Rabbi Joseph Potasnik provided counseling to those mourning at Ground Zero shortly after 9/11. Illustration: Kurt Hoffman
Last winter when we asked readers to tell us about the rabbis who inspire them, we were overwhelmed by stories of individuals like Rabbi Joseph Potasnik who provided counseling at Ground Zero shortly after the twin towers came tumbling down and Rabbi Ellen Lippman who helped a person new to Judaism find a spiritual and communal home.
We named 36 of these individuals America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis.
But these remarkable stories represent only a fraction of the rabbis around the country impacting their communities in profound ways. So this year we are asking again. Tell us about the rabbis who have changed your life, the life of your family or community. Whether it’s a rabbi who stands behind a pulpit, sits in a hospital waiting room with a family, or leads an unforgettable Jewish camp, share your stories here by February 19th.
We will publish the most compelling entires next month when we name America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis 2014. Here are snippets of a few we have already received:
Providing comfort, even in the midst of war:
________ entered the rabbinate with the sole purpose of becoming a military chaplain, and he served for 25 years in the Navy and the Marines. The glory he sought was to bring Judaism and spirituality to our troops overseas, often following them into the field and conducting “Shabbat” services regardless of what day of the week it was.
Helping a community mourn and grow stronger:
On a recent Shabbat afternoon, in the shadow of disappointment surrounding the thwarted gun reform legislation, a group of concerned locals gathered on a street in St. Louis notorious for gun violence. They stood together and named each of the 46 children who died from hand guns on that very corner. They stood together with Rabbi _______, who weeks earlier had marched in the same place with a local Palestinian grocer, who opens his store to kids as a safe haven and with the neighborhood minister, who was once a drug lord on the street.
Offering education without judgment:
I was completely unaffiliated with no Jewish education. I became interested in Judaism when my wife became pregnant with our first child, but did not feel comfortable in shul due to my lack of knowledge. I not only did not know how to daven, but I could not even read Hebrew. Rabbi__________’s outreach program, provided a place where I not only felt comfortable, but was able to learn and ask questions.…I was someone who could have easily been lost to assimilation. He is one of only three people outside my family who has had a profound impact on my life.
Allowing each congregant to connect to Jewish tradition in their own way:
__________ has taken two synagogues, merged them into one, with a new name. On Shabbat there is an early mystic minyan, a regular service, a torah yoga service, a discussion group. Congregants choose to go where they wish, and at the end, everyone gathers for a healing service and a Ruach rally.
“Adventure Rabbi” Jamie Korngold leads a Passover seminar in Moab, Utah. Photo by Jeff Finkelstein
Last year, this project began with a hunch and a hope. The hunch was that amidst the depressing reports of the decline in organizational Judaism, synagogues struggling to stay afloat, rabbinical seminaries trying to stay relevant, and young Jews turning away, there were rabbis across America who, every day, without fanfare and often without recognition, taught and lead and touched and inspired.
The hope was that our readers would help us find them.
You did. After sifting through hundreds of heartfelt nominations from congregants, students, and even other rabbis, we selected 36 rabbis and shared their stories with you. America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis was one of our most well-read projects in all of 2013, proving that there is a hunger for stories about spiritual leadership in the modern age.
So it is with great pleasure and anticipation that we renew the call for 2014. Using the form below, please tell us about a rabbi who did something remarkable, in a day or over a lifetime, from the pulpit or the classroom, the Hillel or the hospice. We mean to cast a wide net here, because we recognize that profound spiritual leadership can come in many forms and sometimes in the most unlikeliest of places.
Help us tell these stories.