Rabbinic Transition

Rabbinic Transition Listening Sessions

Share With Us text and two quote balloons on white backgroundFor the first time in 30 years, our beloved and dynamic synagogue is in transition, and as we prepare ourselves for this change and challenge, the Board appointed a Rabbinic Transition Committee to take stock of our organization and better understand where we are and where we would like to be. In collaboration with all congregants, we aim to listen, shape, and share a future for Washington Hebrew, asking for their hopes, ideas, and vision for the future.

We’ll bring open ears, kind hearts, and even a little nosh. So choose a date and time that works for you, then RSVP by clicking the button below. We’re keeping groups limited to 10 people at a time to promote conversation, but if more sign up, we will add facilitators and sessions at the same date and time.

There are dozens of Listening Sessions to choose from, and you need to attend only one.

You can come to Temple or the Julia Bindeman Suburban Center or join us online over Zoom.

We have Sessions scheduled during the day and in the evening; on weekdays and weekends.

You can come to a general session or one for a specific auxiliary or affinity group.

General Listening Sessions

The general listening sessions have concluded.

Listening Session Schedule for Auxiliaries, Affinity Groups, and Cohorts

Sunday, May 15

  • 9:15 am, Temple — Religious School Parents
  • 9:15 am, JBSC — Religious School Parents

Other ways to participate

If you are more comfortable speaking one-on-one, we invite you to reach out directly to any Transition Committee member (see below). You can also send an email to transition@whctemple.org, or call the Temple at 202-362-7100.

To share your views and visions in writing, please email iwish@whctemple.org. The only person who has access to this mailbox is our Rabbinic Transition Committee consultant, Rabbi David Wolfman. Unless indicated otherwise in the email, the sender’s identity will remain confidential.


The Rabbinic Transition Committee

Lewis Wiener, Chair

Linda Adams

David Berz

Dan Caplan

Mark Director

Nancy Duber

Lindsay Ellenbogen

Janet Katz

Chris McCannell

Ellen Miller

Paul Nass

Nell Shapiro

Jennifer Cornfeld Schenker

Laura Siegel

Joshua A. Weinberg

Jeff Weiss

Peter Winik

Joyce Winslow

Lori Wise

Rick Woler


Washington Hebrew is blessed with a special community and a rich 170-year history. We now have before us a rare opportunity to chart the course of our Congregation’s future. We have begun a process to listen and better understand our Congregation’s thoughts and wants for the Temple. The following outlines the three phases of the process, where we are now, and additional details.

  • September 2021: Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig announces he is stepping back from the day-to-day activities of the Congregation.
  • November 2021: WHC Board of Directors outlines the process to shape the future of the Congregation.
  • November 2021 – February 2022: Board and Transition Committee Chair Lewis Weiner review interest and recommendations for the Committee. Transition consultant Rabbi David Wolfman engaged to guide the process.
  • February 2022: Introduction of Transition Committee (members listed below in the FAQ).
  • April/May 2022: Transition Committee begins Phase I – Listening via small group meetings (see above to sign up!), and confidential email.
  • Spring 2022: Transition Committee reviews, discusses, and synthesizes all the information they have gathered. Their report is shared with the Board of Directors.
  • Spring – End of 2022: Phase II – Implementing. The Board will determine the path forward and will outline the next steps. 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. If we decide to conduct a search, we will be ideally positioned to do so.
  • TBD: Phase III – Deciding. Washington Hebrew’s Constitution specifies that the final decision on clergy leadership is to be made by a vote of the membership.



No.  Rabbi Shankman and Cantor Bortnick, who have each been with Washington Hebrew for more than two decades, will provide leadership, strength, and continuity during this period of transition.

Rabbi Wolfman has a wealth of experience advising many congregations, boards, and clergy as they navigated the transition process.  More specifically, Rabbi Wolfman has been an ordained reform Rabbi for over 35 years and served as the Director of the Reform Movement’s Commission on Rabbi – Congregational Relations for over 15 years.  He authored the widely respected Rabbinic/Congregational Handbook.  He is familiar with Washington Hebrew Congregation and knows Rabbi Lustig and other members of our clergy. 

It is common for clergy members to seek advice or have conversations with people outside of their congregation about the extraordinary challenges or their roles and responsibilities. In fact, the Joint Placement Commission of HUC and the CCAR require all Rabbinic students to have a Rabbinic mentor while in school and during at least the early years of their Rabbinate.  Our clergy have served and continue to serve as mentors to younger clergy.  We also encourage (and pay for) our clergy to consult with others who can serve as a sounding board and be a resource.  In his practice, Rabbi Wolfman consults with both congregations and individual clergy members, and he has consulted with Rabbi Shankman from time to time over the last three years.

Rabbi Wolfman and the Board believe he can and will provide us with objective and professional guidance that will enhance our ability to make an informed and thoughtful decision, notwithstanding his prior consultations with Rabbi Shankman. Rabbi Shankman agrees with this view and Rabbi Wolfman will not have any further individual consultations with any of our clergy.

His role will be to

  • Provide us with a framework and guidance to ensure we fully consider our clergy structure and needs.
  • Gather relevant information about ourselves and the trends within the Reform movement.
  • Train Transition Committee members how to conduct effective and targeted listening sessions with our congregation.
  • Consider all options that could best serve our congregation going forward.

In the end, the decisions how we will proceed will be ours.  We are not looking to anyone on the outside to advocate for a particular path for us to follow.

In the first phase of our journey, the Transition Committee 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.
  • 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.

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, following Phase I 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.

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.

Article VI, Sec. 2

“The Senior Rabbi shall be elected and the relationship dissolved by a majority vote of the members of the Congregation present and voting at an annual or special meeting of the Congregation, provided that notice that this issue will be presented to the members of the Congregation for consideration is mailed to each member of the Congregation at least ten days prior to the presentation of the question for vote. Voting by the members at an annual meeting or special meeting on any question presented under this Section shall be by secret ballot.”