We, the undersigned members of Temple Emanuel, have received the letter from Dr. Eric Bernstein, which says a new contract will not be offered to Rabbi Jessica Locketz. We are shocked and disappointed.
The reason given for not renewing Rabbi Locketz’s contract is the desire to go in a different direction. We want to know: Which direction are you going? Whose decision was this? And where is the conversation about the direction in which we want to go?
As congregants, we like where we’ve been going under Rabbi Locketz’s leadership. She has done nothing but improve things at Temple, making it a true community. Her absence will negatively impact Temple’s future. While her accomplishments and contributions over the last nine years are too numerous to list, we want to highlight a few of those things, which demonstrate that we -- as members of this community -- like the direction she is taking us.
Indeed, Rabbi Locketz represents the future of modern Judaism. As a female rabbi in a two-income family with young kids, she epitomizes many of us. In addition to her numerous rabbinical duties, she has successfully run Torah Center and made Temple into a family friendly environment. Seeing Eitan standing next to her during a service, or watching her hold Ezra, only reinforces that families are welcome. We want Temple Emanuel to be a family-friendly community.
In getting children to attend services and build a love of Judaism, Rabbi Locketz helps ensure continued membership from the families as well as the kids themselves. She has achieved this by initiating Torah Center’s Pre-K program, which now has 15 kids. Attendance at Torah for Tots has grown under her leadership. In fact, Torah for Tots is the best membership program our Temple has, regularly attracting new and prospective members. Many people join temples when they start their families, so attracting and retaining young families is critical to the long-term health of Temple. Occurring at least once a month, Torah for Tots teaches Judaism in a family friendly, age-appropriate environment. More recently, Torah Growers (for K-2) was started to engage the children and families who have grown out of the Torah for Tots programming.
Our children are happy to attend Torah Center’s stellar program, which is highly regarded with low turnover. Rabbi Locketz keeps in constant communication with parents by her Facebook presence, weekly emails, and Torah Center blog – complete with photos of our happy kids. She brought in Israeli dancing, and has included the families by having an Open House on the first day of Torah Center, a Celebration of Learning on the last day, and Family Days throughout the year. The activities we do with our kids on those Family Days are meaningful and have long-lasting impact, such as when we decorate covers for the prayer books our children are gifted with from Temple.
Any problems that arise in Torah Center are appropriately addressed in a timely manner, like when the third grade recently had a problem with high enrollment. Rabbi Locketz handled the matter to our complete satisfaction and improved the education of our third graders.
Rabbi Locketz knows the name of every child in Torah Center. She is concerned about their safety, as evidenced by the staff’s constant presence during rolling drop-offs and pick-ups. She always greets the kids as they enter the school. She has a visible, active presence within our congregation. She goes above and beyond, often opening her home for Havdalah services.
During High Holy Day services (and many others), Rabbi Locketz leads services for Torah Center students. She has created a Teen Service to keep our high school students engaged. She ensures that babysitting is available for younger kids. More importantly, for those children who are two years old, but not yet in Torah Center, she makes sure they have a meaningful High Holiday experience through services, crafts, and stories. Everything is always covered, and we have always felt taken care of under her capable hands.
Unlike many synagogues, Temple doesn’t have the problem of its youth dropping out once they’ve had their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Instead, the teens help out as madrichim in Torah Center as well as other Temple events like the Purim Carnival. The youth groups have been struggling for many years, and any issues with their management are attributable to a number of factors. Many kids – especially those younger than high school age – are over-scheduled compared to years past.
Rabbi Locketz has also been active with the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC). She has actively continued the Jewish Enrichment program, growing it into one the kids look forward to attending. Being appointed the Interim ECDC Director until Nan Simon’s replacement was found showed that she is more than willing to take on additional responsibilities to benefit the congregation. This vote of confidence in her abilities was somehow ignored when deciding not to renew her contract.
The Red Tent was co-founded by Rabbi Locketz and has been an active, dynamic women’s group with a variety of activities with a Jewish focus. Many of our events would not occur without Rabbi Locketz’s participation, as she brings the perspective of a female rabbi. Other events that have been discussed may not occur due to her untimely departure, like a family trip to Israel. Many of us with young families were only interested because Rabbi Locketz would be leading it.
As if our excellent Torah Center program wasn’t evidence enough, Rabbi Locketz has a reputation outside the Pittsburgh community. She is on the board of the National Association of Temple Educators (NATE). She has an excellent relationship with Camp Harlam, serving on its faculty for the last six years. Camp Harlam is instrumental in cementing our children’s involvement with Temple and love of Judaism. This past summer, for example, she was at Camp Harlam for two weeks, checked in with our Temple children daily, and kept the parents well informed. She reassured new camp parents from Temple that she would be there for our children, and was. She had been talking about organizing a weekend retreat from Pittsburgh to Camp Harlam, which would have been attractive for many prospective families.
Rabbi Locketz also has a good relationship with Beth El and its rabbis, working together to serve the best interests of the South Hills Jewish community. This is important since we view close ties between the two synagogues as critical to a healthy Jewish environment in the South Hills. She recently initiated a Jewish parenting class at Temple, which has been particularly impactful because she has the same struggles as her own students and can therefore relate to them and share common experiences.
Rabbi Locketz is representative of our modern Reform belief system. Our congregation is full of interfaith families. She has worked hard to find solutions for interfaith couples who are unable to get married at Temple Emanuel. Furthermore, she believes in marriage equality – the direction our nation is going, and where our Temple should be going too.
Rabbi Locketz’s departure will adversely affect Temple membership. We want to be part of a Temple that recognizes and appreciates Rabbi Locketz and her valuable contributions.
The bottom line: We don’t want to go in a different direction! We deserve to be part of the conversation, and as such, request a Town Hall meeting to receive answers to our questions.