Determined to maintain the stability it has enjoyed for years, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills has entered into long-term employment contracts with Rabbi Alex Greenbaum, its spiritual leader, and Steve Hecht, its executive director.
The contracts are intended to secure the services of Greenbaum and Hecht until their respective retirements, according to Miles Kirshner, Beth El’s president.
“The rabbi’s contract is designed to have him serve us through his rabbinic career,” Kirshner said, “but in which both parties do recognize they can only predict the future for so long. But we intend to have Rabbi Greenbaum be rooted in our community for the balance of his career.”
This is the first time in Beth El’s history that such a contract, which was approved unanimously by its board of trustees, has been offered to a rabbi, according to Kirshner.
“With our relationship with Rabbi Alex being now 12 years old, we’re comfortable, and indeed excited, to contemplate him being our spiritual leader for a generation or more,” Kirshner said. “We at the shul believe he has a unique way of establishing relationships with us as individuals.”
When Greenbaum came to Beth El in 2002, the congregation had experienced an era of relative instability with its spiritual leadership, Greenbaum said.
“Beth El was used to rabbis coming and going,” he said. “They were using Beth El as a stepping stone to other congregations.”
But Greenbaum, and his wife, Rabbi Amy Greenbaum, coming from a congregation in Augusta, Ga., were seeking a place to plant the roots for their young family.
“We had so many choices at the time,” Greenbaum recalled. “But we loved the community here, and we love the people.”
After being at Beth El for 12 years, Greenbaum said he finds it particularly meaningful to now be officiating at the weddings of people at whose b’nai mitzvahs he officiated when he first came to the congregation.
Greenbaum, 44, recognizes the value of a stable relationship for both a congregation, and for a rabbi.
“Amy and I just consider ourselves lucky,” he said. “Consistency is not something you see in a lot of communities. But I think consistency is the key to survival. And I hope it will be the key to Beth El’s survival.”
Along with its rabbinic leadership, Beth El will also have the benefit of an executive director who is well seasoned in the congregation’s development, according to Kirshner.
“Steve has proved to be a valuable executive director,” Kirshner said. “His investment in our shul is far more than a mere employee. He has demonstrated an ability to connect to our congregation, and is now attaining goals only a long-term director could hope for.
“Steve is invaluable in the critical area of having the community provide for itself, to fund itself,” Kirshner continued. “That is where he really excels.”
One of the benefits of his extended tenure is that it allows Hecht, 58, to work along with Greenbaum in conceptualizing and planning for Beth El’s future, according to Hecht.
“I’ve received the support of leadership, the finances are stable as well as membership,” Hecht wrote in an email. “But, we still have many opportunities to enhance what we and our predecessors have accomplished, and I look forward to playing a role in that future.”
For Beth El, that future looks bright, according to Kirshner, who added that the leadership of the congregation does not agree with the widespread conception that the Conservative movement is “shrinking out of existence.”
“We have a wonderful Conservative community in the South Hills,” he said. “The stabilization of these professional relationships, our diversity, and our ability to pay off our mortgage has rendered us a very stable institution, and made us very sanguine about the future.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)