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Inspiring Rabbis

May 16, 2016

For several years, the Forward has invited readers to submit nominations for “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis” (though rabbis working in Canada are deservedly included). Though any list of this kind is by nature incomplete, it provides an insightful glimpse into the work of religious leaders across the Jewish denominational spectrum.  In its introduction, the Forward wrote that, “clearly, American Jews crave spiritual leadership, whether it comes from a young, innovative, recent seminary graduate, or an older rabbi who has shepherded his congregation for decades. What binds these stories is powerful gratitude for human connection.”

Of the 32 rabbis selected by the paper for inclusion, four are RRC graduates: Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, RRC ’96; Rabbi Jon Cutler, RRC ’87; Rabbi Seth Goldstein, RRC ’03; and Rabbi Darby Jared Leigh, RRC ’08. We are so proud of our graduates and the work they are doing to change people’s lives, strengthen community and make the world a better place. Rabbi Joey Wolf studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary, but leads a Reconstructionist congregation, Havurah Shalom in Portland.

Rabbi Bolton of Or Haneshamah in Ottawa, was nominated by member Diana RalphShe wrote that, “As Ottawa’s first woman and lesbian rabbi and as a member of T’ruah, she brings a fresh spirit to all our Jewish congregations and to interfaith relations. She has spearheaded a range of social justice initiatives: sponsoring a Syrian refugee, promoting social housing and gently opening discussion about Israel-Palestine. In just her first two years here, she introduced exciting innovations such as a Jewish meditation and yoga group. She turns every moment into a participatory teaching opportunity. Taking her classes has transformed my understanding and appreciation of Judaism.”

Rabbi Cutler, of Beth Israel Congregation of Chester County, in Philadelphia’s western suburbs, has served as a U.S. Navy Chaplain in Iraq and East Africa. He was nominated by Olufunmike Adeyemia service member whose father was from Nigeria and whose mother was from Alabama. Adeyemi had married a Jewish woman and initially approached Cutler to learn more about the faith, and ultimately decided to convert. He wrote that, “Now I have a son and a daughter, and my wife and I are raising them as Jews. We are very involved in our synagogue. I am an African-American Jew, my wife is white, our children biracial and we are committed to the future of Judaism. If it were not for Rabbi Cutler, I don’t know if I would have converted to Judaism and be raising a next generation of Jews.”

Rabbi Goldstein, of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia, Wash., was nominated by member Craig Wallace. He wrote that Goldstein, “inspires believers and nonbelievers alike, showing what Judaism has to offer to anyone who identifies with the Jewish community.” Wallace added that Goldstein “has also become an important community leader whose opinions and guidance are sought out by the interfaith community and by city and state leaders. He took the lead in our town in advocating for LGBT rights, including gay marriage, gun control and advocacy for the homeless population. He is not just a pulpit rabbi, but one who demonstrates by his actions what his words mean.”

Rabbi Leigh, of Kerem Shalom in Concord, Mass., was nominated by congregant David Orlinoff. Calling Leigh “the most musical deaf rabbi you could ever find,” Orlinoff wrote that “In his three years as our rabbi, he has started a tradition in which each boy or girl who becomes bar or bat mitzvah gets a chance to share his or her learning by leading a congregational discussion. Rabbi Leigh encourages us to find the joy in Jewish observance and worship and to make everything we do authentic.”

Rabbi Wolf of Havurah Shalom in Portland, Ore., was nominated by Beth Hamon, who described Wolf as bookish and cerebral. Nevertheless, the rabbi "has somehow managed to get this shpilkes-addled, not-so-erudite bike punk musician to care about Israel, strive to make a difference for the less fortunate in her own community and abroad, and dig deeper into a Torah that previously felt like it was shutting me out because of my orientation and gender — and to find my story and my place in it." Rabbi Wolf plans to retire next year. 

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