Think about the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle’s new rabbinical advisory council as a kind of virtual Jewish “Dear Abby,” only more like a “Dear Rabbi” multiplied by six.
For the 2013-2014 school year, a group of Seattle-area religious leaders was recruited to replace the traditional rabbinic authority figure at the K-8 community day school in Bellevue.
This rabbinical sextet will advise and guide JDS students, parents, and teachers in matters of Jewish law and ethical and moral dilemmas, becoming the rabbinic authority for the school.
“I think that the community rabbinical advisory group is a direct way for the Jewish Day School to walk the talk of being a community school,” Rabbi David Fine, the senior consultant for congregational systems for the Union of Reform Judaism, told JTNews. “It is genuine collaboration.”
The JDS board ventured out in this new direction after its rabbi of 13 years, Stuart Light, left in June for another position out of state.
“The rabbis will also offer a unique perspective to world events,” JDS board president and parent Jill Friedman told JTNews, “and I like that my child will see the guidance and different perspectives that rabbis can provide.”
Friedman also sees it as a direct reflection of the school’s purpose.
“Our families come from Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Sephardic backgrounds,” said Friedman. “It seems perfect that rabbis on campus reflect that diversity.”
Along with Fine, the other five clergy are Rabbi Bernie Fox, head of school at the Northwest Yeshiva High School, Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum from Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation, Rabbi Daniel Septimus, associate rabbi and director of congregational learning at Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg, associate rabbi at Temple B’nai Torah, and Rabbi Elana Zaiman, the chaplain at the Summit at First Hill and a JDS parent.
Septimus, who is also a JDS parent, told JTNews he looks forward to becoming involved.
“As a community Jewish school, it is vital that we as rabbis participate in the school, as well as serve as advisers to faculty, students and parents,” he said. “We hope to get to know the community over the next year.”
JDS is currently in the midst of an ongoing search for a new head of school to take over the reins after its longtime leader Maria Erlitz retired. Whether the school returns to one-rabbi leadership next year will depend upon several factors.
“The decision about future rabbinic staffing will depend, in part, on the success of the rabbinic council and its effectiveness meeting the needs of the school,” said Michael Downs, JDS’s interim head of school. “It would also depend, in part, on the profile of the head of school that’s hired.”
Downs takes a positive view of efforts that broaden JDS’s connections to the community and he encourages the creation of new partnerships with different groups.
“I applaud the school for its willingness to try this,” he said.
The group’s first face-to-face meeting in September was its first opportunity to discuss issues over breakfast in the sukkah and meet with students and faculty while touring the campus, some for the first time.
“I think it’s great that JDS is inviting rabbinic participation and input,” said Rosenbaum. “Though the rabbinic advisory council is new, I know that for years JDS has frequently invited rabbis from across the spectrum to teach lessons in the school.”
Communication will take place in various online formats that might include chat sessions and Skyping with students interactively in the classroom.
Beth Fine, an 18-year veteran JDS teacher and current instructional coach there, has expanded into the role of Judaic coordinator. Part of Fine’s new responsibilities include coordinating the main mode of communication between the rabbis and the school — email exchanges.
“This is a very busy group of people,” said Fine. “If a student or a teacher has a question, or a teacher is looking for a resource, we’ll start with those of us here, but then we’ll have another group to send it out to who have a depth of knowledge.”