Bolton Street Synagogue rabbi leaving by 'mutual decision'

In a surprise announcement, Bolton Street Synagogue is parting ways with its rabbi after six years.

Rabbi Jonathan Panitz's last day will be June 22. Panitz said he is leaving by agreement with the synagogue's board, not retiring, as synagogue officials first said.

Neither Panitz nor Board President Douglas Carrey-Beaver would comment on why Panitz is leaving. However, Carrey-Beaver read the Messenger a letter the board sent to congregants, writing, "It was a mutual decision."

Panitz, 66, belongs to the conservative branch of Judaism. Since June 2006, he has led an unaffiliated synagogue with a mix of reform and conservative Jews. Bolton Street, which is named for its original location, moved to 212 West Cold Spring Lane in the Keswick-Roland Park area in 2004. It is the only synagogue in north Baltimore with its own house of worship.

The board, which is conducting a search for a new rabbi, has hired an interim rabbi, John Franken, 45. Franken is a reform Jew, Carrey-Beaver said.

"We'll have a great year together," Franken said. He said synagogue bylaws prohibit him as interim rabbi from being a candidate for the permanent job.

The board's challenge now is to find a permanent rabbi who can unite a congregation with diverse views.

"That's the million dollar question: Who do we find that will satisfy everyone?" Carrey-Beaver said.

Congregant Alan Walden, of Cross Keys, said he and Panitz are friends and that he will miss having Panitz as his rabbi.

"He was one of the principal reasons that I joined the synagogue," Walden said. Walden said he and Panitz have naval interests in common, because Walden is an official of the Baltimore Council of the Navy League of the United States, and Panitz is a former rabbi for theU.S. Navyand former senior Jewish chaplain of the Navy's 6th Fleet.

Panitz said he most enjoyed working with students in the synagogue school, and was proud of the speakers and performers that the synagogue booked, including Baltimore public school system CEO Andres Alonso and the Morgan State University Choir.

"We had wonderful adult education programs," he said.

Panitz's interim successor, Franken, is no stranger to Baltimore. He said he practiced law in Baltimore as a civil litigation defense attorney before studying to be a rabbi.

"I ultimately concluded that being a rabbi would be a lot more interesting and fun," Franken said. "I love Judaism and the idea of serving Jewish people."

Franken said he will give "unvarnished advice and counsel" as interim rabbi.

"I'm going to be a spiritual leader of the community. I'll provide continuity. I'll take a fresh look at the congregation," Franken said. "There will be a lot of introspection."

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