36 Rabbis Shaping 21st-Century Judaism

The rabbis profiled on these pages, and the hundreds more suggested by Forward readers, teach us a profound lesson about the yearnings of North American Jews at this fraught moment in time.

I didn’t expect such a lesson. When we initiated this project, I hoped to engage readers and hear stories about rabbis in unlikely places as we embark on a yearlong series examining the embattled American rabbinate. I did not expect to receive a deluge of heartfelt responses so compelling that it was difficult to select the 36 profiled here.

And the lesson from these 36, a special number in our tradition, is that American Jews, regardless of denomination, geography or gender, harbor a deep longing for spiritual leadership — and respond to it not only in synagogue, but in classrooms, Hillels and hospices. They yearn for rabbis who touch the soul and create community.

These rabbis offer that kind of leadership. Whether the broader rabbinate can do so may hold the key to the future of the American Jewish community.

—JANE EISNER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

The following excerpts from nominating letters have been edited for style and length.

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