Leading and running a congregation is a labor of love requiring much hard work and a certain amount of selflessness. The leaders, members and staff of Kesher Israel in Georgetown have demonstrated that and more since the arrest in October of Rabbi Barry Freundel and his subsequent firing.
The sensational nature of the charges — that he videotaped women in the synagogue’s mikvah — brought a national spotlight to the Orthodox congregation in the historic Washington, D.C., neighborhood. No doubt everyone in the Kesher Israel community wishes to go back to being a normal congregation, with normal joys and normal problems, just as we all wish to return to a time when women did not need to fear for their privacy when using a ritual bath.
Yet, there are significant legal issues that will keep Kesher Israel and Freundel’s alleged crimes in the news for many more months. There is the uncertainty about additional charges against the rabbi. There are civil suits that have been brought against the congregation and other organizations. And most recently, there is the new wrinkle of Freundel refusing to move out of his synagogue-owned residence and the synagogue seeking to compel eviction through a rabbinical court. This latest twist returned attention on the synagogue and its efforts to disentangle from Freundel and also spawned a collective sigh among observers near and far who yearn for an end to the sordid affair.
Under the unforgiving glare of national and international scrutiny, the congregation will continue in its effort to do the important work of healing, community building, searching for a new rabbi and finding a way to close this disturbing and painful chapter in its history.
We applaud the care and sensitivity shown by Kesher Israel leadership as it has dealt with the many issues implicated by the Freundel story. We wish the leaders continued strength and wisdom as they navigate this difficult situation, waiting for justice to be done and working toward closure.