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The Red Dress Club: Resolution

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The phone rang. The clock read 11:23pm. It was the temple president.

“I’m sorry but the Board has decided not to renew your contract. (throat clearing) I’m sure that you’ve been waiting up so I wanted to let you know right away. (Um…) It was a unanimous decision.”

As it so happens, I had not been waiting up for news of my contract renewal. I had been assured by the members of my Professional Development Committee, some of whom sat on the Board of Directors of the synagogue, that I would certainly be renewed for another term of service.

“Yes. Yes, I understand. Thank you for letting me know. This must have been such a difficult telephone call for you to make. I’m so sorry that you had to do it.”

What else could I have said? I thanked him again and replaced the phone in its receiver.


The next morning, I went to work as if nothing untoward had happened. Which was a smart move as it appeared as though no one was aware that the associate rabbi had just been canned. The Board, in its infinite wisdom, had determined that sending an official letter to the congregation would do more harm than good. A decision that would be reversed one week later.

It was a strange experience; being at work and knowing that I wasn’t really wanted. At least, not wanted by some. Made all the stranger by the lack of communication to the members of the synagogue. After several days, of course, word had leaked and rumours began to spread. It was then decided that a letter ought to go out. A joint letter. One saying that my departure was a joint decision, shared by the Board and me.

I could not agree to that letter. I could not agree because it had not been a joint decision. In fact, it had not been my decision at all.

Consistent with tradition at Temple ****** that our Associate Rabbis serve our congregation for about five years, the Board of Directors in consultation with our senior Rabbi has determined that Rabbi Frummie’s term will conclude on June 30, 2004.

We thank her for her years of devoted service to our congregation, and wish her well in her future endeavours.

We want the congregation to know that we have begun our search for our new assistant Rabbi and we will keep you posted.

Leaving aside the glaring grammatical mistakes, the terse tone of the letter would later….much later…clarify what the nature of the relationship had been all along.


For the next six months, I remained at the synagogue, fulfilling both my contract to the synagogue as well as the covenental promise I’d made with God on 16 May 1999. In that time, I learned several things:

  • Platitudes (e.g. “you’ll see, this is a blessing in disguise” and “it’s meant to be”) are helpful not to the person who is hurting, but clearly make the other person feel a whole lot better. “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window” might have been awfully reassuring to Maria, but it made me feel like crap.
  • Unanimous doesn’t always mean unanimous.
  • Friends don’t abstain from the vote.
  • Holding one’s head up and acting with grace, while damn-near impossible at times, is the best way to handle such adversity.


Nearly seven years have passed. I have been gone longer than I was there. It remains one of the most painful experiences of my life.

And I am…now…grateful that it happened. It allowed me to come home.

Remembe(RED) is a memoir meme. This week, we were asked to recall an experience that seemed terrible at the time, but turned out to be something positive. In 600 words or fewer. As always, constructive criticism is welcomed!

32 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, 26 April 2011 12:31 am

    As you know I worked in the field, albeit not in the same position and I think that at times we do a terrible job with our staff. Doesn’t matter whether they are clergy, professional staff or what- we treat them poorly.

    Why? Because we let lay people run things. We let influence be subject to things that are not always consistent….

    I’ll end my rant- you did an excellent job of laying this out.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:04 pm

      Thanks, Jack. I know that, sadly, you speak from experience.

  2. Tuesday, 26 April 2011 4:50 am

    It is interesting how these types of situations only make us stronger. Good for you to show a brave face and get through the next six months with grace. Sad that your leadership did not acknowledge your hard work and dedication over the years and chose to write a “corporate” style letter instead.

    Looks like I could have a nice conversation with your friend Jack, LOL. We should all have coffee sometime. 🙂

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:06 pm

      I agree. The letter felt like a slap in the face. But at the time, I was just so relieved that a letter was finally sent AND that it wasn’t being called a joint decision.

      And yes, we’d have much to share during such an outing 😉

  3. Tuesday, 26 April 2011 5:33 am

    Ugh! You had to stay on SIX more months? Those backstabbing little cretins! But you are right–to face such a situation with dignity definitely shows people (and you) what you’re made of.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:08 pm

      Six months is industry-standard, as they say. It gives enough time for the rabbi to search for a new position and for the congregation to search for a successor. As it so happens, I am in the six month period right now as I prepare to leave my amazing synagogue.

      And boy, it is a different ball of wax this time ’round.

  4. Tuesday, 26 April 2011 6:06 am

    I REFERENCED THE SOUND OF MUSIC TOO! Sorry. I had to shout that! Great minds and all.

    It sucks to feel like you’re not wanted somewhere. Totally. And you’re right–friends don’t abstain from voting.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:18 pm

      And yet a completely different part of the musical 😉

      The truth is that I don’t believe in abstaining from a vote with one exception; absence. As in, “I was absent from last month’s meeting and therefore must abstain from the vote to pass the minutes from said meeting.”

      Otherwise, have some guts and make a decision.

  5. Tuesday, 26 April 2011 6:20 am

    My post is about a layoff of sorts bringing me to a better place too. It’s so painful at the time, but so satisfying to know you wound up in exactly the right place.

    Visiting from TRDC.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:20 pm

      Yep. It really was so awful. And had anyone showed me how my life would be seven years passed that event, I don’t believe it would have made a dent in the pain. Thanks so much for your comment!

  6. Tuesday, 26 April 2011 8:33 am

    I don’t know a nice way of saying this but That sucks! At least you can look back on it now and find the good the came out of it.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:21 pm

      Let me tell you…it took quite a LONG time. Perspective really does make a difference.

      And you called it 😉

  7. Galit Breen permalink
    Tuesday, 26 April 2011 10:28 am

    Oh you shared so much here! I am so sorry that this happened- it sounds so sad, emotional, hurtful, and just plain hard.

    I loved what you wrote about grace. Yes, it’s always the best way. But sometimes so damn hard to do!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:25 pm

      It really was the only way for me to get through what really was such a painful experience. I can look back and feel good about how I handled things. In public, that is. Behind closed doors, it was much harder.

      Thanks for your comments…and support.

  8. Tuesday, 26 April 2011 1:17 pm

    What a horrible experience and I loved your list of things that you have learned. I totally agree with the fact that Platitudes “are helpful not to the person who is hurting, but clearly make the other person feel a whole lot better”!
    Thank you for making me smile, even at your unfortunate expense!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:37 pm

      Hey, I’m glad that it brought a smile to your day. Such experiences lose their sharp potency when we can find the humour. Thanks for your comment.

  9. PearlsGirl permalink
    Tuesday, 26 April 2011 1:54 pm

    I really love this post. I think so many of us have had to go through work related issues, and so many of us see our jobs as more than just a job. The loyalty and the service is so hard to walk away from.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:39 pm

      You clearly speak from a place of experience. Being a rabbi certainly differs from just a job. The occupation itself is a calling. Sacred work.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  10. osita permalink
    Tuesday, 26 April 2011 3:48 pm

    Beautiful writing.. letting us in to see and feel your hurt is a very courageous thing to do, and you expressed those feelings so well.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:40 pm

      Thank you so much. It was the prompt that gave me the push to finally write about this experience in such a public fashion. So I especially appreciate your kind comments.

  11. Tuesday, 26 April 2011 10:28 pm

    Goodness, that must have been so difficult. I don’t believe that things happen for a reason, but these events are in our path and you can either try desperately to detour or go with the flow. Glad it worked out for you!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:45 pm

      This is a conversation that I have frequently — occupational hazard 😉

      It so happens that I do believe that we can find meaning in life’s experiences. It does feel a bite trite to say that I was voted out of one synagogue so that I could eventually end up at my current one. I mean, was it really necessary to have such pain?

      On the other hand, perhaps I needed that push in order to continue the journey.

      In any event, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  12. Tuesday, 26 April 2011 11:55 pm

    Change is never easy and antagonistic environments make it even worse. You’ve proven your constitution with your actions. It’s inspiring.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 1 May 2011 9:04 pm

      Thanks, Carina. Whenever I felt especially discouraged (or really, REALLY angry), I just thought about what kind of example would I be setting. And would I be proud of my behaviour after-the-fact.

      I appreciate your comment.

  13. Wednesday, 27 April 2011 3:58 am

    I can only imagine how painful this was. I have left jobs before – but none of them can compare to the service that you do and the relationships that you form in your position – so how doubly awful for that to happen. You handled it with so much grace. I am so glad you have moved on with happiness.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 1 May 2011 9:05 pm

      Thanks! It turns out that it wasn’t until I had left that position that I realized how very unhappy I had been.

      It is true what they say about hindsight, isn’t it?

  14. Wednesday, 27 April 2011 11:47 am

    Ugh, I’m sorry too; that must have felt horrible. I’m glad you’re on a better, healthier road now– for both you and your family.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 1 May 2011 9:07 pm

      It was such an ugly experience. Truly, truly horrendous.

      And so in the past. (Most of the time….)

  15. Wednesday, 27 April 2011 12:53 pm

    What a terrible way to find you’re not “needed” anymore. Kudos to you for handling it with grace and dignity. And I’m glad that over time it brought you to a better place.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 1 May 2011 9:17 pm

      I suppose it might have been worse. They could have informed me by letter.

      Thanks so much for your kind thoughts, Renee.

  16. Thursday, 28 April 2011 6:14 pm

    I know those “One door shuts, another door opens” people. It’s very hard for me sometimes not to smack them in the mouth and shut ‘that’ door!

    But I am glad that it worked out for you, in the end, at least!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 1 May 2011 9:20 pm

      Yeah…I can most definitely relate to that feeling. After I got the position at my home congregation, someone (a “friend”) actually had the audacity to say, “see, this worked out perfectly.”

      Didn’t realize that anyone’s version of perfection included such pain.

      Thanks, Tina, for stopping by and commenting.

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