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Challenges for rabbis at merged shuls

Rabbi Mel Glazer of Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs, Colo., is learning to adapt to merged congregational life. ()

Rabbi Mel Glazer of Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs, Colo., is learning to adapt to merged congregational life. ()

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) – Choosing a rabbi to lead a combined Reform-Conservative congregation can be tricky. Even more awkward is when a combined congregation that has been following Reform tradition for years hires a Conservative rabbi.

One such newly hired Conservative rabbi said she was confronted with a b’nai mitzvah class filled with the children of non-Jewish mothers.

Following her movement’s standards, she asked them to convert. But these were children who had grown up Jewish in a congregation that still recognized them as Jews – were they suddenly to be second-class citizens?

Another rabbi, newly arrived at a merged congregation, related how a longtime member asked him to officiate at his son’s intermarriage. The rabbi explained why he couldn’t – and the family left the synagogue.

Neither rabbi wished to be identified for this article. Both point out that they were committed to serving a dual-identified congregation, and the congregations knew what they were getting when they hired them.

Ultimately it takes a certain kind of rabbi to maintain that delicate balance.

Rabbi Mel Glazer was hired this summer by Temple Shalom, a merged congregation in Colorado Springs, Colo. He is not happy to see men without yarmulkes at his Friday night services.

“It drives me crazy,” he acknowledges. “But they’ve been here a long time before me.”

Glazer won’t knowingly flout Conservative standards. He’s converting four girls preparing to become bat mitzvah, although he calls it a “naturalization” rather than a conversion, and he’s told the ritual committee that non-Jews should not perform rituals that Jews are commanded to do, such as open the ark and say blessings over the Torah.

But he’s not going out of his way to impose his own beliefs.

“First of all, it’s not my shul,” Glazer points out. “Second, I knew what I was getting into. If someone says he’s patrilineal and he’s called for an aliyah, I’m not going to step forward and say, wait a minute. Why would I punish someone who wants to be a part of us?”

Not many of his Conservative colleagues would do that, he admits.

But, he adds, “not many of them would take a job like this.”

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