For Rabbi Laurence Malinger of Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, keeping his congregants engaged means pursuing high standards and thinking outside the box.
“Just like lawyers and doctors have to take courses to maintain their license, rabbis must also stay on top of their Torah studies as well as practical applications like leadership skills, developing lay rabbinic relationships, and helping congregants find a meaningful Jewish path,” said Malinger, who has been religious leader of Temple Shalom for 13 years.
Malinger was able to pursue all those goals and more as a participant in an intensive continuing education program of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He was one of two Reform rabbis in the state to take part in the Keter Torah program this past year, digging deep into Jewish text and Judaic studies, counseling and practical rabbinics, worship, spirituality and ritual, congregation dynamics and leadership, education, and religious action.
Malinger completed 118 hours of study for the first level of the program and aims to double that this year, he said. The program includes workshops, web conferences, and independent study.
“The program helps me strengthen myself as a rabbi, which helps strengthen my community,” said Malinger. “Stronger programming means more meaningful worshiping experiences, where people are engaged and feel that the experience is relevant for their everyday lives.
“Rabbis need to create an environment of learning that is outside of the boxed norm. Learning can be in a classroom, but if we take the class to an orchard as we study Sukkot, for example, we can make a real connection to the land. We could create a hevruta group atmosphere if we study Maimonides together over a lovely meal at a local restaurant,” said Malinger, who lives with his wife, Samantha, and their three children in Aberdeen. The temple has 320 member households.
“The Keter Torah program honors and recognizes rabbis who have intentionally set out to enhance their skill sets and ability to bring excellent leadership to their synagogues and organizations,” said Rabbi Deborah Prinz, director of CCAR’s program and member services and its Joint Commission on Rabbinic Mentoring. “This deepens and enriches the ability of rabbis to lead in an increasingly complex Jewish community so that the Jewish community ultimately is strengthened.”
Being immersed in learning helps Malinger understand the shifting expectations of today’s Jewish community, he said. “Gone are the days when parents just dropped kids off at religious school. We are finding new ways to educate not just the students but also their parents in an atmosphere of intergenerational learning.”
The program enabled Malinger to demonstrate his commitment to his congregation and community and to Jewish life, overall, by devoting the time and intellectual energy to intensive continuing education, said CCAR chief executive Rabbi Steven A. Fox.
“Congregation rabbis’ lives are filled with multiple demands,” Fox said. “Those who add formal programs of learning to their agendas are exemplary in their dedication to their work and their quest to serve their congregants in the most comprehensive, sensitive way.”