Facebook: The Place For Synagogue News

Facebook posts tell a sad story of synagogue life.

On Friday, Rabbi Barry Lutz posted his Facebook page that he can be reached at his Gmail address. That spurred my curiosity that something was wrong. Barry had been at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, CA since 1984, and served as the Senior Rabbi since 2009.

There is so much about this story that I don’t know. We have tremendous access to information on the Internet, but we don’t know all of the facts. People share lots of feelings, especially when such a life-changing experience occurs.

So I have read hundreds of Facebook posts. And what I have been able to surmise is – and pardon my bluntness – that Rabbi Lutz was fired late last week, and that the Assistant Rabbi resigned. And just today, both the bios of both rabbis have been removed from the masthead on the synagogue’s website.

The synagogue’s board had scheduled a Town Hall to be held next week, and actually scheduled another one yesterday encouraging congregants to attend one of them. We all know that employment issues are legal issues, and a synagogue board will rarely share any details as to the reasons. Nor should they.

In reading through the Facebook posts, I was struck by many things. So many people – many congregants and colleagues – expressed support and appreciation for Rabbi Lutz. I was also struck by the number of former congregants who shared their dismay as well as love and appreciation for Rabbi Lutz.

The synagogue’s board minutes were also posted on the synagogue’s website (great transparency). The Minutes told a story of financial challenges around dues and fundraising and that there appears to be a number of resignations of congregants. The Minutes state that at some point in the summer they were projecting a membership of 291, far below their current membership listing of 531 families on the URJ website.

Unless there is a substantial endowment, it also seems a bit low to support a clergy team of two full time rabbis and a cantor, let alone other fulltime staff.

From the Facebook posts and the Minutes, I also learned that there are 32 B’nai Mitzvahs to be held in the coming months. I feel especially badly for those families, and the Cantor to whom the brunt of the preparation will fall.

The Facebook posts describe statements from board members that changes had to be made as there was a threat that the synagogue would have to close its doors in January. The reports from yesterday’s Town Hall shared that board members expressed a need to develop a 3 to 5-year plan.

Today, if you were to look at the synagogue’s Facebook page or website, you would not know that anything is going on.

Throughout the United States, churches and synagogues are experiencing membership challenges. Temple Ahavat Shalom is certainly no exception. Obviously, this synagogue has some very serious challenges. The congregation’s inability to hold on to congregants beyond B’nai Mitzvah or Confirmation is a phenomena experienced by so many synagogues today. Maybe the action plan to move forward begins with a change in clergy. For it to have happened how it did leaves many people with bad feelings.

I am a big believer in transparency. I love that this synagogue shares the board minutes on its website. But for what is the most serious challenge in the history of this synagogue, to have no mention of the Town Hall Meetings on its Facebook page or its website, the lack of transparency is troubling.

The synagogue’s board doesn’t need to defend its actions online. The board does need to acknowledge the feelings of congregants and to show that there is some game plan to move forward. Otherwise, it is likely that congregant resignations will continue.

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