Chicago-area rabbis have named among the nation’s best and most inspiring. The Jewish Daily Forward recognized five
Chicago rabbis on its list of “America’s 36 Most Inspiring Rabbis” and The Daily
Beast, online hub of Newsweek, ranked Rabbi Asher Lopatin of
Anshei Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Lakeview No. 22 on its list of
“America’s Top 50 Rabbis for 2013.”
Forward also honored Lopatin along
with Rabbi Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of
Rabbis, Rabbi Sam Fraint of Moriah Congregation in Deerfield, Rabbi Allan
Kensky of Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah in Wilmette, and Rabbi Donny
Schwartz, Skokie-based interim regional director of Midwest NCSY and director
of Midwest JSU.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
said he was honored and humbled to be mentioned, but can’t help but think of
the many rabbis not included, a sentiment shared by all the rabbis on the list.
is a sense that whenever you honor some people, you feel it’s unfortunate that
many worthy people are not on either list,” he said. “I’ve been honored more
than I deserve, so I’m grateful.”
the same time, Lopatin said he feels there’s value in both lists because they let
people know what rabbis of all communities are doing and the impact they are
having. He does, however, make the distinction between being an inspiring rabbi
and a powerful one.
think leadership and having an impact is very important, but it’s so good these
lists came out at almost the same time because they’re sort of correctives for
each other,” Lopatin said. “We might not be the biggest machers (movers and shakers) in Chicago, but we are doing our fair
share of connecting to people and inspiring people and that’s really most
Rabbi Michael Balinsky
Forward list includes quotes from
other rabbis and individuals who were inspired by the honored rabbis. One of
Balinsky’s former Hillel students at Northwestern University, for example,
wrote about how Balinsky inspired him to become a rabbi.
a Hillel director, over the years you get letters years later from people who
remember something you said or encounter you had—in many cases which you’ve totally
forgotten about—that really touched their lives,” Balinsky said. “So that
reminds you that every encounter is important.”
current Northwestern Hillel campus rabbi Danya Ruttenberg made The Daily
Beast’s list of “2013: Rabbis to Watch,” which described her as “liberal
Judaism’s resident sexpert.”
honored and flattered to have my work thought of as noteworthy, and continue to
strive to be of service to others and to God in my writing and teaching,” she
said. “Of course, I'm keenly aware of my many, many, many colleagues out
there who do absolutely critical, transformational work and who are not
recognized for it in the same public way.”
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg
recently announced she will be leaving her job at Northwestern Hillel this
year. Lopatin will also be leaving Chicago after 18 years to serve as president
of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in the Bronx, N.Y.
Lopatin said his
main goal in his new position of training young rabbis will be to surround them
with rabbis and teachers who inspire them. Schwartz, who works with students
through NCSY and JSU, expressed a similar notion.
“My rabbis taught
me that you cannot be giving if you are not growing,” Schwartz said. “In order
to be inspiring you have to be inspired.”
Rabbi Donny Schwartz
and Balinsky both said that while every rabbi has a different style or talent,
one of the primary requirements of being a great or inspiring rabbi is having a
love for the people.
have to really love the people so that when you have those small encounters,
you’re really there,” Balinsky said. “It’s easy to get caught up in people’s
pettiness and this and that, but you have to look at them in a favorable way.”
Rabbi Allan Kensky
is also the balance between serving your community and making a difference in
the greater world. Kensky, who will retire this year after 42 years in the
rabbinate, said he has always been committed foremost to the community he is
serving, but feels all rabbis are called to make a difference in the world.
“Each rabbi should figure out what
the correct balance is in their rabbinate,” Kensky said, “and as rabbis we
should ever be mindful of the fact that—as one of my teachers taught—we are
ordained to be rabbis ‘in Israel’ and not just of one community.”
said that having concern for the world as well as your fellow Jew is critical,
and that being an inspiring rabbi goes beyond mere hope and into true optimism.
deep, deep down there needs to be an optimism for the Jewish people and
humanity and the potential of Jews and the Jewish people,” Lopatin said. “You
gotta have that. The rest—you work hard.”