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Local Sy​nagogue, Rabbi Make It to the 'Top'

April 9, 2009 By:
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Newsweek named Germantown Jewish Centre one of the 25 most vibrant synagogues in the nation, describing it as a "model for pluralistic and egalitarian worship and community."

The list (at www.newsweek.com) was compiled by Michael Lynton, chairman & CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment; Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of News Corporation; and Jay Sanderson, CEO of Jewish Television Network.

The congregations weren't ranked in any particular order, and no other shul in Pennsylvania or New Jersey was cited.

"It was so nice that the little blurb they gave us was related to our core sense of ourselves," said Germantown's rabbi, Leonard Gordon.

The list of congregations was a new addition to Newsweek's much talked about -- and much maligned -- annual ranking. Previously, the Web site only issued a list of the 50 most influential rabbis.

This year, Rabbi Dan Ehrenkranz, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, came in at No. 23, down three slots from the 2008 edition. But he said that wouldn't cause him to lose much sleep.

"I think these lists are rather silly," he retorted. "That said, I'd rather be on it than not."

Ehrenkranz pointed out that five RRC graduates made the list, as did Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi -- though he dropped from No. 27 to No. 45 -- a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement who was a Philadelphia resident for years.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, took over the top spot from Rabbi Marvin Hier.

Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, has led the field since the list first appeared two years ago, but he was relegated to runner-up in 2009.

What mainly propelled Saperstein into the lead is his role as Washington insider, political powerbroker and friend of President Obama, said Sanderson, one of three men who determine the rankings.

Following Saperstein and Hier in the top 10 are Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network; Yehuda Krinsky, global leader of the Chabad Lubavitch movement; David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College; Robert Wexler, president of American Jewish University; Shmuley Boteach, author, and radio and TV host; Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform movement's congregational arm; Uri Herscher, founder of Skirball Cultural Center; and Irwin Kula, co-president of CLAL.

The list got its start when the three old friends were talking years ago about the erosion of synagogue participation, and what kind of rabbis it would take to turn the trend around.

After they completed the list, they shared it with a few friends.

"But I never thought it would go anywhere," said Sanderson.

Shortly before Passover 2007, the New York-based Ginsberg phoned Lisa Miller, religion editor at Newsweek, who liked the concept and gave the first list of 50 influential rabbis considerable play. She repeated it in 2008, also requesting a list of 25 outstanding pulpit rabbis.

"This year, with cutbacks and fewer pages, I thought that Newsweek might drop the whole thing, but a few weeks ago, Lisa called and asked, 'Where's the list of hot rabbis?' " said Sanderson.

He added that the selection process is hardly scientific.

Sanderson explained that the main goal "is to start a critical conversation in the community about the future and direction of Judaism. Our hope is that when family members sit around the seder table, they will talk about today's state of Judaism and what needs changing."

Tom Tugend of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.


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