Rabbis 2015

These stories of inspiring rabbis could not come at a better time. In the few short months since the dawn of 2015, the Jewish world has been stunned by terror, torn apart by partisan bickering, confronted with resurgent anti-Semitism in some communities and a seeping apathy in others.

Read these stories, and that troubling present melts in the face of genuine spiritual leadership and grace. Thanks to hundreds of nominations by our readers, we’ve identified 33 of the most inspiring men and women from North America who are defining and redefining what it means to be a rabbi in the 21st century.

Some of these leaders are employing the new technologies of social media and blogs to teach and share their experiences to a broader flock. Rabbi Phyllis Sommer of Glencoe, Illinois continues to write about the lessons she learned from her son’s battle with leukemia on her Superman Sam blog years after the little boy died. Rabbi David Wolpe sends out insightful comments from his perch in Los Angeles to more than 55,000 Facebook followers everywhere.

But in reading these stories, I am also struck by the way the modern rabbinate continues to successfully dedicate itself to the traditional qualities of religious and moral leadership. Over and over, these stories telegraph the power of personal connection — through study, social action or simple acts of kindness.

Several rabbis were nominated by disabled congregants who are thankful for the way they are included in synagogue activities. A Chinese family was grateful that a Chabad rabbi is guiding them through conversion. Another congregant wrote of how her rabbi accompanied her through the painful journeys of illness and the death of a loved one.

And no matter the denomination or location, Jews around the nation are eager for their rabbis to help them elevate their individual practices and beliefs, and strengthen their faith communities. These old-fashioned roles seem never to go out of fashion, whether the rabbi is 32 years old or — in the case of the indefatigable Rabbi Arthur Waskow — already in his ninth decade.

We modern Jews still search for meaning and community. Join me in being inspired by the Forward’s third annual list of the rabbis who guide us to those timeless truths.

— Jane Eisner

These entries have been edited for style and length.

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