Rabbi departures impending at two of regions largest synagogues

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Rabbi Andrew Straus, who took over as senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Oakland in July 2011, has chosen not to seek renewal of his contract when it expires in six months.

Rabbi Andrew Straus

“After my consultation with Mike Baker, [board] president, and the board of trustees, I have determined that this is best both for me and the congregation,” Straus wrote two months ago in a letter to Sinai members that was made available to J. this week.

Straus joined the East Bay’s largest synagogue after the retirement of Sinai’s longtime spiritual leader, Rabbi Steven Chester. He signed a three-year contract through June 30, 2014.

In the letter to congregants, Straus wrote, “Transition to a new senior rabbi is challenging for everyone involved. It is fraught with strong and varied emotions … In retrospect, many of our lay leaders and I agree that the congregation might have benefited from an interim rabbi after Rabbi Chester’s retirement. An interim rabbi can provide space for a congregation to envision the future while saying goodbye to the past.”

Baker sent an accompanying letter, which read in part, “We thank Rabbi Straus for his ongoing commitment to our congregation, and we will provide him our full support as he completes his term and considers opportunities for his future.”

Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe

Before taking the Sinai job, Straus was the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Tempe, Ariz., for 13 years. He also served at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame in the 1990s.

Asked by J. about the search for a new senior rabbi, Baker said, “The board is currently considering plans for the year following Rabbi Straus’ departure.”

Sinai is the fourth largest  synagogue in the Bay Area with 976 member families, according to the Union for Reform Judaism website.

The largest, with 2,223 member families according to URJ, is Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, which announced this week that Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe will be departing this summer to become senior rabbi at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua, N.Y.

Jaffe has served Emanu-El since 2006, and has been writing a Torah commentary column for J. for a year. The congregation he will lead in New York has 576 member families, according to URJ.

In a letter to the congregation, Emanu-El board president Steven Dinkelspiel said the temple will not immediately hire a replacement. “Our new senior rabbis [Rabbis Beth and Jonathan Singer] are still settling in and working with the clergy team to gain a deeper understanding of Emanu-El’s full internal operations,” he wrote, adding that both the board and the Singers believe Jaffe’s departure “offers a chance to review our current structure with some care before deciding what the best next steps should be.” — j. staff