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What Is the Future of 21st Century Judaism in America?

April 19, 2012 By:
Lynn B. Edelman, Jewish Federation Feature
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The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia will convene a powerhouse panel of rabbinic leaders on Wednesday, May 2, representing all four major denominations of American Judaism.

Rabbi Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, who will represent the Orthodox; Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; and Rabbi Steven Wernick, vice president and chief executive officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, will present two provocative programs for two distinct audiences at the Jewish Community Services Building, 2100 Arch St., Philadelphia.
The afternoon program, which will begin at 4 p.m., is designed exclusively for area rabbis. Panelists will address "A Vision of the 21st Century Rabbinate" and engage guests in an interactive discussion. The conversation will continue over a glatt kosher dinner. Participation is open to all members of the Greater Philadelphia rabbinate at a cost of $36 per person. Space is limited for this afternoon session. Register at www.jewishphilly.org/boardofrabbis or email registration to: [email protected].

The entire community is encouraged to attend the free public program, which begins at 7:30 p.m., in the auditorium of the Jewish Community Services Building. All four panelists will address "The Future of Denominational Judaism for 21st Century American Jews." Audience comments and questions will be encouraged. Temple University Professor Lila Berman will serve as moderator of the discussion. Refreshments will be served.

Conference organizers Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin of Congregation Beth Sholom in Elkins Park and Rabbi Robert Leib of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington expressed their enthusiasm about the caliber of these high profile panelists.

Rabbi Michael Balinsky, a former Hillel director at Northwestern University, presides over an organization that represents 200 rabbis of all denominations. He is a member of the Jewish Catholic Scholars Dialogue in Chicago, the Board of the Parliament of the World Religions, and serves on the executive of the Council of Religious leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and the advisory board of the Bernadin Center at the Catholic Theological Union. He is also an active participant in a number of Jewish, Christian and Muslim interfaith initiatives.

Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, named one of the 50 most influential American rabbis by Newsweek magazine for four consecutive years, became the fifth president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2002. He is the first graduate to assume leadership of an institution that is both the intellectual center and the rabbinical training school of the Reconstructionist movement.

Ehrenkrantz came to RRC after 14 years as rabbi of Bnai Keshet, a Reconstructionist congregation in Montclair, N.J. There, he received national attention in The Washington Post for his work in helping to foster interfaith understanding as a member of the Montclair Clergy Association.

Prior to assuming the presidency of the Union for Reform Judaism in February, Rabbi Rick Jacobs spent 20 years as the spiritual leader at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y. During his tenure, he reshaped communal worship and strengthened the synagogue's commitment to vibrancy and inclusion. Under Rabbi Jacobs' leadership, the synagogue completed a new "green" sanctuary, one of only a handful of Jewish houses of worship in the nation to carry this designation.

Dedicated to global social justice issues, Rabbi Jacobs was part of a delegation that assessed disaster response following Haiti's devastating earthquake in 2010. He also observed the plight of Darfur refugees as part of an international humanitarian mission to the Chad-Darfur border area in 2005, and in 2009, participated in an annual conference of Muslim and Christian leaders designed to build understanding between the West and the Muslim world.

Rabbi Steven Wernick became the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's executive vice president and chief executive officer in 2009. The son of a Conservative rabbi, he was active as a teenager and a young adult in the movement's youth group and its summer camp system. After his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, he spent six years as associate rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, N.J., and was named the spiritual leader of Adath Israel in Merion Station in 2001.

At Adath Israel, Rabbi Wernick took over a congregation that had been dwindling and through his vision and energy, turned it into one of Philadelphia's most vibrant synagogues. He oversaw its successful merger with another, smaller congregation, and nurtured its USY group, which went on to win several awards, including International Chapter of the Year. Rabbi Wernick also worked to develop community outside Adath Israel's walls. He was president of the region's Rabbinical Assembly, the organization for Conservative rabbis, from 2006 to 2008. and was active in other local groups.

Rabbi Elisa Goldberg, president of the local Board of Rabbis, encourages the community to participate in what she refers to as "a provocative and engaging evening program."
Although admission is free, prior registration is suggested. RSVP to: [email protected].

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