LA Rabbi Discusses Support for Israel During Federation’s 120th Meeting

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Rabbi David Wolpe, the Max Webb Emeritus Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, addresses a crowd of over 300 at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s 120th annual meeting. CJN photo / Courtney Byrnes


Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News

With increasing criticism of Israel in public discourse and on college campuses, Rabbi David Wolpe’s goal in speaking to Jewish communities is to encourage and reinforce support for Israel and urge people to work together.

Wolpe, the Max Webb Rabbi Emeritus of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles who has traveled the world as a public speaker, made a stop in Beachwood on May 23 to speak at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s 120th annual meeting at The Temple-Tifereth Israel. He spoke to the Cleveland Jewish News in an interview prior to the meeting.

“At times when we really need the Jewish community to operate as one, generally they are able to do so,” Wolpe told the CJN. “And from everything I have heard and read about Cleveland, Cleveland is a shining example of this.”

While Wolpe retired as senior rabbi of Sinai Temple last June, his work has not slowed down as he soon was appointed the Anti-Defamation League’s inaugural rabbinic fellow and began an interesting year as a visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School. After the Oct. 7, 2023, surprise attack on Israel by Hamas, in both of these roles Wolpe’s focus turned to the rise in antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses.

At Harvard, he joined and later resigned from the antisemitism committee, of which he said its recommendations to the administration were largely ignored, and referred to the “awful” congressional hearing with testimonies from the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology that led to the resignation of presidents Claudine Gay of Harvard and Liz Magill of Penn. Looking back, he reflected on three lessons universities can learn from the year of campus protests and antisemitic incidents.

“The first lesson that they can learn – and one I’m surprised that they have not already learned – is if you enforce the rules at the beginning, your life will be much easier in the middle and at the end,” Wolpe said. “If they had slapped down the first time Jewish students were harassed, the first time classes were disrupted, the first time illegal encampments were set up, then – and some universities did that – they would have been much better off.”

The second lesson is that there cannot be a different standard for discrimination against Jews versus any other group, and the final is for professors to remove politics from the classroom as to not cause discomfort and difficulties for students, he said.

Sharing advice for students in or preparing to go to college, he said where you go and what you study matters. He warned against choosing a college or program that has seen a “difficult” year unless the student is prepared to face the challenges.

“I am not one of those people who think you have to give up on the possibilities of the Ivy Leagues, but I think you have to know who you are and parents have to know who their kids are,” he said. “And some kids, some kids like to fight, and some really, really don’t want to.”

He also said for students who want there to be “an active Zionist Jewish presence on campus,” there will be resources and people to help you, but to know that “you won’t be able to walk through the world anonymously.”

While Wolpe is not going back to Harvard in the fall, he said he’ll be continuing his work with the ADL and splitting time between L.A. at Sinai Temple and in New York as the scholar-in-residence for the Maimonides Fund. He is committed to continuing his focus and speaking about the rise of antisemitism on college campuses because “we can’t give up on the campuses and we have a lot of work to do to say the least.”

Wolpe has been named “The Most Influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek and one of the “50 Most Influential Jews in the World” by The Jerusalem Post.

As over 300 gathered to listen to Wolpe and participate in the Federation’s annual meeting, there was a focus on the organization’s 120-year history.

Event co-chairs Wendi and Ervin Pavlofsky opened the program by sharing a video of local Jewish day school students giving their predictions for what Cleveland will look like in another 120 years. Their predictions ranged from flying cars to talking dogs to a Cleveland Browns Super Bowl win.

“Tonight, we allow ourselves to pause just for a moment to recognize all that we have been able to accomplish together thanks to the strong partnership between our volunteer leaders and professional staff,” Wendi Pavlofsky said. “This powerful combination enables us to overcome challenges and move forward towards a brighter tomorrow for all of us. The fact that this is our 120th annual meeting speaks volumes to the success of this combination of strength of our foundation.”

Board chair Daniel Zelman spoke about the significance of the number 120 in Jewish tradition, noting that as the age Moses lived to. And just like Moses was “able to retain his mental and physical faculties for 120 years,” so too has the Federation stayed strong.

“Here we are 120 years after formation, 120th anniversary, and we’re strong, we’re growing and we’re doing what’s necessary for this community,” Zelman said, highlighting the community’s commitment to the Jewish people, Israel, and its strength and generosity.

Zelman joined the stage with David Orlean, the nominating committee chair, to conduct the official business of the annual meeting in electing the new board of trustees. He then presented the 2024 Charles Eisenman Award for Exceptional Civic Contributions to Gary L. Gross.

“I first volunteered for Federation 47 years ago and never regretted it, quite the opposite,” Gross said in accepting the award. “Federation has enhanced my life as I’ve been privileged to do what this week’s parsha says, namely to help others in need, people who are less fortunate than I.”

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