Thursday, December 1, 2011

Eleven years later

I came across the following old letter on my computer recently, and it reminded me of a time long gone, the year 2000, when my Rebbetzin and I were moving from our first shul.

We had been solicited to apply for a shul in a large American city [henceforth known as "BigCity"], we had visited for Shabbos, we had been very impressed by the reception there and they seemed to like us quite a bit, but we knew there were other candidates. On the advice of the Rabbinic Placement Office at YU, we interviewed in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as a "just in case". It was Parshat Vayyetze; this Shabbos is our 11th anniversary of that proba Shabbos in Allentown.

We fell in love with Allentown that weekend; it was just what we wanted: Great people, a warm, united and learning community, institutions to build, an attractive place.

We compared this with BigCity. The membership size was comparable, but BigCity had dozens of Orthodox shuls, a vaad hakashrus large enough that community members didn't know the names of any mashgichim, an eruv run so remotely that we didn't meet anyone involved with it, and so on. We were somewhat intimidated by the scale, I think, but our visit to Allentown also crystallized the more fundamental realization that the large, schismed community wasn't what we really wanted.

Two days later, we called the chair of the search committee from BigCity and told him we were withdrawing our names. Here's the text of our follow-up letter to the committee; the details of the community are excised:

December 12, 2000
15 Kislev 5761

Dear Members of the Search Committee,

As I am sure [Search Committee Chair] has informed you by this time, Caren and I have decided to withdraw our names from consideration for [Shul name].

In visiting BigCity, we were very impressed by the strength and breadth of your Jewish community. We found institutions which serve the people well, both on the level of physical needs (i.e. Kashrut, Eruv, Mikveh) and on the level of spiritual needs (i.e. [local Torah institutions and schools]). We also found the people very welcoming and friendly.

Our decision to withdraw is linked to that strength which we found in BigCity. After serious introspection, we believe that we are best-suited for building a community on a fundamental level – creating and strengthening those very institutions which make BigCity a thriving Jewish enviroment.

Thank you very much for all of the time and effort you invested in this process, and for introducing us to your wonderful community. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us at ...

Sincerely yours,

I am still kind of stunned that we did this. Getting the position in Allentown was far from a foregone conclusion; in the end there was a run-off, such that we had to go back for a second visit, as did our rival candidates, and the final vote was a close call. But we had the sense that this was what we wanted.

Thank Gd, we are very happy with the decision we made. I'm amazed at the Divine aid we received then, particularly in deciding to go to Allentown for that "just in case" visit at all, and then through the rest of the way. הרואה את בנולד is an unusual gift; who ever knows where their decisions will lead?


  1. It's funny how certain decisions really do change everything in our lives. Glad you can reflect on this.

    Knowning what you do now, what might have really swayed you towards community #1?

  2. Neil-
    Size and community institutions are, theoretically, strengths. Had we been in a more advanced family situation (we had one child, who was still pre-pre-school), our approach might have been different.

  3. What matters for me is putting in effort where I am (totally writing to myslef).