PROVIDENCE – In two separate interviews, The Jewish Voice & Herald queried Rabbi Amy Levin of Torat Yisrael and Rabbi Richard Perlman of Am David about the ongoing merger discussions between the two Conservative West Bay synagogues.
Both Am David and Torat Yisrael themselves represent mergers – Am David is the merger of Temple Beth Am and Temple Beth David; Torat Yisrael is the merger of Temple Beth Israel and Temple Beth Torah.
Q: What’s been the motivation for talks about merging?
Levin: Some of it has been financial; there’s a sense that there’s a duplication of effort between two communities, especially in Cranston. There’ve been different motivations at different times from different communities.
Rick and I … have a really nice collegial relationship, but merger talks are not between clergy.
Perlman: This has been going on for many years … many attempts throughout the years and way before me. Financially, it makes sense to have one Conservative synagogue in West Bay; because of the times we live in today … I am not sure, but I think that Torat Yisrael approached us a couple of years ago when they began to contemplate the move. We didn’t pursue it; last year, we spoke about getting back into conversation to see if there’s a good fit. It’s not an outstanding economy and it makes sense to bring people together if it’s possible.
Q: Who, then, is engaging in these discussions?
(Editor’s note: Both Rabbis Perlman and Levin confirmed that lay leaders of the congregations are engaged in merger conversations.)
Q: Where do you think talks are going?
Perlman: My understanding is that right now they’re stalled. We were told that Torat was going to put conversations on hold as they had other things to deal with – the new building and a contract renewal for Rabbi Levin. Having said that, Am David shared its financial records with the Torat negotiation team; however, we didn’t feel comfortable that Torat Yisrael has shared all its financial records. We requested such records and are still waiting on that request.
(In response to a question about the reputed delay, Barry Golden, Torat Yisrael’s vice president, finance, told The Voice & Herald that, should a merger occur, the synagogues would issue a joint announcement together.)
Levin: I’m not sure; a lot of our energies have been directed toward moving. I know that we’re in the process of discovery – our financial status, membership projections, programming, the schools. I don’t think either congregation has a sense of urgency; I can’t speak for Am David, but at Torat, it’s an interesting possibility. We’re interested in having these conversations … there’s great potential for what the two synagogues could do either in merging or collaborating.
Q: Could a merged synagogue support two rabbis?
Levin: It depends on the configuration and what the rabbis are responsible for and support from community. There’s lots of … dynamics of decision-making, relationships between clergy and leadership and clergy and members, issues of how they see one another, what kind of a joint identity. It’s a very complex, layered process.
Perlman: No, not with two senior rabbis, but with a junior rabbi and a senior rabbi.
I hope and pray that somehow the Jewish community will be able to get together and not only survive but to flourish and grow, whether through the concept of a merger or something else.
If someone has an idea that can get beyond the turf, misinformation and politics and deal with the one thing that is most important – the survival and growth of this Jewish community – I’m open to it; I believe all leaders of this Jewish community should be open to it.
AM DAVID: 463-7944
TORAT YISRAEL: 885-6600