Merger talks between Conservative congregations Beth Shalom – which will soon vacate its former property on Chapel Street – and Agudath Israel are reportedly progressing well enough that Agudath Israel’s spiritual leader, who disagrees with the proposed merger, has tendered his resignation.
Rabbi Barry Schlesinger – popularly known as “Rav Barry” – will step down from the Agudath Israel pulpit effective July 31, just under six months from now.
“Sometimes rabbis and boards don’t share the same vision for the shul and they together come to a conclusion that it is better off to part ways and for the leadership of the shul to navigate and lead the synagogue forward according to its own understanding of what is best for the shul,” Rabbi Schlesinger wrote in a letter emailed to congregants on January 22 in tandem with a congregational letter from Agudath Israel President Howie Levine.
“As a rabbi who truly cares for his shul I too am concerned for Agudath’s future and I do have a vision for the synagogue’s growth and development. But, unfortunately, when it comes to the scope of a possible merger with Beth Shalom, I have a divergent vision,” the rabbi wrote.
“So it is with great sadness that I inform you that I have asked the board to accept my resignation.”
In his letter, Levine said the Amalgamation Steering Committee has been working since the fall on securing a successful merger between the two congregations.
“There [are] a remarkable number of areas that both congregations have been able to easily agree upon. However, there still remain issues that are complicated, and require flexibility, compromise, and negotiation from both sides to realize success. The most difficult issue that we currently face is the planned spiritual leadership for the merged shul entity,” Levine wrote.
“Sadly, Rav Barry’s vision does not include merging with Beth Shalom or another shul,” he added, noting “the Board and the Amalgamation Steering Committee have done everything possible to try and effect a working compromise which satisfies Rav Barry’s needs and expectations, and [that] continues to foster the best prospects for a timely merger with Beth Shalom.”
Levine said it was with “heavy hearts” that the Agudath Israel Board of Directors accepted Rabbi Schlesinger’s resignation.
“Since coming to our kehillah just over two years ago, Rav Barry has guided us through some extremely difficult times. His energy, enthusiasm, and spiritual leadership [have] made us much stronger. We can still look forward to his charismatic leadership until July 31, 2015,” he wrote.
The Agudath Israel Board, Levine wrote, “understands the urgent need to begin a search for new appropriate spiritual leadership to be in place, not only for our own shul by this fall, but hopefully for a merged congregation in the near future.”
Both Rabbi Schlesinger and Levine declined requests to be interviewed for this report.
Meanwhile, Beth Shalom has entered its final months in the synagogue building at 151 Chapel Street, which it has occupied for almost six decades. The building – including the former Jewish community centre at 153 Chapel Street – was sold to developers, and the congregation will take up temporary quarters on the Jewish Community Campus in the spring.
Beth Shalom President Peter Greenberg told the Bulletin he was pleased with the progress of the merger negotiations.