After nine years as the spiritual leader at Magen David Sephardic Congregation, Rabbi Joshua Maroof conducted his last sermon at the Rockville synagogue on May 31. The synagogue’s board of directors voted not to renew his contract following discussions that Maroof described as amicable.
Maroof will soon become a full-time educator in New York. Meanwhile, Magen David is seeking his replacement in “a process that typically cannot be completed in less than a year,” board president Frederic Richardson wrote in an April 30 letter to congregants.
“The board decided to head in a new direction. The parting of ways was absolutely an amicable one,” said Elliot Totah, vice president of the board. “The board just came together and decided to move on.”
Totah didn’t explain any of the planned changes. “We are actually in the process of unveiling” details, and it would be unfair to tell the media before the congregation, he said.
Maroof’s contract expires at the end of this month. The board began discussing whether to renew his contract last summer. “Despite extensive discussions thereafter, the board and the rabbi were unable to agree on the terms of a contract extension,” according to that two-page letter.
A new board of directors, elected last December, took up the contract talks. “Immediately after the election, the new board commenced an intensive 14-week review of the situation. The conclusion of this process was the board’s decision not to seek an extension of Rabbi Maroof’s employment,” according to an April letter from Richardson to the congregation.
The letter praised Maroof, stating, “He has enriched our prayers, consoled us, lifted us up and shared his knowledge of Jewish law with dedication. We have been fortunate to have the rabbi’s guidance, and we will truly miss his spiritual and intellectual leadership.”
Some members of the congregation were surprised to learn that Maroof would be leaving. They questioned why discussions were held in secret. A petition was circulated requesting information, said a congregant who asked that his name not be mentioned.
A meeting was held the evening of May 21 with two items on the agenda. The first item was to “Respond to Request for explanation of the Board’s decision not to renew Rabbi Maroof’s contract.” The other item was to respond to a request to reconsider not renewing Maroof’s contract.
According to the congregant, the board told those in attendance that the synagogue wanted to go in a new direction. Board members explained at the meeting that due to advice from their attorney, the reason to not renew Maroof’s contract could not be revealed, the congregant said.
“It’s crazy how much politics there are in a synagogue,” the member said. “It’s hard to really know what the truth really is. Everyone has an agenda.”
For his part, Maroof said, “We’ve both been exploring different directions respectively. To the best of my understanding, they have a new direction they want to move in and kind of reinvent the synagogue.”
He said there was “lots of love between the [synagogue] community and myself,” and he said the board of directors “is made up of very fine people who I would count as my friends. There certainly are no conflicts. Both parties have been considering moving on.”
He added, “We are honestly parting 100 percent as friends.”
Maroof said he soon will be involved in running a school in Great Neck, where he is from. He also will continue to develop an online yeshiva program. “My emphasis on my career has begun to settle more on education,” he said.
In his April 8 blog, Maroof gave 10 pieces of advice for his successor, beginning with, “Generally love your congregation with all of your heart and soul, like a father loves his children.”
His seventh piece of advice was, “Never use email as a medium to communicate about contentious issues or to settle arguments or disputes. No matter how well-reasoned, logical and persuasive your email is, and no matter how smart, witty or skilled a writer you think you are, it is guaranteed to backfire and you will lose EVERY SINGLE TIME. I speak from experience.”
On Sunday, the synagogue held its biannual membership meeting. Little was said about recent events. At one point, the board asked for volunteers to join the search committee for a new rabbi.
Magen David was founded in 1966 and has about 180 unit members. When asked if membership was going down, Totah said, “I am not going to comment on membership. We have a very robust community.”