Rabbi Benjamin Shull will leave Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville when his contract expires next year. The Conservative congregation has begun a search for a successor and hopes to have a new rabbi in place by summer, according to Board President Melanie Grishman. Shull came to the synagogue in 2015.
“I have mixed feelings about leaving [Tikvat Israel]. There is some sense of sadness,” Shull said in a phone interview. “There are some things I really feel were wonderful, and there were some things that were a challenge, like in any community.”
He informed the congregation in September that he had decided not to extend his four-year contract, according to the Tikvat Israel Bulletin. He and his wife will be moving to Florida to help care for his mother-in-law.
An 11-person search committee is tasked with identifying new rabbi candidates. The job posting was submitted to it for approval after Thanksgiving. After being approved by the Rabbinical Committee, it was posted online on Dec. 17, and the synagogue is currently awaiting applicants.
Grishman hopes to begin interviewing candidates at the start of 2019.
“I was saddened and somewhat disappointed,” she said, upon hearing that Shull would not renew his contract. “I enjoyed the opportunity to work with him. He bought a lot of energy to Tikvat Israel.”
During his tenure, Shull worked to make the congregation a more welcoming place for interfaith families, Grishman said. “We hadn’t really focused on how best to serve them before.”
The congregation took an unusual path that led it to Shull. In 2012, when Rabbi Howard Gorin retired after 30 years of leading Tikvat Israel and one of its predecessor institutions, members decided not to hire a new rabbi right away.
Instead, they brought in an interim rabbi who helped members figure out what changes they would like to make and what kind of rabbi they wanted next.
Grishman said the search process will be different this time. “We have an idea of what we as a congregation can achieve. We are looking for somebody who can continue that down the road. One thing is that Rabbi Shull has been very involved with lay leadership. I would hope that would continue.”
Before he leaves, Shull hopes to set up a leadership program for congregants at the synagogue. He is also helping to consult on the search for his replacement.
“I’ve been able with assistance with some very fine people to do some work in sustaining Jewish life,” he said.