You could say he’s like a rolling stone, and wherever he lays his kippah is his home.
Rabbi Darryl Crystal has served as interim rabbi at 13 congregations since 2004, and his latest stop is Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax Station, where he’ll lead the Reform synagogue for two years of transition following the retirement of its founding rabbi, Amy Perlin.
Crystal, 60, says there’s an art to serving in an interim capacity, not just any rabbi can do it effectively. And he’s seen the other side, having spent the first 18 years of his career at a synagogue in Syosset, N.Y. But he says that to be an interim rabbi and guide a congregation through an untimely departure or after a retirement like Perlin’s takes two sets of skills.
“One is just the skills of a rabbi, and Jewish learning is very important to me,” says Crystal, who was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1985 after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland.
“The second set is really about congregational growth. When you’re looking for a settled rabbi, you want to know what you’re looking for and find someone with a vision of where a congregation should go. When you’re the interim, the focus is on helping the congregation decide where it wants to go.”
Perlin led Temple B’nai Shalom for 32 years and helped it grow to a congregation of 450 families.
One of the reasons Temple B’nai Shalom and other synagogues choose to go with an interim rabbi after a longtime leader departs, Crystal says, is to not have to undertake an extensive search process while simultaneously organizing a proper send-off. And it’s growing more popular. In the 15 years he’s been travelling the country, Crystal says the number of interim rabbis in the Reform movement has grown from one or two to almost 20, many of whom Crystal has trained.
Crystal says he understands what the congregants have lost in Perlin’s departure. And he’ll lean on his old classmate, Temple B’nai Shalom’s associate rabbi, Laura Rappaport, for the two years he’s there.
“I know what it’s like to be at a congregation where you’ve done a young person’s bar or bat mitzvah and then their wedding, or doing their baby naming and then their bar or bat mitzvah,” Crystal says of his time in New York. “That’s important experience when you’re going in after a rabbi like Rabbi Perlin, I have a feel for what those long-term relationships are like. … But in the end, I’m in the role of facilitator and guide. Ultimately, the direction is all theirs.”