Rabbi Amy Bardack was ready for a new challenge after leaving her role as director of Jewish life at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh in March.
Bardack told the Chronicle then that she would seek a pulpit position, saying: “It happens once every 20 years when there are not enough rabbis for the jobs. There are going to be jobs unfilled.”
It turns out Bardack’s remarks were prescient. On Aug. 31, she announced on Facebook that she was the new rabbi of Congregation Dor Hadash.
“I found out they were looking and assumed they had hired someone,” Bardack said. “Then in early May, I ran into [Dor Hadash member] Dan Leger, and he said, ‘Amy, will you please consider being the rabbi at Dor Hadash?’”
After her initial conversation with Leger a slow process began with the Reconstructionist congregation housed at Rodef Shalom Congregation, Bardack said.
“I observed Shabbat services. We had several interviews. I had a trial Shabbat in mid-June,” she explained. “We were both very discreet and kept it very quiet until it was a done deal. We signed the contract Aug. 31, and I started Sept. 1.”
The rabbinical post is a return to her roots for Bardack, who began her rabbinic career as a pulpit rabbi for a small synagogue in Greenwich Village. She gave up delivering weekly sermons from the bima when she moved to California with her husband and began a 17-year career working in day schools. She continued her career as an educator when her family relocated to Boston.
Her previous positions, Bardack said, made sense when she was raising children and needed the stability of a mostly 9-5 job. As an empty-nester, though, the rabbi said she could begin exploring other opportunities.
“Now’s a good time in life to go back to the pulpit,” she said. “That was one of the reasons I left Federation — the unprecedented opportunity for pulpit rabbis.”
Since its founding in 1963, Dor Hadash has been lay-led, although it has employed various cantors and rabbis on a part-time basis through the years.
Bardack, whose position is part-time, is excited to collaborate with the congregation’s leadership, she said. Dor Hadash has a history of having two people lead services, and Bardack will continue that tradition. In fact, she said that one of the reasons she was hired was to help train the next generation of the congregation, which is experiencing a growth spurt.
“There are new members who are joining, some of them are young people in their 20s, some young families and they don’t necessarily have those skills,” Bardack said. “So, one of the things they really wanted was for me to empower congregants to learn more.”
Bardack’s new position, she said, is about collaboration and leading from the center.
The congregation completed a 2021-2024 strategic plan that identified hiring a clergy member as one of its goals, said Bruce Herschlag, president of Dor Hadash’s board.
The plan, available on the Dor Hadash website, called for a clergy member to provide “support to lay leaders, leading the congregation in singing and providing service leadership as scheduled, while helping support and maintain a sense of belonging within a participative and lay-led culture.”
Along with assisting the lay leaders, the clergy member would provide pastoral counseling, support for life events and educational programming as requirements.
Dor Hadash has grown over the years, Herschlag noted, which has necessitated the need for a permanent rabbi.
“It’s much more difficult to have a totally lay-led congregation administering the needs and wants of 250-plus members,” he said. “I think that the increase in size, the people’s desire to have more professional spiritual guidance and at some point, as you grow, you probably need more help.”
Ordained as a Conservative rabbi, Bardack does not see her training and background as a barrier to serving the Reconstructionist congregation. She noted the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, was a professor at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary.
“We used to say in rabbinical school that we’re all secretly Reconstructionist Jews because we’re very aligned theologically — most non-Orthodox rabbis — with the concepts of Reconstructionism.”
Bardack said she intends to maintain her position on the Conservative Rabbinic Assembly Executive Committee while becoming an associate member of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. In addition, she plans to continue professional development in the Reconstructionist movement and will most likely find a mentor in the field.
Herschlag said Bardack’s Conservative background isn’t a problem for the congregation.
“She’s a progressive and open rabbi who has espoused inclusion values consistent with the congregation’s values, and we look forward to working with her,” he said.
Another area that is not a concern for either Bardack or the congregation is the rabbi’s views on Zionism.
Bardack has posted articles online critical of Israel and wrote an op-ed in February titled “How inclusive are we willing to be?” in support of Jessie Sander, a former teacher at a Reform congregation who was fired, she said, for her anti-Zionist views.
“They (Dor Hadash) are putting into practice exactly what I called for on that opinion piece, which is the inclusion of all Jews, no matter their perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Bardack said.
She noted that the congregation has members who consider themselves non-Zionist or Diaspora-centric as well as traditionalist Zionists. For that reason, she said she will not be discussing politics from the bima.
Bardack’s appointment will not change any of the congregation’s positions, said Herschlag, and Dor Hadash will continue its strong social action commitment.
“Registering people to vote, supporting refugees, those are all issues that we strongly are working for and toward,” he said.
Dor Hadash’s educational structure will remain intact as well. Karen Morris will continue as the religious school principal, Herschlag said, with Bardack — a former Judaic studies director at a day school — available for consultation regarding curriculum, methodology and topics.
“We’re very excited and thrilled to have Rabbi Amy Bardack here to work with us and to provide the spiritual and religious educational component we’ve been seeking,” Herschlag said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.