Twenty-two years ago, when Jeffrey Herzog first became interested in applying for the position of executive director of Rodef Shalom Congregation, his father advised, “Don’t do it. You will be working long hours and people will be asking you to do the impossible.”
Now, reflecting back on a career that had him collaborating with nine different congregational presidents, and working through two major building projects and three separate fundraising campaigns, Herzog said his father was right.
But in a good way.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to work at a congregation where I grew up, and where I worked as a teacher,” Herzog said. “And I have had the good fortune to have loved what I was doing.”
Herzog will retire from his position as the congregation’s Murray Klein Executive Director this spring. But after holding the job for 22 years, and teaching in Rodef Shalom’s religious school for 15 years prior to that, Herzog will not be going far.
“It’s time to move on to the next phase of my life,” said Herzog, who will be 66 next year. Herzog will be staying in Pittsburgh.
A staunch believer in volunteerism, Herzog said he wants to spend time “repairing the world” — an idea for which his parents were his role models.
Growing up at Rodef Shalom, Herzog became inspired by the commitment of his parents, Bernice and Marvin Herzog, to serve their community.
So much so, that he plans to work with the indigent in his retirement, and hopes to volunteer with agencies such as the Squirrel Hill Health Center, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Mollie’s Meals and the East End Cooperative Ministry.
No stranger to volunteerism, Herzog contributed to the wider community in many roles during his time at Rodef Shalom. He served on the boards of Jewish Residential Service and Pittsburgh’s Child Guidance Foundation, and recently completed a term as president of Riverview Towers. He served on the executive committee of the National Association of Temple Administrators, and served for five years as chair of its professional development committee.
The time is now right to retire, Herzog said, noting changes in synagogue life, including the diminishing number of volunteers and the diminishing time commitment of those volunteers that remain.
“It’s different,” he said. “In the past, there were only one-income families, and the other spouse had time to commit. That’s hardly the case anymore. So much more is now being asked of fewer people.”
The job of executive director has changed as well over the course of the last two decades.
“Our duties have increased,” Herzog said, “as they have for most professionals in both the nonprofit and for profit world. All are being asked to do more.”
In fact, Herzog said, he, like most of his colleagues, routinely works 50 to 60 hours a week.
The challenge for congregational life in the future, Herzog said, will be to do more with less.
“We have limited resources, and they are getting smaller,” he continued. “And the buildings remain and are getting older. That’s the problem.”
The need for collaboration between Jewish institutions is becoming increasingly more evident, he said.
“We need to work together to solve problems in a strategic way,” he said. “In my view, we will be sharing buildings in the near future. I think the economy will dictate that.”
Although he is looking forward to his retirement, spending more time with his wife, Jacki, and hoping to take adult education classes in addition to volunteering, Herzog said he would miss his professional work at Rodef Shalom.
“I will miss having the ability to insure that my congregants are able to pray in a secure, warm and welcoming environment,” he said.
The congregation will convene committees to search for Herzog’s successor, and to plan a large tribute event in his honor, said Ann Bass Roth, president of the congregation.
“He will be missed, but we are not letting him go far,” Roth said. “We are re-imagining our future, and I’m sure that he will be a part of it.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)