Religious communities depend heavily upon the leadership skills of both volunteers and professional staff. These people must have integrity, intelligence, faith, knowledge and creativity. They must be humble and kind, yet also bold and assertive when necessary to help their organizations address challenges and seize opportunities to advance its mission.
Who is the best qualified Jewish professional, whether cantor, rabbi, educator, administrator or fundraiser? The answer to this question depends largely on the particulars of the job and of the organization, but one thing is clear--there is no single demographic profile of a successful Jewish professional. Too often Jewish organizations have forgotten this simple fact, setting aside the most talented people in favor of ones who conform to preconceived profiles of Jewish leadership. This tendency to look at the container rather than at its contents hurts both organizations and professionals.
The North American Jewish community has become beautifully diverse, yet its professionals, especially its clergy, have often been expected to look like the leaders of past generations. For us to succeed, we must draw upon the talents of all of our people, lay and professional, and become discerning judges of leadership potential. Congregations and other communal organizations that focus on external characteristics severely limit their options. Congregations, schools, and organizations that instead embrace the diversity of today’s Conservative clergy will encounter Torah in its many glorious forms, its traditional “70 Faces.”
Just as our communities are more diverse than ever before, so too do our clergy and other professionals reflect this diversity of gender, generation, health and relationship status. They are partnered and single, and of all ages and physical abilities. They are men, women, and gender-nonconforming. They are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and straight. Our communities and our trained professionals include people from varied backgrounds of race and ethnicity; some leaders come from entirely Jewish families, and others come from interfaith families or are themselves Jews by choice.
Within this diversity, we are blessed that each cantor and rabbi has a unique story, perspective, and set of skills and goals. They are united in their love of Torah, their deep spiritual grounding in Jewish practice, and their excitement to serve God and the Jewish people as clergy.
We are blessed that our Jewish people and clergy embody the fullness of today’s household of Israel. They should be welcome as both members and potential leaders of our religious communities.