The magnificent nine

Here in temblor country, a rolling earthquake is about to hit the Bay Area Jewish community. Nine of the region’s most esteemed senior rabbis will retire over the next three years, leaving a void that will be hard to fill.

As our cover story this week suggests, those retirements may comprise the biggest changing of the guard in local rabbinical history. That will surely shake things up over the years to come.

The nine represent institutional memory stretching across the miles and the years. Some of these spiritual leaders have been on the bimah since the 1960s. Collectively, they have served a diverse Jewish community from Walnut Creek to San Francisco, from Oakland and Berkeley to Burlingame and Palo Alto.

How do you say thank you? How do you say goodbye?

For one thing, the rabbis are making it a little easier on us. Though some depart this year, other retirements don’t take effect for a while, and will spread out through 2008. That will give the community time to absorb the transition.

For another, none of the rabbis was dragged kicking and screaming into the sunset. As the cover story shows, all are happy to pass the baton and open the way for a new generation of synagogue leaders.

Finally, all have exciting post-retirement plans for themselves, including officiating at the occasional wedding, serving as scholars-in-residence, writing and studying Talmud. We didn’t see the words “golfing,” “early bird special” or “cabana wear” anywhere in the cover story.

Still, we want to express our gratitude for their leadership over the years. As our story makes plain, the nine rabbis have not been afraid to break new ground. Whether the issue was giving women a more prominent role in congregational life, speaking out on behalf of gay and lesbian Jews, or welcoming interfaith families, they addressed real-life issues and made a lasting difference.

The congregations’ search committees are probably in full swing these days. We urge them to seriously consider qualified women applicants to fill the roles. As many strides as women rabbis have made in the last 40 years, there is more ground to make up, and in our region we see a notable scarcity of women in senior rabbinic posts.

Whomever the committees decide on, it will take a long time to make up for the loss of the nine.

We are profoundly grateful for their service, their energy and their spiritual guidance. If we could clone or download them, we would.

Meanwhile, their legacy lives on in the heart of the Jewish community. Gentleman, thank you and please: Don’t go too far.


Bye-bye, bimahs

Milestones, triumphs — and plans for tomorrow