28 Men and Women Who Move Us

In the year since the Forward published the first profiles of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, the road signs along the path of Jewish continuity have grown more menacing. The Pew Research Center’s survey of American Jews codified what many feared: A shrinking number of Jews belong to synagogues, care about religious life and identify strongly with the larger Jewish community. The rabbinate as a whole continues to struggle, as synagogues close or merge and expectations of clergy grow too exaggerated to fulfill.

That’s why I love this project. It is a powerful, authentic antidote to the troubling signs, an affirmation that despite the worrying mega-trends, our spiritual leaders are connecting with Jews and strengthening communities across America.

This year we received hundreds of nominations from readers everywhere. After a careful process of reading, sifting, tabulating and fact-checking, we chose 28 men and women whose stories are most telling and compelling. These rabbis range in age from 28 to 81 years old, encompassing all major denominations and then some; they work in established synagogues and in new ones; in hospitals, universities and day schools, and one served in the military.

Forward staffers were prohibited from offering nominations, but two of our writers had their own inspiring story to tell. Their sidebars are included here, along with a profile written by one of last year’s most inspiring rabbis.

A few themes emerged from the mass of submissions: Readers seemed to be especially moved by rabbis who taught them about spirituality and meditation, who reached out to interfaith couples and led them through painful moments — the birth of a stillborn child, the death of a parent, the death of a marriage.

We see in these leaders not just men and women who care about Judaism — they care about Jews. It is a privilege to share their stories.

— Jane Eisner

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

Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz Congregation Beth El Virginia Rabbi Rena Arshinoff Toronto Western Hospital — University Health Network Ontario Rabbi Olivier BenHaim Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue Washington Rabbi E. Daniel Danson Mt. Sinai Congregation Wisconsin Rabbi Ted Falcon Works with Interfaith Amigos, Paths to Awakening and Blakeley Wellness Center Washington Rabbi Aviva Fellman Oceanside Jewish Center New York Rabbi Jeremy Fine Temple of Aaron Minnesota Rabbi Eliyahu Fink Pacific Jewish Center California Rabbi Adam Greenwald American Jewish University California Rabbi Naftali Harcsztark SAR Academy High School New York Rabbi Herschel Hartz Inwood Jews New York Rabbi Rachel Isaacs Beth Israel Congregation; Colby College Maine Rabbi Benzion Klatzko Shabbat.com New York Rabbi Jamie Korngold Adventure Rabbi: Synagogue Without Walls Colorado Rabbi Benay Lappe Svara (Yeshiva) Illinois Rabbi Michael Adam Latz Shir Tikvah Congregation Minnesota Rabbi Yael Levy Mishkan Shalom Synagogue Pennsylvania Rabbi Andrea London Beth Emet The Free Synagogue Illinois Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz Brown University MEOR Rhode Island Rabbi Fred Natkin Congregation Mateh Chaim Florida Rabbi Jesse Olitzky Jacksonville Jewish Center Florida Rabbi Debra Orenstein Congregation B’nai Israel New Jersey Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein Central Synagogue New York Rabbi David Segal Aspen Jewish Congregation Colorado Rabbi Marc Soloway Congregation Bonai Shalom Colorado Rabbi Susan Talve Central Reform Congregation Missouri Rabbi Elie Weinstock Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun New York Rabbi Harold S. White Interfaith Families Project D.C.

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