Rabbi Steven M. Fink and his former congregation of 19 years, Pikesville’s Temple Oheb Shalom, announced they have reached a resolution in their acrimonious, year-long dispute.
Last October, Rabbi Fink was terminated by the historic Reform congregation after allegations surfaced “of an improper incident of a sexual nature that may have occurred a number of years ago involving Rabbi Fink and a then teenager, who was a minor at the time,” according to a statement issued at that time to the temple’s membership by Oheb Shalom’s leadership.
Last December, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinic umbrella group of Reform Judaism, expelled Rabbi Fink over the alleged ethical violations. The CCAR investigated the matter earlier in the year and had initially suspended him from the organization in August of 2018.
Throughout the process, Rabbi Fink, 67, has vehemently denied the allegations and threatened legal action.
In a statement sent to Jmore on May 3 and referencing his wife, Sally Fink, who worked as Oheb Shalom’s director of life long learning, Rabbi Fink wrote, “Sally and I have reached a mutually agreed resolution of the issues between ourselves and those against whom we were prepared to assert our legal claims in court. We agreed to settlement in the sincere hope that it will serve the best interests of the synagogue we both served for almost 20 years. The conflicts, the attendant acrimony, and the adverse publicity must end, once and for all.
“Sally and I must live the rest of our lives as best we can,” the statement read. “We sincerely wish TOS and its present and future congregants peace, happiness and success in the years ahead. We will cherish the many memories of our time at Oheb Shalom.”
In its statement issued May 2 to the congregation, Vicki Spira, president of Oheb Shalom’s board of trustees, wrote, “Temple Oheb Shalom recently made the decision to resolve the ongoing dispute so that our congregational community can move beyond the painful events of the past year. We take no pleasure in agreeing to this settlement. After lengthy deliberation, the Temple’s Board of Directors decided that protracted litigation is not in our congregation’s interest and settlement with Rabbi Fink now ends the conflict and disparagement that have distracted the Temple from our core mission.
“At every stage of this difficult matter, we have followed the law and have done all that we could to protect the dignity and confidentiality of those who came forward,” the statement read. “We hope that our resolution today will provide Temple Oheb Shalom with much deserved peace and the opportunity to continue building on our strong history to create a more healthy and vibrant Temple community.”
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed by either party. The announcement of a resolution between Rabbi Fink and his former congregation comes only days after Oheb Shalom and Owings Mills’ Har Sinai announced that a joint task force recommended a merger between the two temples.
In a “Town Hall Fact Sheet” issued April 28, the 14-member task force proposed the creation of a single congregation of approximately 750 households headquartered at Oheb Shalom’s location at 7310 Park Heights Ave. (The statement did not address the fate of Har Sinai’s property at 2905 Walnut Ave.)
After conducting a financial and legal due diligence process, the task force recommended that Har Sinai and Oheb Shalom hold congregational votes to formally approve the merger by no later than Sept. 22.
Har Sinai and Oheb Shalom first announced they were holding merger talks in September of 2017. But in May of 2018, Har Sinai announced a “30-day pause” in those talks after the allegations against Rabbi Fink arose. A couple of weeks later, Har Sinai’s leadership announced that the temple temporarily postponed the merger exploration talks to focus on “managing our own needs at this time.”
Last March, Har Sinai and Oheb Shalom announced they had once again renewed merger talks.
In October of 2018, after Oheb Shalom members voted 515 to 91 at a congregational meeting to terminate him, Rabbi Fink told Jmore that he planned to discuss his next legal steps with his attorney, Andrew Jay Graham of the law firm Kramon & Graham.
“The battle is over, but the war goes on,” he said. “We will be engaging in litigation with the congregation. This is a travesty of justice. Hopefully, our civil rights will be respected in the courts and I can have due process, which I was denied throughout this whole ordeal. …
“I know I have done nothing wrong,” Rabbi Fink said, “but have been treated unfairly and I’m a victim of – as [celebrity lawyer] Alan Dershowitz calls it – ‘sexual McCarthyism.'”
Oheb Shalom is currently led by its interim senior spiritual leader, Rabbi Marc L. Disick, Rabbi Sarah R. Marion, who came to the temple in 2016, and Rabbi Donald R. Berlin, the congregation’s rabbi emeritus.