Peninsula Sinais rabbi trades pulpit for JCF job &mdash and another

The old saying goes, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” For Rabbi Marvin Goodman, he’s opened two windows.

Goodman has agreed to leave the pulpit he’s held since 1988 at Foster City’s Conservative Peninsula Sinai Congregation to take not one but two jobs: executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California and the JCF’s rabbi-in-residence.

Goodman’s hiring (and, indeed, the creation of the rabbi-in-residence position) is a tangible step toward realizing Federation CEO Tom Dine’s oft-stated desire to establish closer relationships with synagogues.

Dine described Goodman as “not just liked but adored by rabbi after rabbi throughout our federated area,” meaning any rabbi with a suggestion or a beef now has a friend, so to speak, in a high place at the JCF.

Goodman will be vital in “cultivating relationships with rabbis” and “finding out what rabbis and synagogue executive directors need and want from the federation,” said Dine.

And the communication goes both ways.

“He has credibility with the spiritual heads of these congregations and … they’ll listen to him if he promotes good ideas.”

Goodman will also be a top adviser to Dine and other JCF officials on religious matters.

The rabbi was hired earlier this month and will officially take over his two new positions in February. Prior to his 18-year tenure in Foster City, he was the regional executive director of the United Synagogues of America (now called the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism) and regional head of the United Synagogue Youth from 1975-88.

As head of the board of rabbis, Goodman relieves interim director Allen Bennett, currently in the 11th month of what he anticipated to be a five-month tenure. The spiritual leader of Alameda’s Reform Temple Israel gave a thumbs-up to his successor and said Goodman’s filling of two posts is “an experiment we hope and believe will work.”

As the chairman of the board, Goodman said he hopes to meet with as many of his member rabbis as possible and “pick their brains about what they want from the board of rabbis.”

Goodman, for one, said he’s noticed more rabbis show up for the board’s High Holy Day seminar than most any other event, and would like to see more extended get-togethers in which rabbis can spend time and learn together.

The rabbi will ostensibly work an 80 percent schedule (though he anticipates spending a bit more time than that, especially in the early going), with half of his time devoted to each job. He also expects to put in some time at Peninsula Sinai until they land his successor.

“They’re two jobs, but they’re so linked together it seems to me that, as the head of the board of rabbis and the federation rabbi, what I need to do is help create more of a chevra [society] between the rabbis in the community,” said Goodman, 58, a Bay Area resident for 31 years.

“Right now the Board of Rabbis does the best it can, but there’s not the kind of interpersonal connections that, if there were, rabbis would feel much more committed to common kinds of things.”

And while the JCF and board of rabbis cooperated to make this hire, the two bodies have not always seen eye to eye. In years past, for example, the board chided the federation for catering events with non-kosher food. If a similar dispute erupts, Goodman would find himself with a foot in both camps.

When asked how he would deal with such a situation, Goodman responded, “Sensitively and carefully.

“I see myself as a communicator, someone who talks to people and keeps lines of communication open at all times. If issues come up, I’m going to be there on the ground or in the building and … able to get stuff as it comes up rather then when it becomes a crisis,” he said.

Added Bennett, “Marv’s reputation is one as a bridge-builder, a peace-maker and a negotiator. My sense is one of the reasons he got this job is people knew he could bridge whatever gaps there might be.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.