The Elephant In The Room

The point of the expression, talking about the elephant in the room, is that we would rather not talk about it, but it is difficult to ignore it when there’s an elephant in the room. There are a lot of things I would rather write about in this column, but, at this point, to ignore it can make it bigger and weightier until the real question becomes, is he really going to pretend that the elephant isn’t here?

I am not going to pretend the elephant isn’t here. In part because that’s not my temperament, and also because I hold myself to the standard of being honest, and facing, rather than ignoring, difficult issues.  

In that spirit, I will be explicit that I am talking about the fact that the former rabbi of this congregation is now serving a prison sentence for criminal sexual behavior. 

Despite the fact that during his seventeen years of service to this congregation he never engaged in any untoward behavior, the facts of his actions and incarceration are a lot to process.

Some people are looking at the signature on their ketubah or conversion certificate, at the confirmation photos on our wall, and struggling with how to feel about or deal with it. Some are wondering if every memory and memento needs to be reinterpreted through the lens of later actions – does who he became reveal who he always was?

To be clear, not everyone feels the need to discuss or process this, and even among those who do, they are not necessarily grappling with these questions.

But for those of us in leadership positions at B’nai Jeshurun, we have had more than enough opportunity to talk about it. It makes sense that others would like to have that opportunity as well. 

When something shocking brings dissonance into our lives, many of us have a very reasonable need to process it through conversation. Sometimes we need to talk about a thing in order to figure out how to think about it, or even so we can stop thinking about it. At some point in the very near future, we plan to facilitate such an opportunity.

Congregational President Dana Dickson and I have been consulting with advisors at our movement’s umbrella organization, the Union for Reform Judaism, and discussing what this conversation should look like. We want it to be a fitting, productive, and helpful opportunity for those who want to participate. We will keep you all posted when we are ready with details.

When you’ve got an elephant in the room, it’s tempting to throw a blanket over it and pretend it’s a couch. It’s an easy approach, but not an effective or honest one. The only way to get the elephant out of the room is to acknowledge its presence and then deal with it. Well, we have an elephant in the room, so let’s start dealing with it.


Rabbi Neal Schuster