November 22, 2021

To Our WHC Family, 

Last month, the beautiful and meaningful Shabbat evening where Cantor Bortnick was installed as Washington Hebrew Congregation’s third Senior Cantor brought our community together. In person and online, we shared a special night in celebration of our past, present, and future. 

It is now time for us to come together again. I invite and encourage you to join in a process that will shape the future of our beloved Congregation.  

More than 20 years have passed since Rabbi Lustig became our Congregation’s sixth Senior Rabbi. During this time, synagogue life – and life in general – has changed dramatically. In light of Rabbi Lustig’s recent decision to step back from day-to-day activities and, after next year’s High Holy Days, move to emeritus status, we have been presented with a sacred responsibility. For the first time in over a generation, we will determine the spiritual leadership structure and attributes that will serve our Congregation and help us grow for many years to come.

The Path Forward

We know how important the decision about our Temple’s spiritual leadership is to our members, clergy, and staff. The Board of Directors and I are committed to an open, respectful process that gives our Congregation time to reflect, listen to, and communicate with each other so that, as a community, we can make thoughtful, informed choices. 

The next year or so will take us along a journey that will have three phases: Listening, Implementing, and DecidingThroughout, we want – and need – to hear from you!

To begin, we are forming a Transition Committee that will lead and guide us through these phases. Chaired by WHC First Vice President Lewis Wiener, the Committee will be a diverse and inclusive group of Temple members and current and past lay leaders. I am grateful that several of you have already expressed an interest in becoming involved. We will be reaching out to potential members of the Committee, and we look forward to working with each of you, whether as Committee members or otherwise as active participants. We also are finalizing plans to engage a consultant who has significant experience advising and assisting other congregations.

We are grateful that throughout the process, Rabbi Shankman and Cantor Bortnick – with more than 40 years of combined experience at WHC – in partnership with Rabbi Miller, Rabbi Fischel, our staff, Board, and many other congregant volunteers, will ensure that our Congregation’s spiritual, pastoral, life cycle, and programmatic needs continue to be served with compassion, distinction, warmth, and creativity. 

Phase I: Listening

In the first phase of our journey, we will listen and learn about what our Congregation considers essential to future spiritual leadership. We expect discussions to explore many subjects, including the role and responsibilities of a senior rabbi, whether future leadership comes from within Washington Hebrew or involves an addition to our community, and whether our clergy team should have a traditional or new leadership structure. Over the next few months, we will offer multiple opportunities for you to share your thoughts and suggestions in whatever way you feel is most comfortable. There will be small group discussions in person and over Zoom, a confidential email address to which you can send written communications, congregational questionnaires, and more. The Committee also will solicit input from our clergy and staff and will benefit from the considerable wisdom and resources of our consultant, the Union of Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and other large congregations that have navigated similar transitions. We are open to all ideas.  

We expect that the Transition Committee will be ready to share all they have heard, read, and learned with the Board of Directors in the first part of 2022. Using this information, the Board will determine the path forward and will outline the next steps to you in a Congregational communication like this one. 

Phase II: Implementing

The decisions made in the first phase of our process will determine the direction of the balance of our journey and the specific actions we will take to realize our vision for the future. This second phase may take us through much of the rest of 2022, though the exact timing will depend on the path we choose. 

If we decide to conduct a search, we will be ideally positioned to do so, as the CCAR’s rabbinical placement cycle occurs during the second half of each calendar year. The Transition Committee would lead any search, and it would involve a broad range of congregants, as well as our clergy and staff, to ensure that anyone we consider will meet the needs of our Congregation and integrate well with our existing team. 

Phase III: Deciding

Each step we take in the months ahead will lead us to the point where our Board will share its recommendation for the future of our clergy leadership with you.


Then, it will be up to you. Washington Hebrew’s Constitution specifies that the final decision on clergy leadership is to be made by a vote of the membership. So, at the conclusion of our journey, having listened to and learned from each other, we will come together as a Congregation to vote, and we will collectively celebrate and conclude this process of ensuring that our treasured Temple will go, as we always have, from strength to strength.  

Friends, we have a remarkable opportunity in front of us to chart the course for our future. This is a critically important time for Washington Hebrew Congregation. I look forward to taking this once-in-a-generation journey with you.


Mark Director.png

Mark D. Director

President, Washington Hebrew Congregation