Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition: An Amalgam – Part 4 of 7

Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition:
An Amalgam – Part 4 of 7 

Meyer Berlinsky Grows Icier and Icier,
As Upbeat Synagogue Programming and Activity increase,
and New Members Join Outside His Zone of Control

Continued from Part 3                   Continued at Part 5

The strangest opposition came from Meyer Berlinsky.  In my two years at Ohaiv Sholom, Meyer Berlinsky — who would criticize employees at Ohaiv Sholom freely and often, but rarely would compliment, if ever — notably complimented me only once.  Meyer Berlinsky’s only compliment of me in two years came at a meeting when he chided Rhonda Tuchman for having allowed the visiting Rabbi Ezra Warshovsky, my immediate predecessor who had been terminated from OSP after ten years of service and had become a paid fundraiser for an Israeli charity, access to the Shul membership list.  “We have to recognize that Rabbi Warshovsky no longer is our Rabbi,” Meyer Berlinsky said.  “Rabbi Weiss is our rabbi.  And we have to stand by our Rabbi.”

But Meyer Berlinsky otherwise did not compliment or stand by the Rabbi.  On the contrary, with Shul activity and momentum shifting into a higher frequency than OSP had experienced in many years, Meyer Berlinsky increasingly resented my growing role at the center of the increased hub of Shul activity.  For two years during the post-Rabbi Warshovsky interregnum when the Shul had no Rabbi, Herb Levine had endeavored to fill a pseudo-rabbi role while Meyer Berlinsky became the centerpiece of every other avenue of Shul life.  Just as Herb Levine had difficulty later re-adapting to a role subordinate to a duly ordained Rav when I was hired, so Meyer Berlinsky increasingly was pained by a perceived “loss of control.”  When members came to me for private pastoral counseling, Meyer Berlinsky demanded that I tell him the names of who was seeing me and why.  I explained that, as a matter of professional ethics and responsibility, I am not at liberty to comply with such a directive.  Once, as he and I were talking in the synagogue lobby, several congregants lined up and, one-by-one, complimented me for the synagogue’s record-setting Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services of Autumn 2006, then walked past him. Meyer Berlinsky became bitter towards me.

I approached Meyer Berlinsky and the Board in 2006 to fund a vision I had for bringing our High Holy Days chazan, Cantor Elazar Matok, to the Shul more frequently during the coming year, at $1000 per visit.  The Board turned me down.  I thereupon solicited and secured a private donor’s agreement to fund the cost of bringing the Cantor.  I considered the news quite exciting, but when I reported that development to the Board, Meyer Berlinsky initiated a particularly disturbing half-hour Board discussion about the unknown and unpredictable perils and dangers of bringing the Cantor to the Shul, the concerns over workers’ compensation insurance and coverage, and other “what-ifs.”  Nevertheless, Cantor Matok came to the synagogue, pursuant to the donor’s anonymous gift, on Chanukah in December 2006, and Ohaiv Sholom celebrated its largest, best-attended, most successful Shabbat Chanukah event in its history.  The Shul was jam-packed, presenting a program that included a Shul-children’s Youth Choir, a Hebrew Schoolers’ Choral Group, a pre-service children’s scavenger-hunt program that assured that parents and children would attend in large numbers, and the publicized main service that featured Chazan Matok. With the biggest turnout in Chanukah history at Ohaiv Sholom, participants complimented and congratulated me warmly.  Meyer Berlinsky had one brief comment:  “The service was too long.”

Nothing was more stark and bemusing than Meyer Berlinsky’s icy silence at the Bat Mitzvah of his granddaughter, Britney Jones.  I had met several times with Meyer Berlinsky’s daughter — the girl’s mom — Bonnie, and with her husband, Bret, a friendly non-Jewish gentleman.  I was deeply and particularly sensitive to the issues arising from the couple sponsoring and conducting a bat mitzvah in an Orthodox synagogue for an intermarried couple whose non-Jewish paternal side of the family would attend in full force. Guided by that sensitivity, the Bat Mitzvah service proceeded flawlessly, and my sermon was widely praised by the congregants, the family — virtually everyone in the packed Shul.  Except Meyer Berlinsky.  In contrast to the very warm thanks and gratitude expressed to me by Bret Jones, by Bonnie, and by Bret’s family, Meyer Berlinsky never said so-much as “Thank You” for the successful Bat Mitzvah I conducted for his daughter and granddaughter, respectively the Mom and the young lady.  In my entire rabbinic career, that silence stands alone.

There were four seminal issues that particularly enraged Meyer Berlinsky after the wonderfully successful High Holidays of Fall 2006: (i) the Budget Matter, (ii) the Senior-Discount Matter, (iii) the matter of the unpaid Jones Bat Mitzvah membership, and (iv) the extraordinarily successful Purim 2007 celebration.

The Budget Matter: The Scandal of the Severely Flawed,
If Not Falisified,  Budget Report

From the time I had arrived in August 2005, I had been promoting certain critical issues as the centerpieces of my emerging vision for Ohaiv Sholom’s revitalization from its institutional malaise and significant decline.  Among them, I pressed for the construction of a Mikvah, particularly after I learned that $75,000 in cash had been sitting in a Mikvah Fund account, having been raised years earlier for that purpose, but never having been expended to fruition.  Second, I pressed for hiring a high-quality Youth Director for a significant salary, such as the $45,000 per annum that Rabbi Kramer. had been paid during his brief tenure.  Meyer Berlinsky and Louis Minsky, seeking to dampen my campaign for these two priorities, responded by presenting to the Board a comprehensive balance sheet and small-font line-item budget that depicted the Shul as mired in a severe financial crisis.  Thus, on its faces, the balance sheet and budget seemingly demonstrated to the Board that OSP could not possibly afford to retain a Youth Director because the Shul had taken in dramatically less money during High Holidays 2006 as compared to High Holidays 2005. The reason for the loss, it was explained by my outright antagonistic opponents, was that the synagogue had sustained a profound membership loss and reduced High Holiday attendance because people do not like the Rabbi.

The proffered reason for supposedly reduced High Holy Day receipts and attendance was absurd on its face.  Only two months earlier, the formal mailed written survey of the community had demonstrated strong support for the Rabbi, so strong that my contract had been extended automatically. Second, it was factually demonstrable that OSP, having completely run out of seating space at the High Holy Days, never before had accommodated so many people attending those services during the Days of Awe.  Third, it could be evidenced that the synagogue, after sustaining severe membership declines for several years, suddenly had staunched the losses ever since I had arrived, suddenly had registered at least 30 new membership households over the year before, and also exceeded the prior year’s monetary receipts and attendance at the Sephardic service.  My contractual capacity included serving as chief executive of the office, and I undertook to determine how the shul budget possibly could have sustained the reported loss of $25,000 in High Holy Days 2006 as compared to 2005. In the light of sharply contrasting impressionistic evidence demonstrating manifest growth and gains, rather than losses, I asked Paula and Rhonda to troubleshoot certain suspect data I promptly identified in the balance sheet and budget that Louis Minsky and Meyer Berlinsky had submitted to the Board.

In the course of only a few hours’ reviewing during one day, we uncovered that someone, presumably Louis Minsky or Meyer Berlinsky, had listed a $25,000 gift earmarked in 2005 by Mel Dillman to purchase a Torah scroll as though it had been income generated amid theHigh Holiday 2005 dues and seat sales.  In reality, that $25,000 had been given for one special earmarked purpose, utterly unrelated to the High Holidays, designated solely for purchasing a Torah that would be celebrated in June 2006 during Shavuot season.  Thus, because an extra $25,000 wrongly was added to the line item for 2005 High Holiday income, the Year 2006 High Holiday receipts initially had seemed smaller than those of the previous year — because the Year 2005 numbers had been inflated wrongly by placing an unrelated $25,000 Torah-purchase donation as though the money had come in from the sale of new memberships and High Holy day seats. In fact, then, 2006 High Holiday receipts had sharply outstripped those of 2005. In addition, we found several other manifest discrepancies and highly suspect projections, as well as an outright black-and-white subtraction error that accounted for another $19,000.  As a result of the few hours that Rhonda, Paula, and I spent amid one day’s other office activities and responsibilities, we succeeded in demonstrating to the Board the good news that the severe financial losses had been wrongly reported, and we found more than enough money available in the budget to pay for a $45,000 Youth Director.  Nevertheless, it still would take eight months more in administrative delays and ploys before Scott Insler would be hired at that salary.[1]

Instead of thanking me for detecting the errors, there was an uproar within the Board.  Meyer Berlinsky, Jerry Miller, and Louis Minsky led the expressions of outrage among my opponents on the Board, furious that the Rabbi had not accepted at face value the numbers that they originally had presented.  They fumed that the Rabbi instead had the temerity to expend office staffers’ time by asking them to review data. Even though — or perhaps precisely because — those efforts proved fruitful: a Youth Director was hired, and the Mikveh effort progressed.

The Scandal of  Meyer Berlinsky
Unilaterally Granting Numerous Membership Discounts —
and The Impact of Those Personal Favors on His
Success in Soliciting “Blind Proxy” Votes for Board Elections
and Controlling Votes of Discounted Board Members

In the course of reviewing the balance sheet and budget data, we unexpectedly also uncovered two additional revelations. First, we learned to our surprise that a significant number of members were paying large discounts off the $2,000 annual membership. Of particular concern, it emerged that they could reduce their rates merely by asking Meyer Berlinsky personally for a discount. Although the Shul has a formal stated mechanism and committee procedure for assessing need and granting dues discounts generously for those in need, and that discount process is meant to be liberally administered, it was uncovered that: (i) during the prior twelve months, only one person had filled out a form, as required, to request a discount, and (ii) for years, Meyer Berlinsky unilaterally had been allocating membership-dues discounts — neither monitored, reviewed, nor otherwise authorized by any synagogue authority. The Board was unaware of the process or its scope. Among those whose membership dues Meyer Berlinsky apparently had discounted unilaterally appeared to be Board members who reliably voted on Board issues as Meyer told them to. These unilateral secret discounts had imposed on the Shul a substantial five-figure reduction in revenue, which further accounted for the supposed inability to fund a Youth Director. When I reported this discovery to the Board, in accordance with my fiduciary duties, Meyer Berlinsky was outraged and his ally Jerry Miller further was incensed.

The “Senior Discount” Matter

Yet another financial discovery uncovered during the day’s comparatively brief review of the budget figures presented by Louis Minsky and Meyer Berlinsky revealed that the Shul was offering a “Senior Citizen Discount” that was being used to benefit primarily a very small handful of the Shul’s wealthiest millionaire members, including Meyer Berlinsky, Dave Bodinsky, and Arnold Stone.  Under the “Senior Citizen Discount,” introduced only within the prior two years or so, dues for anyone over 65 are reduced more than 60 percent, from $2,000 to $750.  It seemed important to advise the Board that the relatively new “Senior Citizen Discount” was being employed primarily to benefit a small number of very wealthy members.  Once more, Meyer Berlinsky was incensed that, pursuant to my fiduciary duties, I had revealed this finding to the Board’s attention.

The Matter of the Unpaid Jones Bat Mitzvah Membership

Finally, the Board had adopted a policy that no Bar or Bat Mitzvah service and ceremony would be permitted to take place at OSP unless the celebrating family had paid for a full $2,000 annual membership in advance. However, during the course of the comparatively brief budget review, it was learned that one particular family, the Jones Family, still had not paid membership dues, despite several months of their having been requested by the synagogue’s office and several promises by the mother, Bonnie Jones, over the course of several months to pay. I asked Jerry Miller — without identifying the family — what to do about a forthcoming Bat Mitzvah for which dues had not yet been paid.  Jerry Miller repeatedly said, in the presence of the Board, that “if the family does not pay, then cancel the Bat Mitzvah.”

Within the week after that Board meeting, Meyer Berlinsky paid a $1,000 membership for the Jones Family.  He instructed Paula Kaganowitz, the front-office bookkeeper, that a 50% membership discount was appropriate because Bonnie’s husband, Bret, is not Jewish and therefore ineligible for membership.[2]

The Coalition to Replace Me Takes Shape by Late 2006
and Quietly Moves to Control the Board by March 18, 2007

By late 2006, despite the enormous successes of the largest-ever High Holy Day celebrations, the hugest Chanukah celebration, sharply increasing membership, expanded services and classes, and money found to hire a substantially qualified Youth Director couple, a small coalition of my opponents inside the Board of Directors, and their insider friends, once again had taken shape with an evolving new plan to oust me.  Meyer Berlinsky was determined to replace me.  Benny Belcher, angry at Lisa for not using her professional connections at work to help him obtain a lucrative contract for his company, was determined to get me out.  The harasser wanted me out.  Martin Chait, Mike Goldstein’s poker friend, wanted me out.

And Mike Goldstein never stopped trying to stoke the flames of character assassination and to oust me, incensed against me ever since I had refused to accede to his plot to depose Meyer Berlinsky, and further after Herb and Stephanie Levine had undertaken to oppose me. For example, after having tried to oust me through the mailed public survey of Summer 2006, then having resigned from the Board when that survey’s results emerged so positively for the Rabbi, Mike Goldstein next turned to inducing certain Shul members to resign their membership to demonstrate a broad opposition against the Rabbi’s contract being extended. In the most memorable case, after canceling his own family’s membership, Mike Goldstein was seen and heard yelling at Simon Burstein outside the Shul on a Friday night in September 2006 for having renewed his Burstein Family membership in OSP after previously having assured Goldstein that he would cancel.[3]  Goldstein would continue relentlessly in the months ahead, leading to the March 2007 AGM, trying to mobilize for my ouster or, at least, non-renewal.

A New Controversy:  The Friday Night “Z’man  Minyan”

As Winter 2006 approached, yet another new controversy entered the political debate:  The impact of the “z’man minyan.”  Under Orthodox Jewish law, the Shabbat begins Friday night eighteen minutes before sunset.  Afternoon services are prayed at that time or earlier, and the Shabbat evening services begin immediately after.  Thus, Orthodox Shabbat services in the winter, during the “shortest daylight days” of Kentucky Standard Time can — and must — start approximately at 4:30 p.m.  By contrast, in the longer-daylight days of summer when the sun naturally sets later, augmented by the impact of Daylight Savings Time, Shabbat services can start as late as 8:10 p.m.  Under Orthodox Jewish law, within certain parameters not pertinent to this exposition, one may begin the Shabbat earlier than the stated sunset time.  Thus, for example, a 7:30 p.m. starting time may be moved earlier to 6:15 p.m.  However, one may not begin later. Thus, if the Shabbat time — the z’man (Hebrew word for “time”) — in December calls for starting Shabbat at 4:30 p.m., one could start earlier but would not be permitted to start later — e.g., not at 6:00 p.m.  Nevertheless, because OSP had been founded twenty years earlier primarily by families who were not studied in the ways of honest Orthodoxy, themselves not practicing an honestly Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, the Congregation adopted and institutionalized the distinctly non-Orthodox practice of starting their Friday night congregational services year-round at times between 6:00 and 6:15 p.m.

During OSP’s earliest years, when the influences of its founders not only were dominant but determinitive, Ohaiv Sholom enjoyed a large Friday night attendance every week.  Rabbi Warshovsky, my predecessor, had been sent by the Board to study voice training, and soon doubled as a cantor.[4]  There was a volunteer men’s choir, and people attended faithfully in large numbers, perhaps as many as 150.

As Rabbi Warshovsky’s ten-year tenure ensued, Friday night attendance at OSP steadily started dwindling.  The decline arose from a confluence of sociological and practical factors — none of them Rabbi Warshovsky’s fault.  The élan of a Singing Rabbi had lost its uniqueness, and the Rabbi’s particular form of chanting the service did not appeal to everyone.  Some no longer attended services regularly on Friday nights.  The other Orthodox congregation in Paducah had constructed a beautiful, new $3 million building and was operating a top-notch preschool under inspired directorship.  Meanwhile, a new group of younger, typically American or Sephardic worshippers, more Orthodox in their personal practices and lifestyles than the founders had been, started moving into Paducah and becoming part of the congregation.  In time, this newer group wanted to bypass the cantor and choir, and just worship timely, without the drama, and go home to their families earlier to enjoy the longer Friday night Shabbat home experience during the months of Kentucky Standard Time (KST).  As one manifestation of that new desire to worship in a less dramatic service and at the “z’man” — the actual proper time for starting the Shabbat prayers during the “shorter-daylight days” of KST — Phil Sandler established a weekly Friday night alternative service at his home because OSP permitted on its premises only the one Friday night service that worshipped at 6:00 or 6:15 p.m. year-round.  Several Ohaiv Sholom worshippers started attending the Sandler alternative service.

After Rabbi Warshovsky departed from OSP, it will be recalled that the shul proceeded approximately eighteen months without a Rabbi (or a cantor).  Effectively, Herb Levine, the Gabbai, acted as lay-“rabbi” during that period, relying for knowledge primarily on audiocassettes (“Torah Tapes”) to which he would listen while driving daily to and from work. This era marked a period of steep and rapid membership decline.  In time, as the energy and spirit of Friday night services at OSP waned without religious leadership or a cantor, choir members stopped attending.  Once the volunteer choir stopped coming, people who had been coming on Friday nights to hear them left.  A few joined the Sandler alternative service.  However, many other among those families either explored other congregations or stopped attending services on Friday nights altogether. Some among them decided to try Conservative or Reform Jewish temple services.

Meanwhile, as noted briefly above, the other Orthodox Jewish congregation in Paducah, “Paducah Chabad,” successfully implemented a $3 million renovation and rebuilding effort, culminating in a beautiful new building in the Lone Oak section of the city that opened a few months before I arrived, offering a more attractive alternative environment for individuals finding the OSP Friday night service increasingly hollow.  Even as the Paducah Chabad successfully was operating a preschool conducted by the Rabbi’s wife, a gifted and talented preschool director, and a fine afternoon supplemental Hebrew School, Ohaiv Sholom’s Board repeatedly refused my proposals to begin operating a preschool of our own, despite logistical presentations and demographic projections I submitted demonstrating the certain success of such an expansion of service.  Instead, over my proposed alternatives, it continued conducting an afternoon HebrewSchool under uninspired and manifestly flawed direction, leaving young families with children of tender age with only one realistic Orthodox address in Paducah to enroll their children into preschool. The social dynamic was inexorable: once enrolled at the Chabad preschool, certain families slowly would opt to transfer their synagogue-affiliation memberships there, too.  And sometimes, the grandparents — i.e., the age-60-Something OSP “founding generation” parents of the 30-Something parents moving to Chabad with their preschool children — would opt to follow their children and grandchildren, desiring to worship together on High Holy Days.  This slow but steady flow from OSP to Chabad, particularly during the eighteen-month interregnum with no rabbi or cantor before I arrived, further depressed OSP attendance on Friday nights.[5]

As a result of these synergizing forces combining to dampen the Friday night OSP service, by the time Lisa and I had begun traveling from Greenville to Paducah (and back) on Wednesday nights in mid-2005, months before we moved in, we already were hearing the depressing laments from our respective Paducah dinner hosts and their guests that Ohaiv Sholom’s past “glory days” were over, and that Ohaiv Sholom Friday nights had begun resembling a veritable “ghost town” of only 35 people, down 80 percent from the regular attendance several years earlier. When we arrived in Paducah, I worked immediately to reconvene the choir members, reaching out successfully to each of them in personal one-on-one meetings, and a meaningful revival of the earlier turnout was beginning to take shape.  Steadily, in only one year, regular weekly attendance on Friday nights climbed back from 35 towards 50-60 men and 20-25 women.  But then came Kentucky Standard Time (PST) and winter.

During the spring and summer Daylight Time months of 2005, OSP Friday services typically began at approximately 6:15 pm.  However, with the annual turning back of clocks to Kentucky Standard Time in November, the sun was setting well before 5:00 p.m.  Although the Ohaiv Sholom tradition in the Shul’s early years had been that, even in winter, everyone Orthodox who attends the Mincha Friday afternoon service then waits around for an hour or more, until 6:00 p.m. for Friday night Shabbat services to begin, the evolving community discipline to wait the 60-90 extra minutes had broken down during the eighteen months without rabbinic leadership. Orthodox worshippers, who would leave their work early on Friday afternoons to arrive home for the proper time to begin Shabbat, and who then would timely attend the 4:30 pm Mincha afternoon service, no longer would wait around the synagogue for another hour to accommodate the 6:00 p.m. worshippers.  The younger newcomers, more Orthodox in their personal practices and lifestyles, resented — having made their own weekly sacrifice to leave work early on Fridays — being asked to delay their family time and enjoyment of the Sabbath rest to accommodate other worshippers who were opting, instead, not to make that same sacrifice but to continue working at their places of employment well after Shabbat already had begun, another hour into the Day of Rest, then needing time to drive home, shower, and finally arrive at 6:00 pm.[6]

As a result of the breakdown in community cohesiveness and accommodation that already had begun during the second half of Rabbi Warshovsky’s tenure and that skyrocketed during the eighteen-month vacuum in rabbinic leadership, approximately 20 men who, in past years, may have waited 60 or even 90 minutes for the cantor-choir service instead were proceeding to conduct their own earlier, independent Friday night service on the OSP campus, beginning — like the Sandler alternative service — at a time consonant with the proper sunset time,  the “z’man.”  That earlier service became known as the “Z’man Service.”  With (i) some breakaways attending theZ’man Service, (ii) others attending at Sandler, (iii) others moving to Chabad, attracted by the lovely new building or the high-quality preschool, and (iv) others moving to neighboring Conservative or Reform temples, or just having dropped off because the choir once again had dropped off in the winter, the once-strong OSP Friday Night service of 150 regular worshippers had degraded and dissipated long before we had arrived. Nevertheless, among opponents of the Rabbi, I was singularly blamed for the decline in winter-season Friday night shul attendance.[7]

Challenges of Two More Severe Ruptures in Community Discipline and Unity
that Began and Intensified Before My Arrival: Accommodating the Hashkamah Service
and Recruiting Back Departed Sephardic Families
While Encountering Ashkenazic Opposition to Sephardic Services

In yet another challenge to its demographic integrity and congregational unity, OSP originally had been able to house both Ashkenazic Jews and Sephardim in one main service, conducted solely according to the Ashkenazic rite.[8]  Because OSP had so few Sephardic Jews in its community during its founding era, there was no meaningful expectation by Sephardim in OSP that they be accorded space or resources for their own separate service.  However, in time, the Sephardic community grew to more than a dozen households, exceeding the ten-man minimum needed to comprise a minyan (the minimum prayer service quorum).  They, too, did not appreciate the OSP tradition of cantor-and-choir, nor of delaying Friday night services 60-90 minutes to accommodate people still opting to work on the Sabbath, and they became a backbone of the Sandler alternative Friday night service.  Soon, they desired their own Shabbat morningservice, too. As Ohaiv Sholom languished for months during the end of Rabbi Warshovsky’s tenure, and then utterly demoralized during the rudderless interregnum without any rabbi, Edgar Berens — an OSP Board member of Sephardic heritage — was voted off the Board of Directors at the March 2005 AGM. The insider group had removed his name from the Official Slate and then gathered dozens, even scores, of “Blind Proxy” ballots to assure his ouster.  Berens proceeded to launch a Sephardic congregation elsewhere in Canarsie Hills. Even while I still was serving my Greenville Orthodox congregation, Ohaiv Sholom officers, including Mike Goldstein, were writing me, pleading with me to bring the Sephardim, who had gone with Berens, back to Ohaiv Sholom.

With more Sephardic Jews moving into McCracken County and a burgeoning ethnic demographic rift, I faced the challenge to help induce the 15 households of departed Sephardic daveners to come back to OSP from their new Sephardic minyan, to give the new Rabbi and Rabbanit a chance.[9]  I succeeded in great measure, but I had to agree they would be permitted to daven at Ohaiv Sholom according to the Sephardic rite, in their own “Sephardic Minyan.”  The request sought to inaugurate an innovation that was so dramatic a departure from OSP’s classic homogeneity that I deferred to Meyer Berlinsky as to whether such a service would be allowed. Meyer Berlinsky asked my opinion, and I endorsed the request but emphasized that my analysis was based simply on the parameters of Jewish law. I emphasized that the halakhah also would recognize a valid political-social-cultural dimension to the question, and I was obliged to defer to him and the Board.  Meyer Berlinsky stated that this did not have to be a Board decision, and he unilaterally authorized the proposal by the Sephardim to have their own separate Shabbat morning services.

The Sephardic Minyan was launched in a small room in one of Ohaiv Sholom’s trailers and soon moved into a larger space within the synagogue’s main lobby, subdivided by movable partitions. The group gained a steady following, soon attracting an average of 15 male worshippers every Shabbat morning.[10]

Meanwhile, yet another demographic group that arose within OSP sought their own earlier Shabbat morning service.  The main Shabbat service convened weekly from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon, and the Hashkamah (“Early Risers”) group wanted to begin their Shabbat morning service at 7:00 a.m.  Their reasons were variegated, and different members in their fifteen-household group had different reasons.  These included: (i) Jewish law mandates that certain morning prayers be recited before the time that a 9:00 a.m. service typically would recite them; (ii) an early morning service worships at a quicker, less melodious tempo and proceeds without an extended rabbinic sermon, thereby enabling worshippers to conclude their prayers and Torah reading in two hours — i.e., at least half an hour quicker than the main service — without racing through their prayers disrespectfully; (iii) such a service afforded a respectful alternative for individuals in OSP who did not prefer Rabbi Warshovsky’s particular style of cantorial chanting but liked him as a rabbi so did not want to hurt his feelings.  The Hashkamah service apparently began during a period when two non-practicing Orthodox rabbis lived in the community, teaching on the faculty of the IMW Jewish community school during the school’s brief era when it flirted with Jewish tradition.  Those rabbis were central motivators.  In time, they departed, but the service continued drawing approximately 15 men every Shabbat morning from 7:00-9:00 a.m.

This phenomenon of three parallel services could be interpreted in either of two ways. By having two auxiliary Shabbat morning services operating, in addition to the main Shabbat service, Ohaiv Sholom was offering choices and attracting 60-65 men and 30-35 women at the main service, with another 30 men at the other two services, thus attracting a total of 125 worshippers every Shabbat morning, rebuilding its numbers and primacy. For Rabbi supporters, the Hashkamah and Sephardic Shabbat morning services meant a total of about 30 more men, 30 more family memberships, 30 more participant households at Ohaiv Sholom functions and events, 30 more families from whom to attract children for the Shul’s youth programs, etc., than would have been if the services did not exist.  And, for Rabbi opponents, it was the Rabbi’s fault that the 30 men at the auxiliary services were not attending the main service, and that a main service that opponents wistfully surmised could be attended by 125 people was attracting only two-thirds its natural potential Thus, “the Rabbi [was] dividing the community.”

Continued “Investigations into the Rabbi”:
Desperately Searching for “Cause”:
Freezing the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund
and Declaring It “Closed Down”

In looking for ways to blame the Rabbi, new efforts and angles emerged regularly. The efforts to investigate me never stopped from the day I arrived and needed to unpack.  Ironically, in more than twenty years of my professional life before coming to Paducah, I had compiled a spotless record of ethical behavior.  Even my opponents would have said that I am very ethical and about as challenging to buy-off as anyone imaginable.  I have written extensively on ethics, and I was awarded the American Jurisprudence Award for Legal Ethics.

When I was named to a seat on the Board of Directors of the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) of McCracken County, one of my responsibilities was to solicit funds from fellow McCracken County rabbis during the annual BJE “Phon-a-Thon,” a multi-hour one-night-event when volunteers telephone prospective donors for contributions. As I sat at BJE’s Phon-a-Thon that night, calling rabbis alongside my colleague from the Reform denomination, Rabbi Darren Berger, many of the rabbis responded affirmatively to my solicitations and asked me to have the invoice mailed to their temples, not their homes, and their donations would be remitted from their respective “Rabbis’ Discretionary Funds.”  I asked colleagues in the Orthodox community about the practice of paying one’s charitable donations from one’s discretionary fund, and I received several authoritative e-mails from authoritative rabbinic authorities that it is thoroughly appropriate to pay a donation from a rabbi’s discretionary fund when the donation is one that the rabbi would not otherwise make but is compelled to contribute because of his position in the community. Thus, a Rabbi who pledges money for Israel or for a Torah aliyah honor must pay the gift from his own personal funds.  But a Rabbi who is compelled to pledge $180 to BJE because, in his role as Rabbi of a congregation, he sits on the BJE Board and is mandated to solicit colleagues to pledge, thereby obliging himself to donate, certainly may pay that compelled pledge from discretionary funds.[11]

As a BJE Board member, in the course of soliciting my colleagues for donations, I pledged $180 during the Phon-a-Thon, and I instructed that a check be drawn on my Rabbi’s Discretionary  Fund to pay the pledge.  Not only did I instruct transparently, but my very act of instructing arose from my insistence, when negotiating my contract with Ohaiv Sholom, that all my disbursements from my discretionary fund be subject to two outside signatures.  I am possibly the only rabbi in the world who does not have authority to disburse a single penny from my discretionary fund without double oversight, and I negotiated for exactly that transparency.

Meyer Berlinsky and Jerry Miller learned of my donation to the BJE, and they ordered Paula Kaganowitz immediately to freeze my Discretionary Fund. They ordered the check frozen and told Paula, in addition, they were “closing down the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund completely.”[12]  The Rabbi was misappropriating public charity funds!

An internal controversy ensued. I received a number of unequivocal letters from leading Rabbis stating that I had acted properly and ethically.  The OSP Board came under severe criticism from several rabbinical quarters.  And Meyer Berlinsky and Jerry Miller relented, unfreezing the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund and allowing the check to be remitted to BJE.

Continued from Part 3                   Continued at Part 5

[1] It was understood that a married Youth Director would offer a premium service for OSP over a single fellow because a married director’s wife also could devote time to working with the Shul’s young ladies.  To afford the cost of living in Paducah, a married Youth Director would need at least a $70,000 income package.  We had learned that bottom-line requirement from our experience with Rabbi Kramer., who had encountered severe personal financial stress because his $45,000 OSP salary and the supplement he earned from working at the McCracken County Kosher Butcher left him unable to make ends meet.  Realizing that a young person under severe financial stress in a new marriage would not be able to focus energetically and idealistically on implementing a dynamic program of youth-outreach work, I solicited, negotiated, and obtained a personal commitment from Mr. Fred Shapiro, the Director of Judaic Studies at the IMW Upper School, to hire the Youth Director whom OSP would hire.  He would be retained for a three-hour-daily $25,000 Judaic Studies teaching position.  Thus, the perfect Youth Director compensation package was in place: $45,000 from OSP and $25,000 from IMW, devoted to working with pre-teens and teens.  However, after the Ohaiv Sholom Board procrastinated for many months before hiring Scott Insler, Mr. Shapiro apologetically phoned me to advise that he no longer could wait for that Board to retain a Youth Director because he was obliged finally to fill the $25,000 three-hour-daily Judaic teaching position at his school.  As a result, we stood to lose Scott Insler. I negotiated personally and privately with Scott Insler, and we agreed that, in lieu of the IMW supplemental position, he could accept and maintain a low-pressure four-hour-daily bookkeeping position at the nearby Jewish Federation for $16,000 — and I personally would guarantee him the remaining $9,000 shortfall towards the $25,000 IMW income supplement on which he was relying. I would pay him either from funds I would raise for my Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund or, if donations to the Fund did not meet that goal, out of my personal pocket.

[2] Under the synagogue’s by-laws, non-Jews may not join OSP as members.  However, several non-Jews were paying dues anyway, motivated either by their interest in studying for Orthodox Jewish conversion or otherwise desiring to affiliate.  There never had been a Board discussion on whether a family having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony and celebration at the synagogue may receive a membership discount if one parent is non-Jewish. The argument for requiring full membership dues, even when one parent is not Jewish, is that the ceremony and service impose the same demands on the congregation and its professional staff, and the family enjoys full services and benefits from the congregation.  The argument against full membership could be that, although the same services and benefits also attend to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs celebrated by other one-parent families (e.g., those affected by divorce or death of a spouse), the membership fee in those situations is only $1,000.

[3] Burstein has been part of a poker game at which Mike Goldstein and Martin Chait play.  Like Goldstein and Chait, Burstein has children in the same carpool. Chait’s parents vacation with the Goldsteins and Bursteins.

[4] In the American Orthodox model, and in most models of Jewish Orthodoxy throughout the world and throughout 4,000 years of Jewish history, the rabbi is not expected to be a cantor, too.  Nor is such a dual role desirable because many normative congregations want the rabbi conducting the service and overseeing the congregation, while the cantor focuses on the singing.

[5] Within three months of my arriving in Paducah, I had detected this phenomenon and reported it to the OSP Board.  My report was discounted and my pleas for authorization to open a preschool and upgrade administration of our supplemental afternoon Hebrew School repeatedly were rejected and, finally, removed from the agendas of Board meetings.

[6] For Orthodox-practicing people, such a 60-90-minute wait is particularly painful because, if not deterred from praying promptly, they would be going home sooner, starting Shabbat sooner, having more time with friends at their Shabbat dinner tables, then more time reading and playing with their respective children afterwards, and even more time sleeping on Friday night.

[7] Friday night attendance picks up in the spring, as the sunset time naturally becomes later, particularly after PST begins, because a 6:15 p.m. starting time works for all groups.

[8] Ashkenazic Jews trace their ethnic lineage to countries and regions like England, Germany, northern France, and Eastern Europe.  Sephardic Jews trace their ethnic lineage primarily to Spain, North Africa, the Balkans, and South America.  OSP’s founders typically traced their lineages to Lithuania.  Therefore, OSP was exclusively and still is mostly Ashkenazic.  The prayer services of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews differ in text, tempo, chanting, and melodies.  Although Sephardic and Ashkenazic Orthodox traditions might seem similar to non-Jewish outside observers, the differences are stark enough to prompt each community to have its own rabbinic authorities and traditions.  The State of Israel, for example, recognizes both a Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and an Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.

In terms of English grammatical usage, the adjective for describing a Jew from one of these ethnic backgrounds is “Sephardic” or “Ashkenazic.” The plural noun is “Sephardim” or “Ashkenazim.”  Thus, for example, Sephardim are proud of their Sephardic heritage.

[9] In Ashkenazic and Yiddish terminology, a Rabbi’s wife is called a “Rebbetzin.”  In Sephardic and contemporary Hebrew terminology, she is a “Rabbanit.”

[10] As among and within Sephardic Jews, there are significant cultural differences, including different davening tempos and melodies, traditions and rites, between Sephardim tracing to Spain, Portugal, and Holland – and those tracing to North African countries normally identified nowadays as “Arab lands.”  In time, the OSP Sephardic service became oriented towards that latter group, the “Edot HaMizrach” (“Eastern Communities”), while Edgar Berens’s congregation struggled forward with a smaller group oriented towards the Spanish-Portuguese-Dutch traditions.

[11] I received these several authoritative rabbinic determinations in written opinions.

[12] Only one year earlier, when she was office manager, Stephanie Levine had refused even to complete the paperwork to open the Fund’s account when I asked her to do so, stating that “you’re not going to have any discretionary fund here, as far as I am concerned.”