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One Woman Wants To Make It Way Easier To Find a Rabbi

Rebecca W. Sirbu wants to help you find a better rabbi. And she wants to help rabbis of all stripes find gigs — whether at a congregation or somewhere else.

Her answer:

“Need someone with strong analytic skills, the ability to work well with a variety of people, and knows how to speak passionately for a cause?,” RabbiCareers asks potential employers on its website. “Well, you might be looking for a rabbi!”

The new online portal aims to address three trends in the rabbinic field.

There are considerably fewer pulpit jobs than a decade ago. And as a result, ordained rabbis are working in an ever broader range of fields – from hospital chaplains over non-profits to Hillel campus workers. At the same time, rabbinic backgrounds are getting more and more diverse in terms of gender, sexual orientation and spiritual beliefs.

“There has been a rise in the number of congregations unaffiliated with any Jewish denomination,” said Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu, the founder of RabbiCareers, in a press release. “These communities do not have access to the denominational rabbinic placement process and have a hard time finding rabbis.”

Rabbi Rebecca Siru

RabbiCareers wants to be the solution to all of these changes. And in doing so, Sirbu expects that the job portal will disrupt and “upend the existing rabbinic placement system.”

RabbiCareer’s founder, Rabbi Sirbu, is also the director of Rabbis Without Borders, and both of her projects are hosted by Clal, a Jewish think thank and leadership training organization.

In 2015, Rabbis Without Borders started volunteering their 200-plus rabbis for services in underserved Jewish communities. And in doing so, they discovered a number of communities that actually had funds to hire a rabbi – they just couldn’t find anyone, because they were unaffiliated with any Jewish denomination or movement.

Now, these communities can go on RabbiCareers and search for one online. Basically, the site is taking century-old traditions of finding a rabbi and updates them for the 21st century.

It’s not only more and more congregations that are nondenominational, there is also a rise of rabbinical schools in that tradition. One of the biggest is the Hebrew College, which graduated its first class of rabbis in 2008. It appears to lure away students from more established programs.

“I felt like I didn’t fit into the boxes the other schools offered, and Hebrew College didn’t force me to,” Lev Meirowitz Nelson told the Forward in 2015. Among other things, the school doesn’t force their students to keep kosher or not use electricity on the Sabbath.

Since rabbis are usually placed by the established rabbinical schools – like the Jewish Theologial Seminary – or denominational organizations, communities have a harder time finding these graduates.

At the same time, many congregations are merging or shutting down, which makes it harder for rabbis to find a job in a synagogue. “There’s no jobs for these kids,” Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who teaches rabbinics at Ziegler, told the Jewish Telegraph Agency two years ago.

In today’s modern life, “almost 50% of the rabbinate is now employed in ‘non-pulpit’ positions,” said Sirbu. Another reason why she stared RabbiCareers. “We can help build a bridge between a rabbi looking for a non-traditional job and an employer who is looking for a strong candidate.  Rabbis often have a unique skill set that can be useful in many organizations.”

RabbiCareers allows prospective employees and employers to connect online in a few simple steps. In their job listings, they try to show diversity. After all, these days, rabbis work in schools, college campuses, non-profit organizations, hospitals, community centers or the military. Or somewhere else entirely.

Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @lillymmaier.

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