Trying Times At Temple

The departure of Cantor Dan Sklar from Temple Israel earlier this month surprised members of the congregation.

But, he says, the notion that he resigned — and that officials did all they could to retain him — is “a complete fabrication.”

In a video released yesterday, Sklar — who also earned a dual degree as a rabbi at Hebrew Union College — calls the temple’s version of events “disingenuous.” He says he was threatened with termination because of anger issues.

Cantor and Rabbi Dan Sklar

Sklar does not deny those issues. They are real, he says — and the result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Sklar studied for the cantorate in Jerusalem during a period of intense suicide bombings. He saw their aftermath.

In his years at Temple Israel, Sklar says, he had several “outbursts of emotion.” They were related to issues of building security and COVID-19 — for example, threats by intruders, and unmasked people in the sanctuary. They were directed at colleagues and staff members, not congregants, he says.

In the video, he describes the pain of being barred by the temple from co-officiating at a funeral — and having no contact with the grieving family. He was also prohibited from contact with students he was preparing for bar and bat mitzvahs.

Sklar expresses gratitude to the many families and friends for the support they’ve shown. Despite losing his job — and his family’s health insurance — in the midst of a global pandemic, Sklar smiles a bit at the end.

Recalling Sabbath services on the beach, and “sharing life’s joys and trials,” he notes that being a cantor and rabbi “is not a job. It is who I am.”

Click below to see Dan Sklar’s video:

Last night, Temple Israel’s board of trustees emailed the congregation:

Dear Friends,

We are heartbroken to have to write this letter this evening.

We all recognize the imprint Cantor Sklar has had on our congregation and will cherish the memories we have of him. We know how important he has been to you and your family in times of celebration and mourning alike. We assure you that he has had a similar role in our own lives. He has deeply enriched the fabric of our community.

We are disappointed that Cantor Sklar has chosen to mischaracterize certain events that culminated in his departure from Temple Israel.

Unfortunately, over the course of recent years, Cantor Sklar exhibited behavior that resulted in a number of documented incidents which unambiguously violated our congregation’s code of conduct.

Last week, we reached a written separation agreement that was approved by Cantor Sklar and his counsel. The agreement would have generously provided for Cantor Sklar and his family. It would have enabled him to move on to the next stage of his career with his reputation intact and provided financial support for his family during a lengthy transition period.

Today Cantor Sklar revoked that agreement and chose to make public a number of hurtful and untrue accusations against Temple Israel.

We do not believe this is the appropriate forum to share the details of the numerous incidents that led to our decision, but we do want to assure you that we did everything we could to accommodate Cantor Sklar both in recent months as well as over the course of a number of years. Sadly, despite the many accommodations we provided, the situation became untenable. It was a painful but necessary decision we had to make despite the pandemic.

We wish Cantor Sklar and his family only the best. We understand this will be an emotional transition for Temple Israel, but our congregation is strong and resilient. Please feel free to reach out to us; we will support one another though this.

L’shalom — wishing you peace and comfort.

14 responses to “Trying Times At Temple

  1. Well, it looks like both parties have chosen a pubic format !
    Dan Sklars vimeo however, was more personal and detailed andI am confident that he didn’t hide nor add to the truth in it!
    Would it not be more honest to try touring the two parties together ?

  2. Thank you for posting this Dan! As a member of Temple Israel I have been so disturbed by this and now I know the Cantors truth. is there an email where we can reach him directly?

  3. Frannie Southworth

    There is no excuse for Temple Israel to lie to the community in the initial announcement and say that Rabbi Cantor Dan Sklar resigned. That alone I am sure made R/C Dan feel the need to set the record straight with his video. There is also no excuse to not allow Rabbi Cantor Sklar to finish with his Bnei Mitzvah students or officiate the funeral of a congregant he was close to which were probably both taking place on zoom. And then to fire him during the pandemic is an awful move knowing that he would have a much harder time, if even possible to find another position right now. Where is the chesed (lovingkindness) that Abraham teaches us about in the Torah in this situation? As far as his revoking the agreement, although I don’t know the details, reading between the lines, it sounds like Temple Israel put something in the contract that limited or controlled his freedoms. I do know that friends of mine at Temple Israel love him very much. Rabbi Cantor Sklar is an honest, loving father, husband, friend and a devoted and talented clergyman. He didn’t have to make a video with such brutal honesty that I’m sure was very difficult for him to do. I think he is courageous, and his honesty will help others, and I pray for all good things for him and his family including a much kinder situation to offer his service to. As I thought about whether to post this or not, I felt that since it is all out there in our community that I would voice my perspective. Thank you for listening.

  4. Donna and Jay ODonnell

    The Sklar/lLipson family have consistent, kind, supportive and genuine. My family and I grateful for all they provided us and the community.

  5. I’m sorry – the Temple’s responses and actions don’t pass the smell test here. Why did they renew his contract for another five years so recently if this was truly an issue?

    The synagogue’s email acknowledges there was what they considered a problem. Like hell they would’ve renewed a “problem” for five more years. So instead, they engage in obfuscation, surely against their “Code of Conduct”?

    Lay it out there – don’t hide behind “personnel privacy,” etc. After all, TI, you’ve got complete cover, as you know, from the Supreme Court. The flailing is embarrassing.

    Rabbi/Cantor Sklar is to be commended for staring down Goliath. Religious nonprofits are notorious for preaching one thing and practicing another. The “preaching” is in accordance with the law of Torah. The “practicing” is done according to the law of the US, CT, or whatever else they can find to legally (but not morally) justify the actions. This bullying happens time and again across religions, and clergy who participate in these actions would do well to remember not only the message they’re sending to their (paying) congregants but also that it’s likely they will find themselves in the same seat one day when someone has decided it’s efficient and convenient to dispose of them.

    Then again, that fits with R/C Sklar’s character, known to past and current congregants and friends far and wide.

    It’s incumbent on the synagogue to discontinue the lawyering up and fulfill the promises it promised R/C Sklar.

  6. While I’m not a member of the temple, I’ve known the Sklar family for years and hold them in the highest regard. And though typically in a (regrettably) public dispute I’m inclined to assume there is some truth to both sides, the frankness of Dan’s video does not strike me as terribly self-serving, as opposed to the temple’s rather vague statement that raises more questions than it answers. It’s hard to figure what the temple’s motivation is here but regardless, I wish Dan the very best with his next steps.

  7. Jjohn Greenspan

    It has been an honor to get to know Cantor Dan Sklar over the past several years. Dan’s warmth, sincerity, and beautiful musical accompaniment was always a highlight of Temple Israel services. Dan I look forward to hearing from you and your future plans. Shalom.

  8. To Adrienne and me, Cantor Sklar has always been the epitome of warmth and sincerity. His ability to simultaneously sing and smile was what brought joy and inspiration to us and we will miss it so much. It’s a sad day that this situation couldn’t have been worked out without the pain inflicted on Cantor Sklar and his family as well as the congregants of Temple Israel.

  9. Carl Addison Swanson

    As a victim of PTSD (Vietnam) myself, I can empathize with Cantor Sklar. What I can not understand is why Temple Israel and Sklar could not reach a compromise of sorts in his termination? Was there not an employment contract enforce? And why not just put Sklar on leave of absence until Covid is gone or until Sklar could get some professional help? Kicking him by the wayside does nothing for any of the parties involved, including the congregation. As an attorney, I would expect a wrongful termination suit forthcoming. IMO, you don’t fire someone because of a disability and trust me, it is a disabling condition.

  10. I am a past president of my synagogue Temple Concord in Binghamton NY. Dan Sklar was our cantor soloist for several years before he went to HUC-JIR for his rabbinic degree. As a past president I have had to terminate employees for cause. The comments above do not include the history of his various anger incidents, and the actions taken by the executive officers of the congregation. We do not know the terms of his contract with that synagogue. My own experience as both a president and as a manager of 13 employees is that termination of an employee is a LAST RESORT. I am not familiar with the privacy laws in Conn. In New York State, they are rather strict. When I was president of my synagogue, I had to follow those laws, not hide behind them. Dan’s Facebook video is one sided. You need to hear the other side before making judgments.

    • Eli Sternfeld

      Ahhh, the representing the Board of Directors speaks. Board presidents and members are chosen as favors for giving and for their loyalty and ability not to rock the boat. They are rarely democratically chosen – a “nominating committee” does most of that work so the boards perpetuate themselves and their ideas. You will rarely find that they are prepared for the task, engaged, or even slightly versed in religious nonprofit law or practice. They are rarely helpful to the synagogue and are just placeholders for the next schmo who is unlucky enough to be picked. I’d much rather hear from people (like me) who do the actual work — executive directors, synagogue staff, clergy. Not the ones who pop in monthly for a meeting. The Board is on another planet in most shuls, unfortunately.

      And what is this they asked about him not worshiping with his family – am I guessing correctly that they actually want him, as part of the agreement, not to pray with his family at the synagogue in Norwalk where his wife is cantor and his father-in-law is rabbi? Sounds like they’re cutting him off from his faith and family (two bedrock Jewish values), because they’re scared of losing their membership dues (which are already outrageously high for a medium synagogue in exurban Connecticut) when people follow R/C Sklar out the door …

      It only takes a cruise around TI’s website that hasn’t yet been “cleaned up” to see how integral to the life and ruach of their synagogue. Not to mention – goodness, if they were that “scared,” why feature him so prominently and have him design most of the programming, or the creative programming, coming out of the synagogue? They have mediocre clergy at best with Dan removed. If they thought they were saving money, I’d be eager to hear how their membership and dues sustain through this separation of a cleric from his congregation.

      But let’s hear Temple Israel’s side from them. There are no privacy laws relevant to this, take a look at the Hosana Tabor and subsequent cases.

      My guess is the truth is you’ve got a narcissist rabbi who was jealous of a colleague and orchestrated this entire thing with a Board that, as I said above, is likely and practically clueless.

  11. Carole Bernstein

    As an attorney and a former (16-year) member of Temple Israel, Mr. Sternfeld’s comment is spot on. Cantor/Rabbi Sklar is an extraordinarily warm, genuine and talented clergyman who was treated in a manner that contravenes the values we hold dear to us as Jews. I am confident that he will find a new home unencumbered by the alleged nonsensical restrictions on where and with whom he prays. Shame on the Board and/or other clergy members who were complicit in this heinous action. I am likewise confident that cantor/rabbi sklar will avail himself of competent and skilled counsel to enforce whatever rights, contractual or otherwise, he may have.

  12. Jamie Machotka

    Thank you for all of your support, Shirah and Dan, for me and my family, while I was in the hospital with COVID last week. I am now home from the hospital and still recovering from this awful disease.
    I had no idea what was transpiring for you and your family during my illness and I am in a state of shock and feel compelled to say this:
    If I were a member of Temple Israel, I would want an explanation in a public forum to answer a lot of questions.

    Where is the explanation or apology for lying to the congregation in such a flagrant manner?

    What is NOW going to be done for Cantor Sklar? It is UNCONSCIONABLE to treat a dedicated clergy member in such a way (or any other person) and all the more cruel during a pandemic.

    Most importantly, Temple Israel Members: Please, do the right thing here, use your voices and demand accountability.