’s congregations for possible job openings and advertised those openings throughout the area so members could see what was available from those within their own community.

This could be done again. Synagogues can join other local organizations, JCCs, Jewish Family Service and others to broaden the base of opportunities to search. Even in this day of electronic and Internet job searches, personal networking and relationships go a long way in opening doors.

A difficulty in some of this may be the unwillingness on the part of many to come forward. So often we face this challenge of having people admit they may need some assistance, guidance or help in establishing goals. Transitions are tough and filled with fear. But let us not forget the power of the pulpit. The simple act of the rabbi offering a sermon on the need for this type of caring “inreach” can help worshipers see their congregation as more than a life-cycle institution.

The High Holy Days are a perfect example of a moment in time when Jews attend synagogue. Why not take a few moments at each service to launch this internal support network? Why not have in each prayer book a form that someone can fill out who has a job opening or position request, or has a willingness to give time to counsel or advise a fellow congregant on career change and possibilities?

Use your caring community committee to organize these forms and launch, right after Yom Kippur, a Sukkot of Transition so that all can feel the possibility of a “sukkat shalom.”

We soon will enter our season of possibilities. In each of our communities there are those we need to support and those with the ability to create that sense of support and caring. All we need to do is ask.

Rabbi Richard F. Address is the director of Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns (

Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

New Year Rings in New Role for Rabbi

Rabbi Toba August likes to accentuate the positive, and the new year is no exception.

“Too often for the High Holidays, we’re told about our shortcomings,” August said. “I want to concentrate on what we’re doing right…. We don’t recognize the things we do that matter. I want us to walk out of services feeling elevated and validated and renewed.”

August has reason to focus on the positive, because this summer she was made the principal spiritual leader of Adat Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in West Los Angeles. Currently, August is one of only two women to head a longstanding Conservative congregation in Los Angeles. (The other is Rabbi Sally Olins of Temple Bnai Hayim in Sherman Oaks.) Her appointment comes just as the Conservative movement is grappling with the disparity of women rabbis in the movement.

A study last year found that Conservative women rabbis make less money, marry less and are less likely to be the head of a congregation than their male counterparts.

August is a good choice to break that mold. She was one of six women in Jewish Theological Seminary’s graduating class in 1988, the first class with more than one female student (the first female to graduate the school had done so just three years earlier). But August still had some personal challenges.

Soon after taking leadership of a 150-family synagogue in Fort Meyers, Fla., August gave birth to her daughter, Lena.

“I remember having contractions while we were practicing for a bat mitzvah,” she said.

She took only two weeks off before returning to work.

When her daughter turned 4, August wanted to send Lena to a Jewish day school. Her marriage had broken up, and she moved on to stints as religious school director in Boca Raton and day school principal in St. Petersburg before being offered a position at Stephen S. Wise Temple.

“Being a pulpit rabbi was a great experience,” August said. “But it was hard being a single mom. I’d promise Lena that we would spend Mother’s Day together and then I’d have to officiate at a funeral. Funerals trump Mother’s Day.”

August believes that the demanding schedule of a pulpit rabbi causes many women rabbis to chose education or chaplaincy instead.

In 1998, August left Stephen S. Wise and took an associate rabbi position at Adat Shalom, which gave her more time with her daughter. She also served as the synagogue’s associate rabbi and religious school leader. There, she and musician Cindy Paley helped establish Lev Eisha, a community of women who meet for a popular monthly Shabbat service incorporating song and dance with prayer and study. She is also on the faculty of the Academy of Jewish Religion, California, a multidenominational seminary that trains rabbis and cantors.

When Adat Shalom’s head rabbi, Michael Resnick, left in July to take a pulpit in Florida, August was tapped to fill the opening.

But August is ready this time to be a full-time rabbi. Her daughter is 16, and she has remarried.

“We know that there are challenges in terms of pay and job satisfaction and that there is a disparity of longevity [between male and female rabbis],” Nashuva’s Rabbi Naomi Levy said. “But given that information, it’s also very exciting to see a colleague take on the mantle of a synagogue. I have a world of faith in Toba and her ability to lead a community.”

Now August hopes to generate the kind of enthusiasm found at Lev Eisha into all synagogue services.

“We’re adding more songs and niggunim [melodies] to make things more frailech,” she said, using the yiddish word for joyful.

She wants services to be interactive and inviting.

“Adat Shalom is a very haimish — warm and embracing community, and it’s an honor to build it to the next level,” she continued. “I want us to be a presence here on the Westside, where people can celebrate their Judaism and their lives.”

For more information on Adat Shalom, call (310) 475-4985 or visit