Exciting News for Congregation Beth Shalom: A New Rabbi!
Last year, Congregation Beth Shalom undertook a serious effort to attract a new full-time rabbi. We received several applications, and although the search did not ultimately lead to the hiring of a “settled” rabbi, several outside observers praised our committee’s application material, while offering a few suggestions—mostly to emphasize our flexibility, our location, and other attractions. We live in a time when there are far fewer rabbis than congregations seeking rabbinic leadership, a shortage compounded by the challenge of attracting candidates to what they might think is an isolated town, far from major hubs of Jewish life.
Fortunately, our application for a student rabbi from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC) to conduct services and work with religious school students on a roughly half-time basis was granted. Matt Derrenbacher, whom many of you have met in person or on Zoom, was assigned to us last spring, and a few of us established a rapport with Matt before he first came to Columbia in August. As a congregation, we welcomed him with open arms, and Matt responded with warmth and enthusiasm. He is humble and leads joyful services, singing with passion and grace, and he has connected effectively with kids in religious school.
After Matt spent a few weekends with us, the rabbinic search committee unanimously recommended to the board of directors that we hire Matt Derrenbacher as our settled rabbi. The board fully agreed to engage Matt in hiring discussions. Both the search committee and board have heard from many of you—and your comments have been quite positive; where there have been exceptions, we have spoken with Matt about ways to improve and grow, and he has been appropriately responsive. In short, we have seen and heard from Matt far more and in many different circumstances than we possibly could with candidates applying through traditional processes.
We also ensured that we were acting in full accord with policies and practices of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR, the professional organization for Reform rabbis), and HUC. We also consulted with the leadership of the Center for Small Town Jewish Life, which this fall accepted our congregation into its Makom Fellowship program, which offers mentoring to rabbis and lay leaders of small congregations.
Today, we are pleased and excited to announce that Matt Derrenbacher has agreed to continue with Congregation Beth Shalom! Matt could have sought a position with other congregations; almost certainly he would have received other offers. Matt has told us, however, that we offer him the kind of congregation he wants to serve as he embarks on his rabbinic career. He’s from a small town, and having spent over a year as the rabbinic fellow at Ohio University’s Hillel, he definitely likes our college town and all that it affords. Matt has thoroughly enjoyed meeting members of the congregation, and he looks forward to getting to know more of us. We are fortunate that Congregation Beth Shalom is where he wants to be—a congregation with the potential for growth and deeper engagement in aspects of Jewish life.
Matt will remain our semi-monthly student rabbi through the current academic year and following his ordination will begin full-time as our settled rabbi on June 1, 2023, when we will formally welcome him to our community. In the meantime, please take advantage of the weekends Matt spends with us so that you may discover just how special he is.
Tim Parshall, President, Board of Directors of Congregation Beth Shalom Janna Lancaster, Immediate Past President Paul Eisenstein, Vice President Michael Gardner, Treasurer Marc Alexander, Secretary Emily Fuller Julie Rosenfeld Seth Rosner Ben Trachtenberg