Forward Thinking

Our Search for America's Most Inspiring Rabbis

By Abigail Jones

  • Print
  • Share Share
Union for Reform Judaism
How has a rabbi inspired you or your community?

Two weeks ago, when the Forward launched its special editorial project America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, we had no idea what to expect. We asked people of all ages, denominations and backgrounds to nominate a rabbi who has inspired them or who had a profound effect on their lives or in their communities. But would readers respond? Would they take the time to write 200 words about a rabbi? Would we receive stories from a cross-section of American Jews — and would those stories move us? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES!

America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis marks the first phase of our year-long investigation into the challenges and changing roles of the American rabbinate. Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner launched this initiative in a recent editorial, in which she addressed the effect our stalled economy has had on job opportunities for both young and old rabbis, as well as the difficulties women face breaking into the all-male Orthodox world — and the difficulties the Reform movement faces attracting men to its synagogues. As she concluded, “defining and sustaining the role of the modern rabbi is one of the most vital challenges before the American Jewish community today.”

After two short weeks, we have received an overwhelming number of responses from Jews across America. We have heard moving stories about rabbis from every denomination doing important work in Venice, Calif., Greensboro, N.C., Swampscott, Mass., Kansas City and New York City. We heard about people moving to new places and discovering thriving Jewish communities they never knew existed. We heard stories of remarkable strength — of a rabbi reaching out across denominational lines to help a woman say Kaddish for her mother when no one else in her Jewish community would. We heard stories about family, education, kindness and religious teaching.

If you have not yet shared your story with the Forward, we hope you will take a few moments to do so. Click here to nominate your rabbi by February 28, 2013. We will publish the most compelling submissions next month as part of our larger look at the 21st century American rabbinate. In the meantime, enjoy these moving excerpts from some of the submissions we’ve received thus far.

Making a difference during Hurricane Sandy:

He opened the doors to his home, offering coffee and comfort and conversation. He organized warm meals and clothing collections. He contacted relief organizations and arranged for help on his congregants’ behalf. He did whatever he could to ease his community’s suffering. It’s been months since Hurricane Sandy, and things are still far from normal in the life of my community, but we always knew we weren’t alone. Rabbi ____ made sure of that, and this alone has made the rebuilding so much easier.

Offering guidance in times of need:

Rabbi ____ officiated at my marriage and two weeks later at the funeral of my husband. She was there for me and the whole congregational community. She prayed with us during Ed’s illness and inspired us. She has taught me about Judaism, made me laugh and cry. She inspires many who have never belonged to a temple to join our community. Without [her], our community would not be as rich and strong as it is.

Making a difference, one person at a time:

Rabbi ____ is the humble teacher, working diligently in the Beit Midrash, helping fledgling Rabbinical students of all ages come to know Torah and develop within themselves a storehouse of love, respect, and dedication to serve the Jewish people with, hopefully, the same passion, humility and love that she does. She will never likely be on the cover of Time or be the head Rabbi of a large metropolitan Synagogue, but if we are taking about the shape of the Rabbinate, [she] is at the forefront of tomorrow’s conservative Rabbinate. She is quietly shaping the future of American Judaism one student at a time.

Teaching the next generation:

He often joked that he couldn’t teach me how to be a rabbi, but he could teach me exactly what not to do. Through mistake after mistake, I learned how to empower and engage others, even when a task could get done much more quickly if I did it myself. I learned how to apologize when I was wrong. I also learned how to ask for help when I needed it. My rabbi taught me how to be an active listener, and how to become comfortable with silence.

Opening arms to new Jewish communities:

When I moved to Virginia 15 years ago, 8 months pregnant and the mother of a 3 year old, I began my search for a congregation that would welcome MY family. You see, I am a lesbian mom and finding a place to raise my children that would accept ALL types of families was not easy. After being told by other congregations that yes, we could join, but two moms would not be welcome on the bima for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and other comments that made our family feel marginalized, I met my Rabbi and found my Jewish home at Temple B’nai Shalom.

Have you been deeply inspired by a rabbi? Click here to share your story with the Forward.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: reform, rabbis, orthodox, most inspiring rabbis, forward thinking, conservative

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.