Huntsville congregation searches for permanent rabbi amid shortage

Huntsville congregation searches for permanent rabbi amid shortage
Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 4:49 PM CDT

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The Temple B’nai Sholom congregation is a small community with a whole lot of heart, what they are lacking is a spiritual leader. Temple leaders are currently searching for a new rabbi.

Dana Averbuch is the chairperson of the Rabbinic Search Committee, she’s leading the charge to find a new permanent rabbi after Rabbi Eric Berk left the congregation after four years.

Averbuch’s number one goal is to find the right fit for the community.

“We don’t want to just hire someone,” said Averbuch. “We want someone who will help us to continue to grow, to be ingrained in our community and to stay here for a long time.”

But in the meantime, Rabbi Scott Colbert is lending a hand as the temporary part-time rabbi.

“We interviewed him and immediately knew he was the right fit for Huntsville, Alabama,” Averbuch said with a smile on her face.

The experienced spiritual leader says he was happily retired, but felt obligated to return to the synagogue when he received the offer.

”My wife and I have lived in the south for about four decades now,” said Rabbi Colbert. “We’ve seen Jewish communities disappear. We’ve traveled the world and seen Jewish communities disappear. When the opportunity arose, my wife looked at me and said we’re not going to let this community disappear.”

He says he’s happy to get on board because there’s something special about Temple B’nai Shalom.

“The people in the congregation are exceptionally wonderful,” said Rabbi Colbert. “They’re giving, they’re loving, they’re warm. We have people who love to participate in many different things.

After leading services and counseling the congregation, he’s also helping the rabbinic search committee to find a more permanent solution.

“He will guide us in the process, help us look at places we might not have known to look,” said Averbuch.

Huntsville isn’t the only place having a hard time finding a rabbi. There is a national rabbi shortage right now.

Rabbi Colbert says there are three major reasons for the shortage. The first is an overall disiniterest in religion across organized religions. He says there are fewer and fewer people coming in to worship in churches, mosques and synagogues.

Secondly, there just aren’t as many students graduating from rabbinical school. In 2021, Judaism’s Conservative Movement sent a message to dozens of synagogues saying they just wouldn’t be able to hire a full-time rabbi because only 50 to 60 new rabbis would be looking for new jobs.

A lot of these rabbis are looking to live in bigger cities on the coasts with more resources for Jewish people.

“There are resources for instance if a young rabbi is starting a family they’re going to look for a Jewish preschool, Jewish day school, since this is a reform synagogue a reform day school,” said Rabbi Colbert.

But that’s not stopping the leaders at Temple B’nai Shalom, Averbuch says optimistic they will find a great fit and she hopes to find a permanent rabbi before summer.