Recently discharged from active military service, a young, inexperienced rabbi named Conrad Flowers seeks a position of service. It’s the mid-1970s, a time when people write letters to communicate and hesitate to make long-distance calls—too expensive. The rabbi’s main source of information is his seminary’s newsletter, and he scours the want ads. After several rejections, he applies for the position of rabbi at a temple in Central-Bella. The congregation is hesitant. Flowers is young and arguably unconventional. Even so, they decide to give him a chance, despite varied opinions in regard to his “modern ways.” Once on the job, Rabbi Flowers realizes military service was easy; his time at war barely compares with the ins and outs of a Jewish congregation, torn between past and present policies. Even within the temple environment, people are still just people. There are arguments, affairs, and scandals, even within the guidance of God’s law. The rabbi’s values are put to the test as he fights to keep Central-Bella from falling apart. Even he is still just a man, but with the aid of the Lord, he might have a fighting chance to bring peace to the temple and to his own questioning mind.
Jake: “Okay, everybody is here—good––time to stop the jabber.” Banging the gavel, he shouted, “This meeting is called to order. The only business before this special Board meeting is a recommendation by the Search Committee that we hire Rabbi Flowers as the first full-time rabbi of the Temple. That seems to be the consensus of the Search Committee that met with him twice and asked hundreds of questions. For the most part the rabbi answered their questions to the committee’s satisfaction. Who wants to start?” Barry Goldstein, treasurer, the insurance actuary: “I missed the first meeting because I was out-of-town but I sat through the second. I’ll tell you, this whole circus is absurd. We can’t afford this guy! We would need a colossal dues increase or a major fund raising crusade … neither is in the cards. The added expense together with this ever-increasing inflation will put us in Chapter Seven. Who’s going to raise all that money? Don’t look at me!” Tamara Bernstein, Barry’s wife and Sisterhood president: “Don’t pay any attention to Barry. He’s always predicting doom and gloom. I voted in favor of Rabbi Flowers because I think our young people need a young rabbi’s influence. We’ll find the money!” Lawyer Zeek Palmer: “Two year trial period … no more.” Dr. Henry Blumberg, long-time family doctor: “Rabbi Flowers seems like a pleasant, intelligent young man. I’d say ‘worth a try’. Those of us who can afford it should volunteer an extra contribution. I’ll start with a pledge of $1,000.” Dr. Phillip Golden: “We’ve had ‘Rabbi Wanted’ ads running in every logical publication for three months. We received ten responses before this one; none of them was interested when they found out where we were located. They wanted to stay in the large Jewish cultural centers on the East or West coasts or around the Great Lakes. The religious school seriously needs an energetic, young rabbi. The hospital is getting ready to bring in as many as 30 new doctors and their families. I’m afraid these new families won’t join our congregation because we don’t have a rabbi. That’s the reason (or excuse) given by some of the doctors that have not joined. I’m not at all convinced this young, yokel rabbi is up to the task; he’s a light weight. But under the circumstances, my worry is that Rabbi Flowers will reject us! But against my better judgment, I’ll pledge $1,000 to help out.” Ethel Lansky Williams, Alvin Lansky’s daughter: “To me he just doesn’t look or sound like a rabbi should look or sound. I hate to use an old cliché but this sorry excuse for a rabbi acts like he just fell off a turnip truck. And what’s going to happen to my dad? For years he’s been leading our services and teaching the confirmation class. My wonderful dad, Alvin Lansky, with his proudly trimmed beard, his sweet, rich voice, why he looks and sounds more like a rabbi than this red-neck kid ever will. What are you going to do? Kick my dad out cold turkey? Besides, can you imagine? If this kid had been our rabbi he would have refused to marry Frank and me. I wouldn’t give an extra dime to hire him.” Jake Berlin: “Ethel, to be brutally honest, even though your dad is a wonderful person and I love him dearly, he’s getting old, Ethel. Wake up! We’ll find a place for Alvin.” Grace Solomon, recording secretary, long-time office and business manager: “Thanks, Mr. President, for giving me a chance to at least say something. I sat through both Search Committee meetings but I haven’t formed an opinion yet. The only thing is, if he will not officiate at mixed marriages and if he won’t allow another rabbi to occupy his pulpit, then those couples and their families will be forced to travel 100 miles or more to get married by a real rabbi. That’ll cost them a lot of money! To me, it doesn’t make any sense for us to hire an expensive full-time rabbi while I haven’t had a raise in over two years.” Jake Berlin: “For Christ sake, Grace, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Your opinion isn’t worth a pile of crap. We only had one mixed marriage in the last three years and that was Ethel’s and she and Frank Williams eloped to Mexico; so forget it! Besides, I made a mistake calling on you. You’re not a member of this Board. You seem to forget you’re nothing but hired help … only here to take the minutes. If you think you’re not getting paid enough go get another job. I’m getting sick and tired of your mouth!” Dorothy May Rosenwall, wealthy vice-president: “Jake, please stop being so crude … this isn’t the men’s locker room. I don’t know whether I can support a rabbi as casual and as untidy as he. I am told by a reliable source that this so-called rabbi arrived in Central-Bella wearing blue jeans, a Mickey Mouse tee shirt and a baseball cap of all things! And, poor thing , from what I can tell, it looks like he has only one tattered, old suit to his name—food stains all over his tie—holes in the bottom of his scuffed-up shoes. Oh! How I regret being in Europe during the selection committee meetings. I would have had all sorts of questions to ask him, and believe you me I would have asked the right questions. I agree with Ethel, he simply doesn’t look or sound like a rabbi should.” Lizie Wilson-Levy, recently appointed to the Board by Jake: “I think he’s cute just the way he is. He’s different. He’s not like the arrogant ass that converted me in New York, and from what I’ve seen, the members who have been in his company feel very comfortable with his informality. At the same time they show him a lot of reverence. To me, that says a lot in his favor. Personally, I like his southern accent. It’s not thick. It adds a bit of interesting charm to the service, and I like the fact that it is okay with him for us to call him ‘Conrad’ or ‘CF’. Rabbi Flowers is polite and mannerly … loaded with southern charm. I’m going to vote for him, so count me in for a $1,000 pledge.” Dorothy May Rosenwall: “I understand what you are saying Lizie but a rabbi should dress properly and present himself as a role model to the congregation. I’m not saying he should wear a black double-breasted jacket, striped morning trousers, a black tie with an elegant boutonniere (even though I wish he would) but this young man looks absolutely ridiculous and I mean ridiculous! And I whole heartedly agree with Ethel: He doesn’t even sound like a rabbi. I’m sorry, I am used to a rabbi that puts himself up on a pedestal and demands respect. I don’t care what he says; we should address our rabbi as ‘Rabbi’.” Josh Novak: “Overall, I like the guy. I think he’d be good for us. I’m not rich but I’ll pledge $300 to help toward hiring him.” Dr. Phillip Golden: “Okay, I’m going to reluctantly vote to try him out even though I don’t have a good feeling about it. If he gets the job, I’m going to watch him like a hawk. If he steps out-of-line, or if I think he drinks too much, I’m going to campaign to get rid of him. I deserve a major say in this matter.”
Ted Pailet is a member of the Tennessee Bar who was involved in congregational life from his late twenties until his early eighties. He is perhaps best known for his work throughout North America for his attempts to resolve conflict between clergy and lay leaders over a period of fifteen years. He and his wife, Louise, divide their time between Tennessee and Florida. He is also the author of The Korean War and Me. Visit him online at www.tedpailet.com.