GET TO KNOW

CELIA SURGET

LETTER FROM THE

CA RABBI SEARCH COMMITTEE

All Members of Congregation Albert

Charna Lefton and Joe Weiss, Congregation Albert Rabbi Search Committee Co-Chairs on behalf of the Congregation Albert Rabbi Search Committee

January 31 Congregation Albert members meeting re: recommendation of our next Rabbi

January 15, 2020 

TO

FROM

SUBJECT

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The Congregation Albert (CA) Rabbi Search Committee (RSC) was tasked with completing an extensive process to assist the Congregation in selecting its next Rabbi. That process included:

 

  • Signing a covenant through which we each agreed to fulfill the sacred responsibility of finding our next rabbi, carrying out that charge with integrity and fairness, and only recommending to the congregation the candidate whom we support in unity with whole hearts.

  • Providing multiple opportunities for members to have input into what they wanted in the next CA rabbi, and listening closely to their responses.

  • Developing an application packet that reflected the wishes of the congregation and complied with the requirements of the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ (CCAR) and the Union of Reform Judaism’s (URJ) joint process for the recruitment, selection, and hiring of rabbis.

  • Through that process, recruiting, interviewing, communicating with, and organizing and inviting the top candidates for multiple-day visits (conducted virtually due to COVID 19) with the Board of Trustees, the CA RSC Stakeholders’ Advisory Group, the ECC, the confirmation class, clergy, and staff.

  • Checking all candidate references.

  • Deliberating together on which of the top candidates most fully met the desires and needs of CA members, both now and in the future, and recommending that person to the CA Board of Trustees (Board) for their approval.

  • If approved by the Board of Trustees, presenting the selected candidate to the full CA congregation.

 

On January 31, 2021, at 1:00 PM we will meet as a congregation on Zoom (due to COVID-19 restrictions) to:

  • Respond to your questions regarding CA RSC’s recommendation for our next CA Rabbi,

  • Give you an opportunity to meet our recommended Rabbi,

  • and Vote on whether to accept the CA RSC’s Rabbi recommendation.

 

In this booklet we provide you with the same written materials made available to those who attended our recommended candidate’s virtual visit. You may also access those documents, as well as several recorded videos and podcasts featuring our recommended finalist, on our CA website's "Journey to a New Rabbi" page. For your convenience, you will find direct links to those online resources in this mailing.

 

The recommendation we put forward to the congregation today is based upon the criteria identified by CA members as the most important experience, knowledge and personal qualities for our next CA rabbi. The Board unanimously accepted the CA RSC’s rabbinic recommendation earlier this month. So today, after many months of conducting what we know has been a fair and comprehensive process – and after careful consideration of our top two candidates – the members of the CA RSC are proud, confident, and unanimous in recommending that the members of the congregation approve Rabbi Celia Surget as our next CA Rabbi. 

Rabbi Surget’s resume, interviews, virtual visit and references all reflect her outstanding qualifications as a rabbi. More than that, they confirm that she meets our congregational criteria, demonstrating that she is: 

  • A Religious and Spiritual Leader whose experience and references clearly affirm her reputation as an inspirational, scholarly, devoted, motivational, open-minded and beloved rabbi who superlatively performs the full duties of a senior or solo rabbi in her current position, and who has a deep understanding of, and expertise in, the role of music in worship and spiritual life. 

  • An Inspiring Educator who will help us continually improve, expand and innovate our educational programs for both children and adults (including camps, tours and retreats), and keep our youth involved in Jewish education. 

  • A Compelling Communicator who is able to communicate warmly and effectively with people of all ages, interests and backgrounds; who inspires, engages and motivates congregants; and who demonstrates superior listening skills. 

  • An Approachable Companion who is genial and outgoing, and who sees her rabbinic responsibilities including getting to know, listen to, hear, appreciate and understand our members, and to support their efforts to be part of, and to contribute to, our CA community. 

  • A Leader in the Jewish Community and the Larger Community with the proven ability to collaborate with other Jewish clergy, establish contacts and relationships with interfaith congregations, interact appropriately and effectively in important and influential representational roles, and make CA proud to call her our Rabbi. 

  • A Catalyst for Change and a community builder who can lead CA now and into the future by attracting new members (especially young members and families); using electronic technology and other interactive approaches to expand our outreach to a wide range of members and potential members; reinvigorating our youth programs; supporting and promoting all categories of diversity both within our congregation and the larger community; and designing and implementing innovative programs and practices that inspire congregants to join her on her visionary journey. 

  • A Role Model and A Mensch who lives her life in a manner that underscores Jewish values. A Rabbi who is compassionate, intuitive, joyful, creative, accessible, ethical, trustworthy, open-minded, humble, hardworking and dedicated; a Rabbi who goes out of her way to be helpful and supportive, who champions social action and community service in response to Jewish values, who takes a stand on behalf of her congregation members and the Jewish community against bullies and other anti-semitic actors, and who sees and appreciates the innate value in each and every human being. 

 

We strongly encourage you to attend the January 31, 2021, CA all congregational meeting. 

We are tremendously grateful for, and proud of, the work of every member of the RSC. We also want to thank every member of Congregation Albert, the Congregation Albert Board, and most especially Board President Dale Atkinson, for your trust in us, and for your support throughout the rabbi search process. We look forward to your action on our recommendation. 

Charna Lefton

Joe Weiss

CA RSC Members:  Joel Berger, Susan Keith, Michael Potok, Andy Schultz, Sarah Winger, and Dale Atkinson (ex-officio) 

RABBI CELIA SURGET'S

PERSONAL STATEMENT

In his book I’m God, You’re Not, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner retells a story Martin Buber told of the Baal Shem Tov:

Once a man saw a beautiful bird high atop a tree. No one else saw it. A great longing came over him to reach the bird see it up close. But the tree was too high and there was no ladder. So he devised a plan. He persuaded people who stood there with him to form a pyramid to whose top he could climb and reach the bird. Those who helped knew nothing of the bird; they never even saw it. But the man who did see it could never have been able to reach the bird without them. Indeed had any of them left his or her place, then everyone would have fallen to the earth.

 

Rabbi Kushner understands this story as a parable for congregational life: a congregation is a “human pyramid.  Its goal is to raise more and more of its members high enough to reach the bird’s nest.”

 

We often place too great an importance on the goal. Yes, to have an objective and to strive for it is important. Without these, we would not learn, we would not appreciate the developments we witness on a daily basis, and we certainly would not perceive and appreciate how much we grow as individuals.

 

But we cannot limit the point of the story to the teaching that, as a congregation, goals are important.  We do not give the Baal Shem Tov sufficient credit for the more discreet, yet even more important lesson that he gives us.

 

The process in which we engage, the journey we take to achieve our set objectives, deserve even more focus, for that is what builds us, and makes us stronger, better people and more empowered Jews.

 

The pyramid is the core of the story: why we build it and what we achieve when we have built it is not nearly as important as simply building it.  In order for it to be strong, thought needs to have gone into its architecture: who are the people best suited to support the base, who are those who will be most useful on top? Is anyone feeling hurt or disgruntled by their assignment, is each individual feeling respected and included, and not simply used for what others perceive they can offer?

 

Only when these questions are answered can the pyramid be successfully built, in a collegial and trusting atmosphere. It is not an easy process, arguing may well ensue, and part of the challenge lies in the manner in which these potential disagreements might be resolved. That being said, each member of the pyramid also needs to be conscious of their own limitations and  be prepared to take on a different role than the one originally anticipated; and this means that others will have to roll up their sleeves and step up to the plate.  

 

The pyramid is metaphor for my understanding of a strong, healthy and vibrant congregation.

 

I have been fortunate to be involved with two large communities, in Paris and greater London, that strived to involve as many individuals as possible in community life; the leadership did not lie with one small group and the programming did not depend on the goodwill of a few. As a rabbi serving communities that embrace that model, it is my responsibility to get to know as many of our members as possible, to listen to them, to hear, appreciate and understand what they are asking for, and support them in their efforts to contribute.

 

For each of the communities, the challenge was different: in Paris, I was tasked with helping a community engage in a process of healing and recovery, and we indeed went from strength to strength, rebuilding the trust that had been broken, engaging and inviting in new members to the point where we found ourselves struggling to fit everyone in at the close of Yom Kippur.

 

The congregation I currently serve in the UK faces a different struggle- we are growing, too fast some might say, and some of our longstanding members struggle with the changes that growth brings. In both situations, as different as they are, I see that being able to apply the model of the pyramid made, and makes, the difference.

 

Using the tools of my profession, I engage in this form of outreach every day: services, lifecycle events, classes, attempting to call each of our members before the High Holy Days, handwritten thank-you notes, even encounters in the supermarket become a shared experience upon which I can build and/or strengthen a relationship with a particular congregant.

 

There is one reality about the pyramid described by the Baal Shem Tov which is hard to ignore, especially in these times: the pyramid is built outside, is exposed to the elements and is therefore fragile and vulnerable. As my community in London faced the challenges presented by the pandemic, I realized that despite the fear, the sadness, the anxieties, the anger, the frustrations my congregants and myself are experiencing, our vision has not changed and my role as rabbi has remained the same. My personal challenge has been to learn how to lead and accompany my congregation as we adapt our pyramid, as we strive to achieve our vision.

 

I miss in-person interactions with congregants; these special, sacred moments are what I most appreciate about the role I am privileged to hold. While it is hard at the moment to have a clear understanding of what lies ahead, I know that I will carry with me the lessons I have learned from being a rabbi during this pandemic, and look forward to drawing upon these experiences to strengthen my rabbinate.

 

One of my favorite Hebrew words is  דקש Kadosh, because of its meaning- while it is usually translated as “holy” or “sacred”, it first means “distinct”, “separate” or “unique”. Building a pyramid, growing a community is kadosh- it is an act that brings together a group of people with a shared purpose and a shared vision that only they can experience in a unique way. And as a rabbi, it is my privilege to be a part of that journey, of that sacred act. 

Click here for

Rabbi Surget's résumé

WRITING SAMPLES

FROM RABBI SURGET

SHABBAT SERVICES,
HIGH HOLY DAY SERVICES,
A BAR MITZVAH AND MORE....

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