For the first time, a woman has been elected president of an Orthodox synagogue in Cleveland.
Muriel Weber was installed as president of the board of trustees of Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox shul in Lyndhurst, during its annual meeting June 2.
A longtime member of Oheb Zedek-Taylor Road Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, which consolidated with Cedar Sinai Synagogue last July, Weber is slated to serve a three-year term. Her post will be automatically renewed each year, “barring unforeseen circumstances,” said Stuart Muszynski, who served as president of the combined synagogue the past year.
“This is a bold step for any Orthodox synagogue,” Muszynski said. “The different constituencies in the synagogue felt very comfortable with Muriel as the choice.”
Weber, of Shaker Heights, was recommended for the position by the synagogue’s board and nominated for election by a nominating committee. She has served as the synagogue’s vice president of culture and programming since last July.
“We had extensive internal conversations and felt this was not only appropriate for the growth of the synagogue, but also in terms of the role our synagogue has in leading the way for a more progressive element of Orthodoxy in the community,” Muszynski said. “At the end of the day, it’s just the right thing to do – morally, ethically and halachically (according to Jewish law).”
According to the website of the New York-based Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, there are about 50 woman presidents of Orthodox synagogues in the United States. Eight are in Berkeley, Calif., six in Los Angeles.
“I see this as an important development for our synagogue, the Orthodox community and the broader Cleveland Jewish community,” said Rabbi Zachary Truboff, spiritual leader of Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai.
“My belief, and that of many other rabbis, is there is no reason why a woman cannot serve as president of an Orthodox synagogue. People will embrace this decision; they will see our incoming president brings talent and strengths.”
Truboff described Weber as “an incredibly dedicated and hard worker.”
“She’s certainly caring and thoughtful, and she has the ability to both grasp the big picture and small details at the same time,” he said.
Muszynski said Weber is “a consensus builder and a participation builder.”
“Muriel has a very keen intelligence and a wonderful ethical core,” he said. “Part of that ethical core is her humility and feeling that everybody in the synagogue matters and has something to contribute.”
Weber, 55, said she sees this as “a tremendous opportunity.”
“I think it speaks to the kind of synagogue we have, where there really is opportunity for participation and involvement by everyone,” she said. “My gender was not an issue.
“I came to the shul last summer as part of the Taylor Road (Synagogue) merger and found a fabulous congregation.”
Weber, who grew up in Shaker Heights, attended services at Taylor Road Synagogue as a child before formally joining in 1995. Retired from a career in banking, she has about 30 years’ experience as a volunteer in the Jewish community.
“The three areas I want to focus on (as president) are expanding and engaging our membership, strengthening our fiscal management and enhancing our active calendar of programming,” she said.
Weber will not sit on the bimah (pulpit) during services, but Muszynski said the congregation’s president has not done so for the past nine or 10 months anyway.
“We didn’t want our congregants to feel the president or officers are above them,” he said. “So it’s not a big deal for a woman (president) to not sit on the bimah.”
Weber will come up to the bimah to make announcements or address the congregation after the regular prayer service, Muszynski said.
Over the past three years, Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai’s congregation has grown from about 90 families to 192 families, Truboff said. A November 2011 merger of Cedar Road and Sinai synagogues preceded the Taylor Road-Cedar Sinai consolidation.
“We see ourselves as a trailblazer,” he said. “We want to be at the forefront of important developments in the Jewish community.”