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THIS & THAT March 12, 2010
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The Assembly

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This Month...

Editor's Comment
Michael looks at:
Farewell, Shalom and Adieu

Being Jewish Magazine

see a .pdf copy of the current issue

An Open Letter from Abba to His Family

Enough With The Political Finger-Pointing!

Revisiting the Haggadah

Eddy's Recipe List
Victoria Sponge

Book Review
Unstrung Heroes

The Outspeaker
Encouraging violence is never correct

Good times and bad times with Batya

Nathan Weissler
What my friendship with Michael Hanna-Fein meant to me

Marjorie Wolfe
An Interview with Paul Reiser

BC's Backlot
The Last Shalom

Lynn Ruth Miller
How we all became part of a bigger story

Mel Yahre
A few words for my friend

Eddy's Thoughts
Don't let life flutter by

The Bear Facts
How I found Michael


A Century in the Life of The Adas Israel Hebrew Congregation of Washington, D.C.
By Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz
Review by Nathan Weissler

I was very interested to read this book because the author--Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, the retired rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation a renowned Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C. was for years my paternal grandparents’ rabbi. . He also presided at my father’s Bar Mitzvah in 1967. More recently, I myself met Rabbi Rabinowitz at a Selichot service and dessert reception at Adas Israel in September 2008.

This is a fascinating and well written memoir which I very much enjoyed. The book covers both the rabbi’s life experiences and the history of the Washington and American Jewish communities. Rabbi Rabinowitz discusses the early history of the Washington, DC Jewish Community covering the late 18th and early to mid 19th century. The 1852 founding of the city’s first synagogue--Washington Hebrew Congregation is discussed. The rift between members who favored traditional Jewish observances and those who supported the rising Reform movement in Judaism is eloquently documented. Thus, Washington Hebrew Congregation was split. This directly led to the founding in 1869 of Adas Israel Congregation which for many years was an Orthodox synagogue.

Rabbi Rabinowitz summed up the significance of the founding of Adas Israel well: “In retrospect, it was fortunate that Adas Israel came into being when it did, for a few years later, with the beginning of the great influx of Russian Jews, new immigrants settling in Washington found a traditional synagogue awaiting them; a Reform congregation would not have met their needs.”

The narrative continues by explaining the gradual development of Adas Israel as a synagogue--including the purchase of its first cemetery as well as the hiring and firing of a variety of rabbis and cantors. Ultimately, the synagogue joined the Conservative movement and the Conservative seminary--the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) located in New York City.

There is also an engaging discussion of the rabbi’s life and career. Indeed, after serving as a pulpit rabbi in a few American cities including Minneapolis, Minnesota--Rabbi Rabinowitz was offered and accepted the rabbinate at Adas Israel in Washington, D.C. He assumed the rabbinate in Washington in 1960.

Memorable moments during the rabbi’s career at Adas Israel--until his retirement in 1986--included the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Six days after the assassination--Thanksgiving Day 1963--the rabbi delivered a Thanksgiving sermon at an interfaith service at the Mount Vernon Methodist Church attended by the new President, Lyndon B. Johnson. Rabbi Rabinowitz also took a decisive moral stand on the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at a city meeting hosted at Adas Israel in 1963. Then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yitzhak Rabin and his family were members of Adas Israel while living in Washington, D.C.

One story I found particularly meaningful was one in which an African-American student at St. Alban’s Episcopal School in Washington, D.C. was refused entry into a Washington apartment building. The apartment building owner was of Rabbi Rabinowitz’s congregants. I was especially moved by the rabbi’s statement to a meeting of real estate developers and apartment building owners from Adas Israel ,”…that it was unworthy for a Jew to practice discrimination and that the group should take the initiative in announcing a non-discriminatory open-housing policy in their buildings.”

I find it heart-warming that the rabbi was not only exemplifying the Jewish ideals of social justice beautifully but in an era when doing the right thing could well have gotten him into political trouble.

Finally, the book’s message is invaluable largely because it provides a window into the past which, as we advance into the 21st century, is especially important. Furthermore, Rabbi Rabinowitz challenges us to take strong moral stands on issues affecting both the contemporary Jewish and secular world (which he did when he protested housing discrimination in Washington, D.C.) I encourage anyone interested not only in recent American Jewish History but in how to lead our lives today and in the future to read this wonderful book!

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