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Tributes to Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis (z"l)



[collapsed title="A Note of Gratitude from Malkah Schulweis"]

Malkah Schulweis, MFT

Friday, February 6, 2015

Dear Chaverim

I am deeply moved by the outpouring of tributes, generous contributions and personal reminiscences from so very many of you. So much so that, though I wish it were otherwise, I do not have the strength to do what each of you deserves — a personal thank you. As impersonal as this note seems, it comes with my gratitude for the ways you have memorialized Rabbi Schulweis.

My first impulse was to tell him how proud he should be — which tells me how far behind my mind is from my heart. But every one of you confirms his deepest hope that the ethical and empathic response of modern Jews to the new/old traditions would ensure not only our survival but our strength.

Though I thought I was prepared…oh no…I had more to understand. Just this past Shabbat morning during the P’suiki D’zimrah prayers, just before Shacharit, is a prayer my eyes have glossed over many times without focus…not today:

By the mouth of the upright, You are exalted
By the words of the righteous, You are praised
By the tongue of the faithful, You are acclaimed
In the soul of the saintly, are You hallowed.

Please accept what I feel in writing this to you and the love for the extended family which animates it.

Malkah Schulweis

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Shabbat Shiur: January 17, 2015 - Rabbi David Ellenson and Rabbi Ed Feinstein 'The God Within and Between—Rabbi Schulweis in the Perspective of Modern Jewish Thought'"]

Shabbat Shiur: January 17, 2015 from Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue on Vimeo.

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="January 17, 2015 Torah Study with Rabbi David Ellenson, 'A Revolutionary Rabbinate—Rabbi Schulweis in the Perspective of American Jewish History'"]

Torah Study: January 17, 2015 from Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue on Vimeo.

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Shabbat Service: January 16, 2015 - In Commemoration of the Shloshim: Rabbi David Ellenson and Rabbi Ed Feinstein, 'The Prophetic Vision, The Rabbinic Voice, The Voice of Conscience: How Rabbi Schulweis Transformed American Judaism'"]

Shabbat Service: January 16, 2015 from Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue on Vimeo.

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Tribute Book for Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis (z'l)"]

In Tribute to Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis (z"l)

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Eulogy from Rabbi Ed Feinstein"]

Harold –

You knew that I loved stories, so you left me this one:

When the angels of heaven learned of God’s plan to create the human being b’tzelem elohim, in the divine image, they were aghast.

“How can God plant something as pure and holy as the tzelem, the divine image, in a create as deceitful, base and corrupt as the human being?” So they conspired to steal it and hide it from the human. But where, where to hide the holy tzelem? The angels met in urgent council to decide.

“Hide it on the top of the highest mountain,” suggested one angel. But no, “one day he will climb that mountain and find it.”

“Hide it beneath the deepest sea,” suggested another. But no, “some day he will plumb those depths and find it. 

“Put it at the farthest edge of the most forbidding wilderness,” another offered. But no, “he will learn to traverse the wilderness some day and will find it.

Finally, the shrewdest of the angels stepped forward. “We will place it deep in his heart. He will never look for it there.”

This, Harold, was your truth. Divinity, you taught, is not far away. It is not up there, or out there. God is not far away. God abides here, hidden within us. Only we don’t know that. We don’t recognize the divinity within us.  So you held up a mirror, that we could see the truth.

So I added a postscript to your story.

God always follows the counsel of God’s angels. So God created the human being, and planted the tzelem deep within the human heart. Deeper than anyone can find it. But not so deep that one who loves us can’t find it for us. 

In the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses offers one of his last teachings to the People Israel.  He implores them –

            This truth is not too difficult for you. It is not beyond you.

Lo ba’shamayim hi – It is not in heaven, that you should say, who can go up and get it for us, and teach us to do it. It is not beyond the sea, that you should say who can cross the sea and get it for us, and teach us to do it

            No. It is very close to you, this truth. Ki karov alecha ha-davar.

            B’fee’cha ul’vav’cha la’astoah. It is in your mouth, and in your heart, to do it.

This is what you meant by predicate theology: God is not up there, or out there. God is not far away. God is here, with us, in us. God is  b’fee’cha ul’vav’cha la’astoah, in our acts, in our words, in our dreams and ideals.

God, you taught us, is known in moments of self-transcendence – in loving, caring, healing, giving. God speaks in the voice of conscience drawing us upward be better, drawing us outward to be loving, drawing us forward to be giving. It protects us from hopelessness, helplessness and despair. 

You were a prophet of this God, ever demanding that we acknowledge and recognize that our lives matter, our actions matter, our voices matter. You would not allow us to sink into triviality, into small thinking, or self-absorption, into helplessness, or hopelessness or despair.

The mirror you held up was Torah. Torah is a mirror to see the divinity within. In Judaism, you found an exquisite language of self-transcendence. You were embarrassed by the smallness of spirit and hollow superficiality of so much of Jewish life. You were enraged by a Judaism self-absorbed and morally oblivious. You were offended by a Judaism resentful of the world, afraid of the world. You were offended by rabbis who had nothing to say. You were offended by prayer that was  superficial and learning that was trivial.

The Hasidic master once asked his students, “What is the most important moment in all of Jewish history?” And the students answered readily –

            “The moment God gave us Torah on Mt Sinai!”

            “The day the Holy Temple was erected!”

            “When great Maimonides sat down to write the Code of Jewish Law!”

“No,” my children,” responded the Rebbe. “The greatest moment in Jewish history is now. This moment. All of these moments are great. But they mean nothing if they have no place in this moment. This moment, right now, is the greatest moment in Jewish history.”

You, Harold, insisted on the importance of this moment. You insisted that Torah be read in the present tense. Not about yesterday, but about today and tomorrow. The essential question, you argued, is not what was or what is, but what ought to be. The question is not what the synagogue is, but what ought it to be? Not what the world is, but what it ought to be. Not who we are, but who aspire to become.

You worshipped a God you called Adonai. God’s name Adonai, you pointed out, is first pronounced only when the human being enters the world. Adonai is the name for the human capacity for self-transcendence; for the human capacity to transform and reshape and heal the given world.  Adonai – the power of human being to create the world of God’s dreams. You taught us to find Adonai by reaching across the loneliness and alienation of suburban life to build Havurot. You taught us to find Adonai by reaching beyond the isolation and privatism, beyond the individualism and share life’s moments as para-rabbinics and para-professional counselors, helping one another. You taught us to find Adonai by opening the synagogue to those once excluded – children and adults with special needs, gays and lesbians and their families, the hungry and indigent and homeless, people of all faiths seeking truth. The synagogue, you taught us, is a center for self-transcendence. Its doors must never be closed, its windows never opaque. That’s what we mean when we say God lives here, Shechina dwells in the synagogue. This must be the place of self-transcendence. 

In self-transcendence, you taught, is a life that is purposeful, significant, important.

You taught us that we matter. Every place you went, mattered. At every meeting, every committee, every class, every lecture, you taught us that this moment is important and significant, and it matters. It made it impossible to make small talk with you. I remember sitting and lunch, trying to make small talk, about sports, or politics, or the weather. You looked at me and asked, “Have you read Buber?”

The midrash taught that the Burning Bush did not just appear on the day Moses ascended the mountain. The Burning Bush was there since Creation. Thousand of people passed by but never noticed it. Only Moses stopped, only Moses recognized the wonder. Moses saw, he saw within. You insisted that every moment was laden with responsibility and significance. Every moment was historic. In every moment held the potential to be revelatory. Moment matters, there is nothing trivial in the world. We matter.

You took on the greatest challenge in all of Jewish history, how to believe and stand up after the Holocaust. If God is known in self-transcendence, where is God in the silent, cold darkness, in the immeasurable evil of the Shoah? Then, you found a man named Hermann Graber, working as a janitor in a San Francisco hotel, and you discovered that when he lived in Germany, he saved hundreds of Jews. You met a mathematics student at the university named Jacob Roslin who was rescued, together with his brothers, by a Polish Christian family. You discovered the Japanese diplomat, Sempo Sugihara who saved thousands of Lithuanian Jews, and the French village of Le Chambon, and the Bulgarian prince. You brought them here so that we could meet them.

You remember the Danish policeman, now living in retirement in Orange County. He told us how he worked as a policemen in Copenhagen by day, and by night, he smuggled Jewish families down to the port and bribed the fisherman to ferry them to safety in Sweden. We asked him, why? Why did you do this? Why? And he shook his head humbly, as if we’d asked a silly question, and answered quietly, “It is was right. It was the right thing to do. ” And we cried. Because Adonai did not die in Auschwitz. Because goodness did not disappear into the darkness. Through these extraordinary men and women, willing to risk everything to save people they didn’t know, you found a rebirth of Adonai.

They rescued Jews, Harold. You rescued God from the clutches of the darkness and the evil. You revived God. You resuscitated God. Even in the coldest darkness, you found Adonai. Even there, amidst the deepest of evil, the God of self-transcendence, the God of conscience, a God of life.  Adonai Hu Ha-Elohim. God lives. 

You were not satisfied. You were never satisfied. “Never Again,” you proclaimed, cannot mean only “Never Again” just for us. We are a global people living in a global era. And ours is a global God. We worship Melech Ha-Olam, not Melech Yisrael. Our genocide, so horrid and dark, has been duplicated – in Cambodia, Bosnia, Ruwanda. And where were we? Where was our voice of protest? Where was the voice of our conscience? And now in Darfur and the Congo? Where are we? And so, in your last decade, you founded Jewish World Watch, so that you would have an answer when your grandchildren asked, Where were you, Zeyde?

You taught us – Ours are the hands of God. Ours are eyes of God. Ours is the voice of God. God lives, only so long as conscience lives in us.

I heard you for the first time in 1970. It was your first sermon on this pulpit at Selichot. It was my first date with Nina. I took her to a lovely dinner, and then a late summer concert at the Hollywood Bowl. And then I put my arm around her and asked, What shall we do now? She replied, Let’s go to Shul. I admit, that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. But we went. We sat in the very back corner, in corduroy jeans and work shirts and desert boots, together with hundreds of other kids in jeans, work shirts and boots.

I fell in love twice that night.

I had never heard a Torah like yours, expressed with so much passion, so much urgency – a Torah spoken in the present tense. I never heard a rabbi tell me that God live if I live Godly. I never heard a Torah that demanded so much of me, as a response, a responsibility, a real life.

I wanted to know that Torah, to hold it and teach it. But I had too many questions. So many questions. You said to me – questions are sacred. You only question that which you love. Questions are sacred, for questions are the seeds of self-transcendence. Questions are the tools for rebuilding and reinterpreting the tradition. Questions keep God alive in the world. God loves those questions.

We have been sharing questions ever since. Since the day I came to work here, you’d come into my office with your coffee, sit yourself down, and ask me a question. We’ve spend the last 20 years searching, debating, arguing, struggling with those questions. I am not finished yet. I will continue to ask.  Come tomorrow morning, Monday morning, I will wait to hear another question. That question brings God back into the world.

In an interview, I once asked you what the name “Schulweis” means. You said it was an acronym for a Hebrew phrase – “Sheh-yichyeh v’yizkeh leerot b’nechmat tzion.”

May we have life and merit to see the restoration of Zion.

Schulweis, you name is a prayer.

Your Torah rescued God, and a whole generation of Jews, raised up thousands of students, rabbis and teachers, raised up the hearts of the Jewish people. Until such time as we merit to see the restoration of Zion, we will ask your questions.

Thank you, Harold.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Eulogy from Sylvia Bernstein-Tregub"]

By the grace of Rabbi Schulweis I am speaking today, many months after he anticipated this moment and first spoke with me about delivering this eulogy.

Some time ago I asked him how hard it must be to write a eulogy for a dear friend and he said no, it wasn’t really hard. At first, I didn’t understand. But he explained that when the words were about a good, decent and caring person... they were honest sentiments that came from the heart. Nothing had to be manufactured. What was hard, he said, was to write a eulogy for someone of poor character. He was an extent. These words come from my heart, he is my dear friend, a good and caring person and an extraordinary and brilliant human being. What we never discussed was how painful it would be to deliver these honest sentiments.

As it will be for all of us, it will take a very long time for me to become accustomed to thinking and speaking about the Rabbi in the past tense and of not speaking to him or with him. He was so significantly present in our lives. From the very beginning of coming to Valley Beth Shalom he created an environment where the synagogue served as a Bet Hamikdash, Bet Tefilah, and Bet Knesset, a house of study, a house of prayer, and a house of assembly. It became our personal reality. Our lives were changed forever by this visionary in our midst. He set the bar ever so high for creativity. He loved the excitement that came from ideas and passionately followed his conscience, taking action, turning his visions into reality.

He spoke often about a synagogue having windows, for its role is to open our eyes to the community and to the world outside, to inspire us to act to meet the moral, spiritual and intellectual needs of these communities in need of direction and repair and healing. He dearly loved this synagogue and he felt strongly that Valley Beth Shalom had something to say and something important to give. It had a voice that must be heard. But a synagogue must have a courageous and dynamic leader to stimulate that action. And that he was to his very core, for he explained that being a rabbi is not what he does, it is what he is. I never heard him complain about the hours, of being too tired, or the need to take a day off. Malkah was the perfect partner...strong, wise, loving, caring, understanding, providing support and encouragement while forging her own model for the role of a wife of a rabbi in modernity. He often said that she was his rabbi.

His encouragement was invaluable and so very convincing, reaching into the deepest recesses of our being. I think of the hundreds of adults who become B’nai Mitzvah when responding to his “I know you can do this”, as he walked around the congregation during the Shabbat of Passover. His feel for the pulse of the congregation and his sense of timing saw an end to genderism at Valley Beth Shalom and the beginning of a new creative Judaism. He opened the door for me and many more women to serve as the president of his congregation. Representing Valley Beth Shalom in the community was a very humbling experience and remains one of which I am very proud.

The Rabbi saw the end to homophobia as a synagogue reality. He welcomed and celebrated and honored the strangers in our midst who chose Judaism. He initiated ecumenical dialogue, forging alliances with the Christian, Armenian and Muslim communities bringing them into this sanctuary and into our lives, steadfastly recognizing the goodness in people and believing in the important possibility of making friends...friends with individuals, friends with movements, friends with countries, friends where there were thought to be none...and he called on us to help him make the possible a reality and we did. He often referred to Menachim Mendel of Kotsk, J.B.Solovechik, Morechai Kaplan and Abraham Joshua Heschel among his many teachers, just as Rabbis Feinstein, Hoffman, Farkas, and Taff refer to Rabbis Schulweis as their teacher and... as do we, for we were and are all his students.

To mentor future generations is to ensure immortality. In that he has achieved immortality. The Rabbi’s Shabbat morning discussion with the congregation set a standard for a very unique opportunity to pray an ancient liturgy in a modern context with an existential interpretation. He was prepared each Shabbat to answer the questions he hoped we would ask and when we didn’t, he would ask them himself. The synagogue was also the platform for his quick wit. Many will remember his convincing us he ws an accomplished violinist, holding us in great suspence, yet never playing a note. And his auctioning of irrelevant items from his study on Simchat Torah, convincing us they were priceless...and we bought it...literally.

His vision has shaped our thinking and shaped modern Judaism. For me, personally, I have never left a service, a program, a class without feeling elevated having learned something new that would enrich my Jewish life and that of my family’s, for I took to heart his repeated instruction to teach these lessons to my children ... to our children.

Many times I sought his wise counsel and relied on his wisdom to navigate an appropriate course of action both in the synagogue and in my personal life. I was never disappointed, though he didn’t always have a solution, he offered sound judgment and encouragement. I vividly remember seeking his counsel, in dispair, when, several years after my late husband, Maynard, zichrono livracha, passed away, questioning whether I would ever find someone and marry again. Here I was, speaking with the Rabbi whose writings are profound, whose sermons thought provoking and his oratory commanding. Whose rich vocabulary required our use of the Oxford unabridged dictionary to be fully comprehensible and, it wasn’t always. So here we sat in his office, me and this world renowned scholar and, in answer to my plea, he carefully looked at his bookshelves, at many of the books he had authored, and at the many other books and learned texts on philosophy and history and Jewish thought and practice that lined the shelves, and then doing what was most practical, he picked up the VBS Directory of Membership and said, “Let’s start here”, and together we scanned the membership list line by line, family by family, in order to help me find an eligible single man.

He had utmost regard for the individual, for the laity, giving us the unique opportunity to partner with him in creating and participating in meaningful, Jewish life affirming programs, Para-Rabbinic, Havurah, VBS Counseling Center,and Sha’are Tikvah for the children and families with special needs in our community. His creating Jewish World Watch, The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous and launching Mazon became our call to conscience, ennobling our efforts for the greater good. Somewhat in jest, he instructed all the presidents who had the honor and very good fortune to serve with him, that it was our responsibility to protect him from the slings and arrows of unhappy congregants, only sharing with him the good things that were said. Any other comments, he assured us, would be directly told to him and we should have rachmonis, pity, for even Rabbis have feelings and can be hurt. Through his leadership, an atmosphere of collegiality between the clergy, the staff and the board of directors was established. He taught us to think broadly in terms of “both and”, not “either or”. Striving to improve on what is and to think in terms of what ought to be. And he gave us many opportunities to take leadership positions and become very personally involved in Tikun Olam and to make this world a better place, and to make “ought” a reality.

Along with several other havurot, mine, Achei Nefesh, Soul Brothers, claims to be the first, well, certainly among the very first at Valley Beth Shalom. In recognition of our good fortune, we presented a tribute book to the Rabbi a few years ago on the occasion of our marking 40 years of sharing our Jewish life experiences, and making very important friendships, as well on the occasion of the Rabbi’s birthday. The book contained very personal messages of tribute and gratitude from each member. It was especially meaningful for each of us to very personally express our gratitude to the man who forever opened our eyes and our hearts, and gave us permission to challenge and to grow, meaningfully changing forever our lives and that of our families.

In addition to his remarkable sermons, his insightful poetry and meditations helped us navigate as well as celebrate life’s many rites of passage. There are lessons about birth and death and all the many passages in between... powerful and tender words of celebration and comfort, words of joy and sorrow...words to be read…words to be sung.

Far too often I sat with the Rabbi and Malkah at his hospital bedside and prayed for his recovery, for the skill of the doctors. Many times, upon his recoveries, with profound gratitude, he turned to poetry and, in the form of meditations, he expressed his inner most thoughts about life and healing and death and appreciation. All of his meditations will be published by the Schulweis Institute in a new book containing over 150 poems that will help guide us through our personal life’s journeys. It is to the dignity, elegance and wisdom of the Rabbi’s poetry, that we will continue to turn for these life affirming lessons.

The Harold M. Schulweis Institute---A Center for Jewish Learning was created through the generosity of temple members in celebration of the Rabbi’s 80th birthday to share with generations to come, the Rabbi’s vision of Jewish life and learning developed at Valley Beth Shalom. The Schulweis Library, just one aspect of the Institute’s goals, collects and preserves the Rabbi’s vast repository of writings and oratory. As is our intent, this body of work will remain a living legacy for the generations to come. My husband, Burt, has assumed the responsibility of editing and posting all this material on the Institute website and it continues to be taking a very long time because of its sheer volume and his enjoyment of this labor of love. For many years, coming home from work each day, as well as in recent days, I would be greeted by the Rabbi’s recorded voice delivering a sermon preached decades ago. His voice was strong and the relevancy of the message had not waned with the years. Available on line is the Institute’s recently published book of a previously undiscovered, unpublished and undated manuscript, “When You’re Older You’ll Understand---Rekindling the Religious Questions of our Youth”. It was the Rabbi’s intent that the lessons of this book be transmitted to our children and grandchildren. In our last conversation, just this past week, he spoke of the many world issues troubling him and of his great concern for our youth, for their attachment to their Jewish roots, for their important potential as activists, and for the role of the Synagogue in igniting their passion for the good of humankind.

For those of us serving on the Schulweis Institute board, nothing gives us more pleasure than to endorse a program near and dear to the Rabbi, many of which continue to support programs and projects advanced by our VBS Rabbis and VBS Schools thereby enriching all of our lives, everyday. A recent project was the creation of the Jewish Community Children’s Choir as it was so important to him that Jewish children across the denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, get to know each other and create important memories, and through what better medium than learning and singing Jewish music together...and that they do. The Choir, 40 or so strong, in its third year, continues to thrive and perform. His great joy was obvious when attending the Choir’s very first performance. His pleasure affirmed, “This is what we ought to do...and we did”.

With the establishment of the Schulweis Humanitarian Award in May of 2012, Valley Beth Shalom set the foundation for the ongoing recognition and honoring in the Rabbi’s name those outstanding individuals and organizations that transcend the ordinary and exemplify the highest level of social conscience. It speaks to who we are and what we believe as a community and as Jews. It speaks to the influence of Rabbi Schulweis’ teachings. In his name, Valley Beth Shalom and the Schulweis Institute will continue the practice of awarding the prestigious Schulweis Humanitarian Award.

The Rabbi loved the VBS Congregational Choir and enthusiastically supported the artistryof composer Aminadav Aloni, z”l, whose beautiful compositions we continue to sing, some of his works very appropriately today. He loved Ami’s Torah Service, Hallel, and Jazz service, and, his composition for the covenantal Friday night Shabbat prayer, Veshamru, which we chanted, a cappella, without accompaniment, and was among the Rabbi’s and our favorite. Veshamru b’nai Israel, Veshamru et ha Shabbat. The people of Israel shall observe the Shabbat.

His vision was steadfast, as he voiced when speaking with us at our Institute Governor’s meeting during this past Sukkot. He said he wished he were younger and that he loved the synagogue and loved us all. He hoped we would all meet again in good health and good voice with hope and a sense that with our conviction, our loyalty, our idealism, our vision, and our action, tomorrow would be better for us, for our people, and for humankind. May his hope become our reality and his memory bless us all.

To Malkah, my dear friend, Ethen and Cindy, Seth, Alyssa and Peter, and grand children Yonaton, Avital, Ben, Corinne, Miranda, Aaron, Sarah, Eli and Gabriel, and the entire Schulweis family, we profoundly share your loss and as your loving friends and community, we grieve with you and offer you our support and comfort.

Sylvia Bernstein-Tregub

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Memorial Tribute from The Harold M. Schulweis Institute-A Center for Jewish Learning Board of Directors and Governors"]

The Harold M. Schulweis Institute - A Center for Jewish Learning

The Board of Directors and Governors of The Harold M. Schulweis Institute - A Center for Jewish Learning profoundly mourns the passing of our visionary founding chairman Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis.

Today, and for years to come, we will reflect on how fortunate we have been for the past forty years to have heard Rabbi Schulweis teach us, guide us, motivate us, and impart to us his wisdom and his vision regarding conscience, godliness, and justice. Through the Schulweis Institute, Rabbi Schulweis’ vision of Jewish life and Jewish learning as developed at Valley Beth Shalom will be shared with generations to come through its the three-fold mission...the Schulweis Library, an online library containing over 750 digital, audio, and video recordings of the Rabbi’s sermons, lectures, classes and poems...outreach programs on Jewish scholarship, public dialogues, and participation in issues affecting Jewish, Israeli and global communities...creative arts programs which enrich Jewish life and the life of the synagogue with visual and performing arts, music, and literature.

We take heart in the visions of Rabbi Schulweis’ poetry as we mark this immeasurable loss to his family, the Valley Beth Shalom community, and the world at large.

December 18, 2014

“My immortality if there be such for me is not in tears, blame or self-recrimination.

But in the joy you give to others, in raising the fallen and loosening the fetters of the bound.

In your loyalty to God’s special children – the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger in your gates, the weak—I take pride.

My immortality is bound up with God’s eternity, with God’s justice, truth and righteousness.

And that eternity is strengthened by your loyalty and your love.

Honor me with laughter and with goodness.

With these, the better part of me lives on beyond the grave.”

- Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

Sylvia Bernstein-Tregub, Chair, Schulweis Institute

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Memorial from The Harold M. Schulweis Institute Online Library"]

December 18, 2014

“My immortality if there be such for me is not in tears, blame or self-recrimination.

But in the joy you give to others, in raising the fallen and loosening the fetters of the bound.

In your loyalty to God’s special children – the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger in your gates, the weak—I take pride.

My immortality is bound up with God’s eternity, with God’s justice, truth and righteousness.

And that eternity is strengthened by your loyalty and your love.

Honor me with laughter and with goodness.

With these, the better part of me lives on beyond the grave.”

- Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

The Harold M. Schulweis
Institute Online Library

The Harold M. Schulweis Institute Library deeply mourns the passing of our leader and mentor, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. It is a profound loss to his family, our VBS community and the world at large. Today, and perhaps for weeks and years to come, we can reflect on how fortunate most of us have been for the past forty-four years to have heard Rabbi Schulweis teach us, guide us, motivate us, and impart us with his wisdom and his vision regarding conscience , godliness, and justice. Through the Schulweis Institute Library, we all can continue to listen to, view, and read his creative works.

The Library takes pride in fulfilling our mission of preserving Rabbi Schulweis’ legacy through our growing collection of his writings and recordings which will serve future generations with his rich philosophy and his magnificent oratory.   With hundreds of audio and video recordings in our collection, his unforgettable compelling voice will live on to inspire us. Thanks to a generous grant from the Skirball Cultural Center, all of his sermon recordings are being transcribed to written document form for printing or reading from your computer; availability will soon reach one hundred sermons. The Library also contains over two hundred copies of his published and unpublished writings, covering a rich range of topics of interest that he addressed over the years. Our collection also contains approximately one hundred and fifty poems written by Rabbi Schulweis to cover all of our life cycle events with beautiful and soulful messages.

To continue to read, listen to and view the works of Rabbi Schulweis, please visit the institute online library at and click on “Online Libraries” tab on the top banner. This will give Rabbi Schulweis the immortality he has described.

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Reflections from Rabbi Elie Spitz"]

This summer I picked up Rabbi Harold Schulweis to take him to the Rabbi’s Sermon Seminar. I had done so previously and had always found that our drive was the highlight of my day, both for his company and sermon ideas. Rabbi Schulweis waited outside for me in front of Reseda’s Jewish Home for the Aging. He had on a sport coat and tie. The tie was the unusual part, a sign of his old school formality. And yet, there was nothing old school about Rabbi Schulweis’ thinking, which was always vital, reassessing, and fresh.

As we drove I asked him about his own sermon writing. Now close to ninety, he shared that for the first time he would not preach but that he was working on a sermon to distribute to his congregants. “What topic?” I asked. “The rise of cynicism under the guise of realism,” he replied, “and the distinction between optimism and hope.” Rabbi Schulweis had lived a life of hope, an open-eyed assessment of what was good and possible in people. During his sixty-five years as a pulpit rabbi he had empowered his laity, initiating havurot to bring families together in each other’s home for study and socializing; coined the term para-rabbi for educating and guiding congregants in the mitzvah of visiting each other when ill; and had set up a counseling center in his synagogue largely run by congregants helping congregants.

Within days of each Yom Kippur, he would begin working on next year’s High Holyday sermon. That sermon would set the theme for the entire following year, often initiating a new program. He read extensively to prepare his text and would send out a reading list to his congregants during the summer to prepare to hear his sermon, which could last as long as an hour and was a product of scores of revisions before word processing. His preaching emerged from a foundation of deep Jewish learning, having earned a B.A. from Yeshiva University in 1945 and ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1950, while concurrently earning a Masters degree in Philosophy from N.Y.U.. He actively mined Jewish texts extracting gems of insight aligned with an emphasis on leading a moral life. His key theme was human responsibility to serve as God’s agents for good in the world. He saw the task of religion as cultivating human conscience. 

When I had called Harold about attending the Sermon Seminar, he asked who was the keynote speaker. “Gordon Tucker,” I replied. Rabbi Tucker had served as my dean in rabbinical school. “Gordon is substantive,” Harold replied. “Yes, please pick me up.” I loved his use of the word “substantive.” Harold craved a depth of learning. His own preaching defined the word “substantive.” To look over the list of his sermons is to see the range of substantive concerns of the Jewish community. He was not afraid to preach honestly on tough topics. The story is told that he was encouraged to leave his first pulpit in Oakland due to a sermon against slumlording, which had offended some of his key constituents. 

The prompts for Rabbi Schulweis’ preaching were usually the people that he met and counseled. He was a curious, engaged listener. Meeting impoverished, non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during the holocaust, led him to preach on the need to honor these moral heroes and the founding of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which has recognized and supported thousands of Righteous Gentiles around the world. Witnessing extravagant Jewish life-cycle events, in 1985 he co-founded Mazon, a food charity that asked Jews to tax themselves three percent of the cost of their celebrations so that their good times would become a time of good. Hearing the pain of the mother of a young gay man led him in 1992 to preach on the need for the Jewish community to embrace gays as beloved members of our extended family. More recently, He challenged his congregation:

We took an oath, "Never again!" Was this vow to protect only Jews
from the curse of genocide? God forbid that our children and
grandchildren ask of us, Where was the synagogue during Rwanda,
when genocide took place and eight hundred thousand people were
slaughtered in one hundred days?

Among those in the congregation that High Holyday was attorney Janice Kamenir-Reznik, who responded to the challenge as the founding president of the Jewish World Watch, now a coalition of Jewish organizations dedicated to raising awareness and mobilizing resources in response to the on-going genocide in Darfur, Congo, and around the world. JWW has grown into the largest anti-genocide grassroots organization in the world. I saw a picture of Rabbi Schulweis marching in recent years for a fundraiser for JWW. He wore a sport coat and tie.

On the ride home, I asked Rabbi Schulweis, “From among your many sermons, which do you think were the most impactful?” He mentioned the speech that led to Jewish World Watch, acknowledging that he never anticipated that it would result in such a successful organization. He mentioned a talk on “Educating the Unchurched,” which directed Jews to bring non-Jewish friends to learn about Judaism in his synagogue community. And then he said, “but probably my most impactful sermon on High Holydays was asking congregants to call a loved one to seek reconciliation. I said, ‘Tell them that your rabbi said that you need to make the call.’ That was the most helpful part: Telling them that their rabbi said to make the call.”

The Jewish community has lost a great leader, a rabbi’s rabbi. Rabbi Schulweis passed away yesterday. His funeral will take place on Sunday at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino at 11am, conducted by his able successor, Rabbi Eddie Feinstein. I have personally lost a hero. Rabbi Schulweis showed me and so many other colleagues that our work is to inspire Jews to shape a kinder and more just world and that we can make a difference. He preached and conversed with passion, integrity, talent, and courage. His presence will only grow brighter in his absence. Now that he is physically gone, each of us as Jews has to step forward as a moral force in the world, because our rabbi, Harold Schulweis, said to.


Elie Spitz 

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Reflections from David Braun"]

It must’ve been about 1971 or 1972. The Visnitze Rebbe was visiting Los Angeles and Rabbi Schulweis arranged for a group of us to come to a melave ha malkah in celebration of his visit. A dozen of us drove to a little shtiebel in the Fairfax district. It was filled with men in worn shirts and coats, Yiddish, heat and sweat, boiled beef, and commotion. The Visnitze rebbe then entered with a large entourage. It was hard to see the Rebbe or understand his long d-rash but then two men from his entourage started to sing. It was a melody I’d never heard, based on a phrase from a Psalm, “zamru elokim zameru”. Their voices were wonderful, and the melody, more a Yiddish raga than a song, was intoxicating. We must have sung it for 15 min, by the end everyone standing, with pounding feet and hands to the rhythm. When we left that place, the cool and quiet of the evening was shocking in comparison.

Sometime later Rabbi Schulweis introduced that melody into services, and then it was our congregation standing, with pounding feet and hands. Knowing just that connection, I imagined how many other experience have informed his life to expand ours.

David Braun 

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Statement on Passing of Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Renowned Jewish Leader from Congressman Brad Sherman"]

Washington DC - Congressman Brad Sherman issued the following statement after news of the passing of Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Rabbi Schulweis. He was my Rabbi and I’ve been a member of his congregation at Valley Beth Shalom since the mid-1990s. As a leader in the community for over 45 years, he was an innovator that transformed the synagogue beyond a place of worship into a true community that fostered activism, counseling, and charity.

My wife and I had the honor of listening to his sermons on many occasions; he was a moving speaker and constant inspiration. My mother, wife and I also had the privilege of joining him and his wife for dinner from time to time where he shared his insight and wisdom.

Rabbi Schulweis was one of the preeminent Jewish thinkers, scholars and intellectuals of our time and the author of many books including “For Those Who Can't Believe: Overcoming the Obstacles to Faith” and “Evil and the Morality of God.”

His leadership taught us the importance of reaching beyond our borders. Jewish World Watch, an organization he founded, brought schools, churches, and synagogues together to combat hunger and genocide across the globe. ‘Do not stand idly by’ was his frequent refrain – referring to the work we all must do together to overcome injustice.

He was also a reformer, who was among the first Conservative rabbis to welcome openly gay and lesbian Jews into his synagogue. His legacy and his writings leave a lasting impact here in Los Angeles and in communities everywhere. My wife Lisa and I send our sincerest condolences to his wife Malkah and his children Seth, Ethan, and Alyssa and the entire Schulweis family.”

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Reflections from Larry Gill"]

The Jewish world lost a giant this morning when Rabbi Harold Schulweis passed away after a long battle with heart disease. He was 89 years old. Much has been written and yet more will be written about Rabbi Schulweis by scholars and friends who can do a much better job providing praise of his powerful impact upon the Jewish world as we know it today. My family and I were blessed to have enjoyed a close personal relationship with Rabbi Schulweis for over 40 years, so what I can offer is a more personal perspective that evolved from that of a somewhat awestruck and intimidated child to an adult who grew to appreciate just how much courage and humanity - in the truest sense of the word - the man exemplified. He was the rare human being whose apocryphal legend was surpassed by the truth underlying it. He gave a brilliant and impassioned talk after Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, and I remember walking out thinking (as I still do) that he was my generation's Martin

Luther King. My close friends will appreciate what it takes for the adult version of me to say this: he was a hero to me. I am not qualified to eulogize the man, but to understand him even a little; one has to appreciate certain aspects of his unique personal history.  Julie Fax wrote a wonderful piece when Rabbi Schulweis was honored for his 80th birthday). Growing up in the Bronx, Rabbi Schulweis's father was an ardent socialist Zionist who eschewed ritual observance, so Rabbi Schulweis tagged along with his learned zayde spending long hours in the shul learning Talmud. He eventually transferred to a yeshiva day school and then found his way to Yeshiva University where he was a talmid of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Near the end of his studies at Y.U., he saw that members of the Orthodox world were literally burning the writings of Mordecai Kaplan and he was drawn to find out what could inspire such a strong reaction. He was taken with Kaplan's ideas that we could actually be a part of shaping our tradition rather than simply quoting it, and his relationship with Kaplan drove him to become a rabbinical student and receive smicha at the Jewish Theological Seminary where he was a disciple of Kaplan and of Abraham Joshua Heschel. While he was a tremendous intellect, Rabbi Schulweis often made it clear that to worship at the altar of book-based wisdom and intellect to the exclusion of emotion and human relationships was nothing less than avodah zarah. He noted the difficulty creating community in the Conservative Jewish world and pioneered the Synagogue Havurah movement, creating "minicommunities" so his congregation could experience true communal  life. He was aghast that a moral people who had experienced the horrors of the Holocaust could sit idly by and watch human suffering all over the world, inspiring him to create Jewish World Watch. He created the first Synagogue paraprofessional psychological counseling program and what I believe was the first para-rabbinic counseling program, training lay people to assist the Rabbis in working with congregants in performing mitzvot. Those who knew him well knew that he loved and valued his Orthodox upbringing and had deep respect for the commitment and, I think more importantly, the sincerity of the Orthodox world. He told me several times that he had a wonderful experience in the yeshiva, but he did not think he would have had a positive experience in yeshiva today given what he saw as terrible divisiveness between, among and within denominations. At this point, at least the last 5 times I saw him healthy enough to engage in discussion, he would tell me clearly that had the Orthodox world offered Rabbis like our own Rabbi Kanefsky when he was finishing Y.U., he likely never would have left the frum world. He deeply respected and admired Rabbi Kanefsky and I believe he was proud that I had become so involved in the B'nai David-Judea community, and later in the Shalhevet community.

One final personal story. Years ago my family and I were at a vigil at the home of Ruth and Judea Pearl, Danny Pearl's parents. On that terrible Sunday afternoon, the FBI confirmed that Danny had in fact been murdered weeks before. Rabbi Schulweis, who lived next door to the Pearls, quickly ran over and organized a memorial service. When the time came for the Kel Maleh, he pulled me aside and asked me to lead. I was dumbfounded and felt absolutely incapable of fulfilling that request. Rabbi Schulweis put two hands on my shoulders, and simply asked me when I would ever have the opportunity to do a mitzvah like that in my life. He told me that insecurity was a human trait that created the sincerity required of a shaliach tzibur. I acceded to his request and as you might imagine that was one of the most powerful moments of my life - not just because of the horror of the day, but probably more because at that moment I really felt like an adult that Rabbi Schulweis respected. For me that was and remains powerful validation.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet

Larry Gill

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Reflections from Michael Jacobs"]

My friend believed in this world. He did not speak often of the next. He concentrated on the current reality and dedicated his life to improving it. He was able to contribute nationally and internationally, to his congregation, his community, to a couple or to the individual, and all of those he contributed to gained by his teaching, and their ways of thinking and of living were improved. Sometimes he took what he knew was a controversial position because he also knew it was the correct one. He was not afraid to tilt at the occasional windmill as long as it created conversation. Because that created learning. He called me once to join him on one of the Quixotic adventures. He warned me that the two of us would be the only ones on our particular side of the argument. The most interesting thing about the position we took was that I passionately and automatically agreed with it. And not just because we got to ride together. Because I agreed with it. And he knew I would. Because he was my friend. And always my teacher. Boy, did we lose that one. And boy, was everybody else wrong. I moved from the community, but there he was on the phone to keep me a part of it. He was immediately there in bad times, reminding you by his behavior and conversation of what level you needed to climb back to. And in the good times he was there to marvel with me at the elements that made something actually go well.

He believed that memory is legacy. That after a person has completed his time with others, it is the memory of the others in this world that is the continuance of being.

And that, thankfully, is where we disagreed. There is no one else I know, whose concentration on this world so clearly teaches us how exactly to attain the world to come.

I will miss you, Rabbi. And I will always remember you.

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Shiva Minyan for Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Tribute from Rabbi Ronit Tzadok, IKAR"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Shiva Minyan for Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Tributes from Nancy Sher Cohen, Harvey Keenan, Elaine Gill, Gerald Bubis, Buzzy Bookman, Sheva Locke, Elaine Berke and Rabbi Ed Feinstein"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Remarks from VBS President, Nancy Sher Cohen"]

As the newest and youngest member of the Board of Directors of Valley Beth Shalom in the Fall 1985, the last person who I thought would lean over at a Board meeting and ask to speak to me was Rabbi Schulweis. Truth be known, I was nervous, worried he would ask me something beyond my intelligence or knowledge and I would start my participation in leadership looking foolish, superficial and dumb. I was 34 years old with a child in the Toddler Program and this legendary Rabbi wanted to speak with me. I hoped I was prepared.

"Nancy, may I have a ride home? I think you live near me,” he said. This is a question I could answer correctly. "Yes," I said. Thinking I was off the hook for some deep inquiry and relieved it was "just a ride," I relaxed into my seat waiting for the meeting to end and for our short ride home.

But of course while the driving part of the ride home was easy, the discussion with Rabbi Schulweis was not. He began "how does a young woman so busy with lawyering and raising a family, make time for synagogue leadership?" Simple enough, I thought. I explained how synagogue life was central to my upbringing and therefore it was natural to include that piece in my daily life particularly now that we had a son. He did not stop there. "It's one thing to have a relationship with synagogue, and another with God," he said.

And so began my real relationship with Rabbi Schulweis. Being in his presence was always a special and meaningful moment. Even the most mundane tasks become extraordinary when done in his presence. For several years thereafter, I had the pleasure of driving Rabbi Schulweis home from each Board meeting. And matters we discussed on those short rides often became the subject of sermons and High Holiday speeches. I realized that he was using our conversations, and, the conversations with so many others, as a laboratory for new ideas he wanted to explore and discuss before they made the light of day in an important speech many months or years later.

I often wondered why Rabbi Schulweis was a pulpit Rabbi given his brilliance as a philosopher, writer and teacher. He was so well suited to lead the seminary so why would he waste his time on regular folks and mundane matters of day to day synagogue life? Over the many years I have been in leadership at Valley Beth Shalom, I learned the answer to that question: because here he could and did make a difference in the lives of Jewish families. And we were the laboratory for his own ideas, a place where he could test out theories and plans to change the course of Jewish synagogue life.

Valley Beth Shalom has been gifted with many great leaders all of whom have risen to leadership because they have been moved by Rabbi Schulweis and wanted to be part of his experimentation. He was part Father figure who we all wanted to please. He was a teacher who guided us through daily life. He was an intellectual who moved us and raised our spirits. He was sensible. He was the strength to lean on in challenging times. He was the man you wanted by your side during troubling times; actually in the face of strong, successful people, he was the one who we wanted to follow. To have a relationship with Rabbi Schulweis was to have a relationship with God because through his wisdom you obtained the tools by which to live a meaningful life.

I was disappointed when those rides home ended many years ago. It’s not often one can have private moments with such a teacher and man of goodness. But I know my experience with him was not unique and that is what made him so special. He developed a congregation full of families who have had their own special moments with him and who will in the coming days remember their closeness to him.

Becoming involved in leadership was a true honor for all who have served precisely because we were lucky to be in his presence. I know I speak for all the leaders of Valley Beth Shalom when I say that our admiration for Rabbi Schulweis and our own personal experiences with him drive us to help make Valley Beth Shalom a home for future generations of the Jewish community. With the guidance of Rabbi Feinstein, we begin a new chapter to carry out his legacy.

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Eulogy from Rabbi Stewart Vogel"]

Malka, as an officer of the International Rabbinical Assembly I bring condolences to you and your family from our Executive Vice President Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, our president Rabbi Bill Gershon and all of our more than 1,700 rabbis, an organization that he was part of for his entire rabbinate. While was affiliated with the Rabbinical Assembly, he will be claimed by every rabbi and every movement for his great accomplishments.

But more significantly, I am here, because I had the privilege of working with Rabbi Schulweis for 5 years as his second rabbi.  Most of you know his great contributions, not only to Judaism, but also to the world at large. You may be here to honor him as a great man and you may even define his greatness by the organizations he founded or as the man who transformed Jewish thought and the Jewish world. But I want to share with you a bit about how great a man he truly was.  I want to share with you a little bit about the man behind the title. Namely, what was the Great Oz like behind the curtain?

When I interviewed for the rabbinic position at Valley Beth Shalom in 1987, like most people, I was greatly intimidated by Rabbi Schulweis. He was a God-like figure to me. During the interview process I met with him and the search committee in his office. We were sitting on the couches talking when the phone on his desk rang. Rabbi Schulweis got up and answered the phone. After a momentary pause he answered, "Hi Cookie". This was when I first learned about his nickname for Malka and the love affair they shared. He began to talk to her. All of a sudden, the search committee turned to Rabbi Schulweis and shushed him. I was mortified, how could they do this to the Great Oz? Without hesitation, Rabbi Schulweis took the phone off the desk and sat on the floor behind it and continued to speak in a hushed voice so as not to disrupt the interview.

On that day, I learned the lesson of rabbinic humility and the importance of taking my wife's phone matter what.

I remember the t-shirt that one congregant gave him that said, "we will get along fine as long as you remember that I'm God." Even better was the fact that he actually wore it.

On another occasion, because he was taking a sabbatical, we were interviewing for a third rabbi. I still remember sitting next to Rabbi Schulweis in the Weiner Chapel during an interview with a small group of congregants and the candidate stated that she was unimpressed by rabbis who used who used big words just to impress people. This candidate clearly had not done her homework. As everyone chuckled nervously and tried not to look at Rabbi Schulweis, he just looked at me with a mischievous smile.

On these, and many other occasions I learned from Rabbi Schulweis not to take myself too seriously.

There were many times that he would come into my office and share his latest ideas, theories or program ideas. Always asking for feedback and interested in what I thought. On many occasions as he sat there talking to me, I would think, “Oh my God, Rabbi Schulweis is sitting in MY office talking to ME….THE Rabbi Schulweis.”

One Monday morning I walked into his office to check in on him as he was just getting off the phone. He looked at me and said, “that was a rabbi from back east who heard what I spoke about on Shabbat and had some questions about the topic”….now remember this was long before the internet allowed us to virally share things with millions of people instantly, “how did he know what I spoke about?” I looked at him and said, “Harold…YOU are Rabbi Harold Schulweis.” He looked at me as if it didn't register. In his modesty, he didn’t know that he was THE Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

When I left Valley Beth Shalom for Temple Aliyah in 1993 I was saddened to leave this wonderful community and worried whether my successor would have the same high regard for Rabbi Schulweis and be a worthy partner to this remarkable man. As I departed, I was so glad that Rabbi Feinstein was hired because I knew his love for the man. Malka you were his “cookie”, Seth, Ethan and Alyssa were his prides and joy, his grandchildren represented a renewal of life and a new playfulness of spirit.  There will be many mentions of relationships today, but Ed I want to acknowledge the way in which you also cared for and looked after our friend and mentor. Always demonstrating the respect and dignity that he deserved, you made sure that he could fulfill his calling as a rabbi for as long as he wanted.

My final recollection deals with the time, 25 years ago, that Rabbi Schulweis and Malka invited my wife Rodi and I over their house for dinner. Rabbi Schulweis had been the officiating rabbi at Rodi's bat mitzvah. As Rodi and I drove to the house, I told Rodi, “now remember you can call him Harold, he doesn't stand on ceremony with colleagues and friends." We had a lovely dinner, but not once did Rodi ever call him Harold. Several hours later as we walked to the car I asked Rodi, "so what happened?"  She looked at me and answered, "at one time I was just about to call him Harold and then he spoke....and it was the voice of God...I couldn't call God by his first name."

Ironically, and much to the negation of his ‘predicate theology”, for many of us the voice of Rabbi Schulweis will always be the voice of God. It will be the voice pushing us to struggle with God and our obligations to humanity. For me it is the voice of humility and modesty. It is the voice calling to me to find the best in others and challenge the status quo. I will miss that voice, but I will always hear it resonating in my heart and mind to be a better person and make the world a better place.

Zecher tzaddik leev'rakha - His righteous memory will be a blessing.

Rabbi Stewart Vogel

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="The Rabbi Harold M.Schulweis Interviews with Rabbi Ed Feinstein, The Family-Growing Up"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Thoughts in remembrance from Harvey Keenan"]

Over the High Holidays, Rabbi Schulweis was not able to deliver his
sermon, as his vocal cords were weak.  He had to write his sermon
and have one of the Rabbi's read it.  I wrote this to him at that time
and entitled it "I will always hear your voice".  Malkah told me that
he cherished it.  I have added a few words since his passing.

When I am alone with my thoughts in meditation
When I am inspired to do acts of tikkun olam, repair the world and
tikkun atzmi, repair the soul
When the world is full of chaos and evil, I search for goodness
When I embrace the stranger, the Christian, the Muslim, the 
When I visit the elderly and comfort the mourners
When I am with a client in the counseling center
When my grandchildren call me Zayda
When I share my dreams, my fears, my joy, my sadness, with my 
wife, my children, and my grandchildren
When I am a witness to my beautiful wife, daughters, and grand-
daughters, lighting the Shabbat and holiday candles, and singing
the blessings
With all my love

Harvey (Chaim)

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="The Uniqueness of Judaism, A Beginning Perspective"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, A Television Interview with Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Polarity, Outreach, and Mixed Marriage, A Keruv Program Lecture by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, February 25, 1998"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="In Tribute to Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Eulogy from Rabbi Uri Herscher"]

When the rabbinic sage Resh Laqish died, the Talmud teaches, R. Johanan was plunged into grief. The sages sought to comfort him, but he would not be comforted. All he could ask was: Where are you, O son of Laqisha? Where are you?

So we too are plunged in grief today. We too are inconsolable. We too mourn a mighty sage. Across the impassable border of speech and sight and touch and hand, we too ask how we can call him back. Where are you, our precious teacher and friend? How can we go on without you?

The story is told that when God created the first human beings, the angels were jealous.  Having heard these new creatures were made in God's own image, the angels conspired to hide the image where human beings would never find it.  One of the angels wanted to hide it in the depths of the ocean.  Another proposed to bury it on the highest mountain.  But the shrewdest of the angels had a better idea:  "Let us hide God's image in their own hearts.  That is the last place they will look for it."

You have guessed who told this story. You have guessed from its poetry, its depth, its compassion, its truth. You have guessed from its grounding in Torah, its deeply rabbinic essence and nuance, its bold and brave assertion that human beings are, in their capacity for goodness, even higher than the angels. All of these are attributes of both the story and its teller. All of these describe the life, the learning, and the legacy of our mighty sage, Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

Not long ago, the Skirball Cultural Center celebrated its eighteenth year of life with a gala celebration of its founding. Harold honored us with the invocation, which gave me the honor of introducing him. I struggled for words that would do him justice. If the words were fitting then, they seem to me more fitting now. Here is what I said:

Harold Schulweis is a rabbi. This is a little like saying, a Rembrandt is a painting. Or a Stradivarius is a violin. Harold Schulweis is more than a rabbi. He is a rabbi of rabbis. He is a teacher, a writer, a poet of the pulpit, a prophet of justice, a thinker of astounding power and insight. Truly to read Harold Schulweis, to hear Harold Schulweis, is a transformative experience. He has, as much as any rabbi of our time, given Judaism meaning, relevance, and renewed purpose.

Yet learning from Harold, as meaningful as it may be, pales beside the privilege of knowing him. And both the learning and the knowing have been my privilege for some 55 years. He is both mentor and beloved friend to me, to my wife Myna, and to our sons. He is for us all a constant and irreplaceable source of wisdom and inspiration. How grateful we are for his presence in our lives.

The first time I saw and heard Rabbi Schulweis was over half a century ago. I was a freshman at UC Berkeley, accompanying a friend to High Holyday services in Oakland. I went along very reluctantly, expecting to be unmoved—until I heard Rabbi Schulweis. The subject was the binding of Isaac. After all these years, I still remember his interpretation: that the angel who stayed Abraham's hand was not a supernatural being, but Abraham's own conscience. To me this was a stunning insight, lifting the text at one stroke from the literal realm to the ethical. Harold had a rare gift for that. In his hands, the Torah became not only relevant, but real, and urgent. He opened up the ancient words to modern eyes. He certainly opened mine. When I left the synagogue that day, I had found a rabbi—not just for a day, but for a lifetime.

Over fifty years of friendship, Harold and I shared countless conversations, and none are forgettable. I particularly think of the Thursday evening dinners in recent years, which Myna and I shared with Malkah and Harold, up to the end. Harold's voice was no longer as strong, but to cite the Torah he loved so much, his eye was undimmed. The Torah, said Harold, is all about character; and Harold, like the Torah, was character itself. A week prior to his death Harold mentioned a liturgical passage to me, and when I didn't recognize it, he took me to his home study, pulled out an old prayerbook, and unerringly located the passage. It's not a famous one, not at all. But he noted it, and remembered it, because it was about character. I share it with you now:

May it be Thy will, O Lord my God and God of my fathers, to deliver me this day and every day from arrogance and from arrogant men, from every corrupt person, from every evil companion; from the dangers that lurk about me; from a harsh judgment and an implacable opponent, whether or not he be an adherent of our faith.

What moves me so deeply about these words is not just what they say; but how Harold, to the very end of his life, took them so to heart; remembered them, spoke of them, lived them the full length of his days. In the end, character is what we have, and all we have, and there is nothing more precious we can bequeath. Harold taught me this. But even more, he showed me.

When I was first exploring the feasibility of building what became the Skirball Cultural Center, Harold was my companion and champion. Some were skeptical, but skepticism wasn't his way. Others were concerned about their turf, but Harold didn't believe in turf. He loved the Jewish people and he loved Jewish learning and he loved Jewish values and he lived them. That was his character. He believed that whatever enhanced Jewish life enhanced humanity itself.

Those most beloved of all to Harold Schulweis, those who were the life of his life, are, of course, his beloved Malkah, their children, and their grandchildren. Some years ago Harold dedicated a poem to Malkah. It is a poem that, for all its beauty, is nearly, but could never be, as beautiful as she is.

Yet (ForMalkah)

You are not me,
And I am not you.
You know me better than I know myself.
You complete my sentences, fill in the pauses,
Read between my lines.

You are not me—and I am not you.
Yet when we are not together
My sight, my hearing, my touch are different. 

We are separate.

You know me so well.
In Hebrew, love and knowledge are the same.
To know is to love,
To love is to know.
You know me with the mind of the heart,
My strengths and weaknesses,
My dreams and angers.
You know me in the marrow of your being. 

They say that six decades is a long time in marriage.
And yet—
How brief it is. 

We have reached the harvest of many years.
Children and children's children dance and play before us,
And in their eyes we see yet another pair of ourselves.
The best is yet to be.

Dearest Malkah, children and grandchildren: All of us who loved this remarkable poet, this remarkable man, can only know a fraction of your love for him, as we can only feel a fraction of your loss. But we take comfort, as we hope you can, from the knowledge that a love as deep and as lasting as his can never leave you.

Nor can it leave any of us whose lives Harold Schulweis touched, enriched, inspired, and blessed. How can we repay his countless gifts to us—his kindness, his compassion, his wisdom, his warmth? All we can do is cherish them, draw strength from them, and strive, in our own lives, to emulate them. We may never reach his noble height. But we will all stand taller.

The angels—so Rabbi Schulweis taught—chose to hide the divine image in our hearts, because that is the last place we will look for it. But it is the first place I will look for you, Harold. And I will always find you there. Where are you? I know where. You dwell in my heart, and shine in my soul, now and always, with a light that can never go out.

Uri D. Herscher-December 21, 2014

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Remarks of Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Schulweis Institute Board of Governors Meeting-October 12, 2014"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="A Rabbi's Rabbi-Harold M. Schulweis: An Appreciation, Dr. Ron Wolfson-Shiva Minyan, December 21, 2014"]

It was the summer of 1974 when I arrived in Los Angeles. A friend told me about a rabbi in the San Fernando Valley who was transforming his synagogue into one of the most dynamic congregations in the city, if not the country. “There are a thousand people every Friday night,” he said. When a thousand people were showing up for a worship service, then like now, I wanted to know what was happening.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis was happening. On that Friday night at Valley Beth Shalom, I witnessed the future of synagogue life in America, shaped by a rabbi who had a clear vision of what a kehillah kedoshah, a sacred community, could and should be. The sanctuary was packed to overflowing. The music was sensational. The Kabbalat Shabbat service was shaped with kavannot, short intentional comments that framed the meaning of the prayers. The sermon was spectacular, engaging, relevant, moving. After the service, there was a beautiful Kiddush and Israeli dancing. It was a happening.

Like Rabbi Feinstein, the minute I experienced that service, I told Susie, “I want to this man to be our Rabbi.” And when I found out about a house for sale on Densmore Avenue, I bought it in five minutes…Susie didn’t even see the place. But, I couldn’t imagine a better place to raise our family than four blocks from Valley Beth Shalom.

For nearly forty years, I have been his congregant and his disciple, watching in awe – a Jew in the pew - as this rabbi’s rabbi built one of the most dynamic synagogue communities in the world. A disciple of Mordecai Kaplan, Martin Buber, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Schulweis combined their teachings with his own deep knowledge of classical Jewish texts and philosophy to inspire and challenge all of us – his beloved flock in Encino.

Next month, I will once again have the privilege of teaching a course on creating sacred communities to a group of aspiring rabbis at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University. I am not…nor have I ever been…a rabbi. But, I’ve been blessed to observe hundreds of them over these forty years…and there is no one like Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

So, here, then, is my lesson plan for my very first class in January when I will share with my students the top ten God-given middot (characteristics) - that made Rabbi Schulweis the greatest pulpit rabbi I have ever known:

1. Be an extraordinary teacher. Whether in a formal Friday night or holiday sermon, an adult education class, or in his groundbreaking transformation of the typical d’var Torahinto a freewheeling dialogue with his congregants on Shabbat morning, Rabbi Schulweis shared his knowledge in a way that was totally accessible, revelatory, and stimulating. You always walked away from a Schulweisian study session…thinking.

2. Be A humorist. You also walked away…laughing. Rabbi Schulweis punctuated his sermons with funny stories, Yiddish aphorisms (which he always translated), and self-deprecating humor. And the stories were always on point:

You’ll remember one of Rabbi’s favorite words was “Ehad” – oneness, unity. He began his famous Rosh Hashana sermon about “Ehad” by noting that all Jews basically pray the same way, but they have different dialects. The traditional Jew says: “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.” The atheist Jew says: “Shema Yisrael I deny Eloheinu, I deny Echad.” And the agnostic Jew, who is not sure whether there is a God, but has a good neshoma, a good soul, says: “Shema Yisrael I don’t know Eloheinu, I don’t know Echad.”

An intellectual giant who could confound his congregants with unpronounceable and obscure words, he never failed to poke fun at himself, he loved ribbing his colleagues and getting ribbed in returned…always with a hearty laugh.

One year, Camp Ramah honored Rabbi Max Vorspan, alav ha-shalom, my colleague at the then University of Judaism. The dinner was right here at VBS. I was tasked with creating a video about Max. Knowing the dinner was at VBS, I went through the old tapes of a public service TV show you may remember that Max hosted on CBS Sunday mornings called “Commitment.” And wouldn’t you know, for the first broadcast of the year, right before Rosh Hashana, Max’s favorite guest was Rabbi Harold Schulweis. I found three of these episodes. The first was from 1970, Rabbi’s first year at VBS. Max introduced him and asked: “So, Rabbi Schulweis, tell us the meaning of the High Holidays.” Rabbi Schulweis said:

“Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world. Yom Kippur is the time for cheshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul. The High Holidays are “yamim nora’im,” the days of awe.” And then, Max interviewing Rabbi Schulweis on the same program, same set, but in 1976. “Rabbi Schulweis,” Max says: “Tell us the meaning of the High Holy Days.” Rabbi Schulweis thinks for a minute and then says:

“Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world. Yom Kippur is the time for cheshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul. The High Holidays are yamim nora’im, the days of awe.” And then 1982. “Rabbi Schulweis, tell us the meaning of the High Holy Days.” “Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world. Yom Kippur is cheshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul. And the High Holy Days are yamim nora’im, the days of awe.” No one enjoyed this “gotcha”moment more than Rabbi Schulweis. As soon as the video was over, he made a beeline to me and said…I’ll never forget it…”Ron, that’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a very long time. Thank you!”

3. Be a pastor. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, teaches other pastors: “Say something on Sunday that your people can use on Monday.” Rabbi Schulweis knew this. He spoke directly to the hearts of his people, often telling true stories he heard from congregants (without attribution, of course) in his study: the challenges of parenting – “your children are not naches-producing machines”, the costs of holding a grudge – “Forgive each other before asking God for forgiveness,” the sometimes suffocating feeling Jewish children have this very week – he called it “Santa Claustrophobia” and then told a wonderful joke about the Jewish guy who needed some extra money and took a job as a Santa Claus in the mall. A little five year old Jewish boy cajoled his parents into letting him sit on the Santa’s knee. The Jewish Santa says to the little boy: “Ho, ho, ho! And what do you want for Christmas?” And the little boy says: “Oh, Santa. I’m not Christmas. I’m Hanukkah ! The Santa smiles, pats the child on the head, and says “A gezundt aff dine kepeleh.” “A blessing on your head!”

The message of our rabbi was: “you come to Valley Beth Shalom, your life will be different, deeper, more meaningful and purposeful.”

4. Be a social activist. Rabbi’s always eagerly anticipated High Holiday sermons…do you remember how we all looked forward to what he would teach us each New Year? – always ended with a “l’fichach” – a “therefore.” Therefore, we will create a counseling center at the synagogue, with its own separate entrance so no client will feel ashamed. Therefore, we will establish chavurot, so no one will feel alone. Judaism is a world religion, therefore we will not stand idly by while genocide occurs in Africa. Every such sermon ended with an invitation to a meeting: “Come next week on Tuesday night and join me in taking the next steps.”

5. Inspire your partners. Rabbi Schulweis understood that a rabbi alone cannot build a congregation of relationships. So, he empowered his board to become pararabbinics, actually teaching them how to perform the functions of a rabbi – visiting the sick, leading a shiva minyan, counseling Bar/Bat Mitzvah families during home visits. He took his leadership on annual retreats at camp, knowing there is no more effective educational setting than a total immersive experience of Shabbat. “I want shutafim – partners,” he would say, and hundreds of congregants responded to his call.

6. Be a davener, a musician. Rabbi Schulweis never led a prayer service by calling page numbers; he led by example. Above the choir, above the cantor, you heard his booming baritone davening. He loved to raise his voice in prayer. He wanted his congregation to sing, to clap hands, to dance, to embrace each other as we sang “Shalom Aleichem” or Shabbat morning Kiddush. He loved his long-serving cantor, Herschel Fox, encouraging him to engage the community in prayer. He commissioned the great Ami Aloni to compose original music for the service, melodies that were instantly singable, melodies that raised the spirit.

7. Be A poet. Read the remarkable poetry of Rabbi Schulweis that graced the worship and your heart will be moved. It’s all on the Schulweis Institute website, curated by Burt Tregub.

8. Be a builder. When Heschel Day School moved to Northridge from the campus of Valley Beth Shalom, Rabbi Schulweis established his own Jewish day school. When the synagogue grew in numbers, he expanded the facilities. When it was clear he needed additional staff, he invited bright young rabbis to join him, rabbis such as Ed Feinstein who cherished the opportunity to sit at his feet, to learn his Torah, to emulate his rabbinate.

9. Be a visionary. Rabbi Schulweis could see the future and he knew what needed to be done to create it. He had an idea a minute. He could not sleep at night – he called himself a “part-time insomniac - restless with the long list of things that had to be done, the causes that merited support, the wrongs that needed righting. He understood the importance of interfaith relations. He championed the righteous Gentiles. He welcomed the Jew-by-Choice, the LGBTQ, the Jews in recovery. He invited bereavement groups to meet in the synagogue. He pushed the Conservative Movement and his rabbinic colleagues to embrace the future. When he spoke at their conventions, everyone sat on the edge of their seats, knowing they were hearing a prophetic voice, a voice of conscience, a voice of challenge, a voice steeped in tradition, but unafraid of change.

10. Be A friend. Rabbi Schulweis enjoyed nothing more than walking through his congregation during the Torah processionals, greeting his people and guests. This was no perfunctory task for him; he stopped to shake hands, to hear a comment, to embrace children. Inevitably, as the Torah scrolls were placed in the ark, he was still working the sanctuary. At the end of each service, he stood at the door, anchoring a “receiving line” so he once again could connect with his congregants and the many visitors who came to see what was happening at VBS. When there was a simcha or a loss, invariably there was a personal letter, a phone call, a visit. Rabbi Schulweis taught that God resides “in the between,” in the relationships among human beings shaped to be “b’tzelem Elohim,” in the image of God. This he modeled in his relationships with each and every one of us. Pirke Avot 1:6 teaches: “Aseh l’kha rav, uk’nei l’kha chaver” – “find yourself a rabbi, and you will make a friend.” Rabbi Schulweis also knew: “Aseh l’kha chaver, uk’nei l’kha rav” – “make yourself a friend to your people and they will make you their rabbi.”

One more thing rabbis can learn from this extraordinary man: his love, admiration, and pride for his Malkah and their children and grandchildren. It was clear to all of us that they were the foundational grounding for his work. A rabbi is a very public figure. Without the support of family, it is impossible to truly be present to the thousands of people clamoring for your time and attention. The twinkle in his eye when he spoke of Malkah, the smile on his face when they embraced after a service or on the dance floor at a simcha – this was a life lesson to be savored and cherished.

I, like so many others, was blessed for having had the honor of calling Harold M. Schulweis “my rabbi.” You have earned “the immortality of influence.” Your teachings, your legacy and your example will always be a blessing to rabbis, teachers, and synagogue leaders for generations to come.

Dr. Ron Wolfson

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="In Tribute to Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Eulogy from Rabbi Malka Drucker, Santa Fe, New Mexico"]

Dearest Rabbi,

We met 45 years ago at your first official function at VBS. It was a dinner in a Chinese restaurant before Selichot services. I had heard that you were a cool rabbi from Oakland, but you looked like my father, not the longhaired guitar player I’d hoped for. Despite my scowl, you approached me. I told you not to bother, I wasn’t a member. You said, “You’re exactly the one I want to talk to,” and promptly gave me my first theology lesson in knowing God. It was a game for little ones to show them that what is invisible is real by asking them touch your nose and then your love. Your generous embrace of me that night is why I’m a rabbi. I try every day to tie my shoelaces just like you. Our encounter taught me to reach out to the alienated, to look for the wounded, and to befriend.

You named my children, saw them become B’nai Mitzvah, stayed near through divorces, wrote letters of recommendation to my seminary, and met with me each time I began a Jewish holiday book for children. I took my first trip to Israel with you. You introduced me to the non-Jewish rescuers in the Holocaust that became the book of which I am most proud. My book about Jewish heroes is dedicated to you, because you were and will always be my hero. I am your proud, self-declared disciple.

Many will speak of your brilliance, creativity, and courage; your accomplishments and contribution to the world could and should fill a book. I join the thousands whose lives were made better because of you. With all I learned in rabbinical school, it is your teachings that cut deepest and influence my life. Mostly, though, what I’ll remember is your love. When I asked you to bury my mother long after you stopped doing funerals, you consented by saying, “Malka, I’d do anything for you.” You taught me what friendship is. Your heart opened my frightened and angry one. By revealing yourself, you revealed Godliness.

Many years ago, you asked, “What will they say at your funeral?” You lived a life aimed at answering that question. I imagine that the tears on Sunday will speak most eloquently of your legacy. May the Holy One of Blessing help all who mourn to accept your new deployment as a descending angel.

Rabbi Malka Drucker, Santa Fe, New Mexico

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Shiva Minyan for Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Featuring: Brad Artson, AJU and Craig Taubman"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Compassion and The Passion of the Christ, A Sermon by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Encino, CA-March 13, 2004"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="In Tribute to Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Eulogy from Rabbi Harold Kushner"]

Harold Schulweis was always my role model of what a rabbi could aspire to be and do, even as I realized I could never match his energy, his boundless compassion and his ability to see challenges where the rest of us only saw problems. He never let me forget whom we as individuals and as a Jewish community were obliged to care about, and he taught me what I needed to do for them. I am proud to think of him as my mentor, my inspiration, my friend.

Yehi zichro baruch. May his memory, like his entire life, abide with us as a blessing.

Rabbi Harold Kushner

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="JWW Walk to End Genocide-Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Sunday, April 27, 2014-Pan Pacific Park, LA"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="In Tribute to Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Eulogy from Rabbi Ron Schulman"]

I am a rabbi because Harold Schulweis was my rabbi.

His passion inspired me. His compassion touched me. His fierce intellect taught me to take Judaism seriously, to see our tradition as an ethical voice of conscience and conscientiousness. Rabbi Schulweis taught me to interpret with intelligence and to create with meaning always using the vocabulary of Jewish tradition and the memory of Jewish experience.

I heard in his uniquely resonant voice wisdom for life and purpose for living. The power of his oratory was in the truths of which he spoke and the issues about which he thought out loud. Rabbi Schulweis reveled in ideas: Jewish ideas, all ideas. His ideas. Therefore, so did I.

Rabbi Schulweis believed in the potentiality of his words. Elegant and precise, his words elevated us. Often complex and uncommon, his words raised us to a higher place of understanding, took us to a deeper place of insight, and moved us toward a better vision of ourselves, our people, and our society.

As he often told me, Rabbi Schulweis was a ventriloquist in the pulpit. Guiding us to make the beliefs and concepts he presented our own. Enabling us to create the Jewish communities he imagined.

I was 14 years old when I first met Rabbi Harold Schulweis in the weeks just before he began his tenure here at Valley Beth Shalom. When I was USY President he challenged me and my teen peers to dream big dreams. He danced with us out on the parking lots at rallies on behalf of Soviet Jewry. He encouraged us to dance horas and bring our energy to the synagogue on Friday nights.

When I was a college junior he invited me to travel from Boston and meet him in Philadelphia at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College where he was to deliver the commencement address. After the speech and ceremony we were escorted to Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan's private library where he proudly showed me original notes and manuscripts from his teacher. As I thanked him for the tour and all of the introductions he smiled, put his arm around me warmly, and whispered, “You're welcome. Now, if you decide to go to Rabbinical School you won't go here. You'll go to the University of Judaism and the Jewish Theological Seminary.” Which I did and where he nurtured the formation of my rabbinic worldview.

Installing me as a congregational rabbi, he told my new synagogue community that the bond between rabbi and congregants must be built on mutual trust, honesty, and genuine love.

Through the years he offered counsel and asked probing questions. He invited me into his trust. Together we marked the milestones of life and career.

"Not Adam without Eve, not Abraham without Sarah, not Ron without Robin," he said at the end of our wedding ceremony on June 22, 1980 - which was also his and Malkah's 33rd wedding anniversary. Not Harold without Malkah, either.

When we reached the point in our relationship that he told me to call him Harold I said, “Thank you, Rabbi Schulweis.”

Through most of my adult life he was much more a part of my life than I was of his. Still, for 45 years I have been blessed to carry his voice, his words, his Torah, his advice, his caring, and his example with me.

I am a rabbi because Harold Schulweis was my rabbi.

Rabbi Ron Schulman

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="VIDEO: Funeral Services for Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Funeral Services took place Sunday, December 21, 2014 at Valley Beth Shalom, Encino California"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Shiva Minyan for Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Featuring: Rabbi Mark Borowitz and Dr. Ron Wolfson"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="In Tribute to Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Eulogy from Rabbi Irving Greenberg"]

I thank Malka and the Schulweis family for allowing me to join with the congregation and all of Jewry to pay tribute in this way to a great person, our teacher and leader, Harold Schulweis, as he sets off on his final journey.

We always knew that we were in the presence of greatness. That quality, combined with his warm charisma and brilliant, always substantive teaching, is what attracted people in such large numbers to come to him. We knew that he was one of the great public intellectuals of Jewry of the past half-century, a peerless synagogue and organization builder, and the humanitarian who embraced all of humanity.

Still, as I reflect on his life, and since confronting the bitter inevitable fact of his death, I have come to see another level of depth to his contribution.

Harold was a prophet. By this I mean that he saw ahead of his time and of his generation and prescribed what the Jewish people needed to do in this moment of transformation. This was a crossroads where much could be gained or all could be lost. Harold showed us the way.

With his deep insight, he saw that Jewry – and all humans -- were entering a moment of unprecedented freedom and choice. It was not only a matter of political liberty or affluence. It was the opening up of society and culture, the unparalleled level of communication, so that for the first time in history, every lifestyle and religion was exposed to every other. Nothing was given or self evident anymore. Life, faith, all behavior became a matter of choice. He recognized that this was a gain in human dignity. This moment coincided with an increased divine hiddenness and presence in the secular. It followed that the impact of religion became a matter of performance of Tikkun Olam, not of ritual excellence.

Harold grasped that the key to all this was tzelem elokim-that every human being was fashioned in the image of God. Therefore to know, to embrace, to help every human being in the image of God was the best (maybe the only) way to know God. He believed that to know the other person/religion/lifestyle was to develop respect and love and a feeling of responsibility for them. He knew that Judaism and Jewish identity would be freely chosen if it was to reach its highest possibilities. His Judaism led him to embrace and be concerned for all of humanity.

First, he let intellectually. He articulated the hiddenness of the Divine as a religious call to speak of God in the predicate form. To imitate God, to act in godly fashion, to love, create and exercise conscience in every aspect of life – was the religious way. Although he drew large numbers and built a large synagogue, he created chavurot with specialized focus to serve as intimate communities, so that people would recognize the image of God in the other. He welcomed laypeople as paraprofessional rabbis who, living in the secular world, could reach out and teach where no Rabbi could go. Thus he became the Rabbis’ Rabbi.

Harold welcomed women and gays and converts and the needy unstintingly. He took up the challenge of loving the tradition and not to correct it when it needed correction. He stressed the partnership of God and humans and how God needed and welcomed our help in exercising our conscience. Then he saw that in the ultimate darkness of the Shoah, there were good people who saved Jewish lives. He awoke us all to take responsibility for them in their old age and thus uphold our Jewish belief in the goodness of humankind. Acting like God, of whom we say in our Ashrei prayer, “God’s compassion/mother love is in all God’s creatures” Harold’s great heart reached out to the victims of war and genocide in Africa, the most neglected sufferers of horrific evil. He awakened our conscience to help them.

All this time, he taught, exemplified, uplifted, inspired us with Torah – beyond denomination, beyond narrow partisanship, beyond personal issues. In the words of the Sim Shalom prayer, his was a Torah of life, loving kindness, tzedakah/righteousness, berachah/blessing, and peace/shalom/wholeness. And so Harold, even that you have filled our lives with loving kindness, righteousness blessings and peace, we say goodbye to you with love. Go with our blessing and peace. We shall not forget.

Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Shiva Minyan for Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Featuring: Rabbi David Wolpe and Father Alexei Smith, December 21, 2014"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="The Harold M. Schulweis Institute Online Library"]

December 18, 2014

“My immortality if there be such for me is not in tears, blame or self-recrimination.

But in the joy you give to others, in raising the fallen and loosening the fetters of the bound.

In your loyalty to God’s special children – the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger in your gates, the weak ---I take pride.

My immortality is bound up with God’s eternity, with God’s justice, truth and righteousness.

And that eternity is strengthened by your loyalty and your love.

Honor me with laughter and with goodness.

With these, the better part of me lives on beyond the grave.” 

...Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis


The Harold M. Schulweis Institute Library deeply mourns the passing of our leader and mentor, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis.  It is a profound loss to his family, our VBS community and the world at large. Today, and perhaps for weeks and years to come, we can reflect on how fortunate most of us have been for many of the past forty-four years to have heard Rabbi Schulweis teach us, guide us, motivate us, and impart us with his wisdom and his vision regarding conscience , godliness, and justice.  Through the Schulweis Institute Library, we all can continue to listen to, view, and read his creative works.

The Library takes pride in fulfilling our mission of preserving Rabbi Schulweis’ legacy through our growing collection of his writings and recordings which will serve future generations with his rich philosophy and his magnificent oratory.   With hundreds of audio and video recordings in our collection, his unforgettable compelling voice will live on to inspire us.  Thanks to a generous grant from the Skirball Cultural Center, all of his sermon recordings are being transcribed to written document form for printing or reading from your computer; availability will soon reach one hundred sermons. The Library also contains over two hundred  copies of his published and unpublished writings, covering a rich range of topics of interest that he addressed over the years.  Our collection also contains approximately one hundred and fifty poems written by Rabbi Schulweis to cover all of our life cycle events with beautiful and soulful messages.

To continue to read, listen to and view the works of Rabbi Schulweis, please visit the institute online library at and click on “Online Libraries” tab on the top banner. This will give Rabbi Schulweis the immortality he has defined.

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="In Tribute to Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Eulogy from Janice Kamenir-Reznik"]

From a poem by Rabbi Schulweis

For Those Beloved Who Survive Me

Mourning by Harold M. Schulweis

Mourn me not with tears, ashes or sackcloth.
Nor dwell in darkness, sadness or remorse.
Remember that I love you, and wish for you a life of song.
My immortality, if there be such for me, is not in tears, blame or self-recrimination.
But in the joy you give to others, in raising the fallen
and loosening the fetters of the bound.
In your loyalty to God's special children -- the widow, the orphan,the poor, the stranger in your gates, the weak -- I take pride.

The fringes of the tallit placed on my body are torn, for the dead cannot praise You, O Lord.
The dead have no mitzvot.
But your tallit is whole and you are alive and alive you are called to mitzvot.
You can choose, you can act, you can transform the world.

My immortality is bound up with God's eternity, with God's justice, truth and righteousness.
And that eternity is strengthened by your loyalty and your love.
Honor me with laughter and with goodness.
With these, the better part of me lives on beyond the grave.

Over the last many decades—and particularly the last 10 years, I have had the privilege of spending a considerable amount of time with Rabbi Schulweis.  It has undoubtedly changed the course of my life.

Like everyone in this room, I always loved, admired, and appreciated Rabbi Schulweis.  His intellect, his oratory, his bold conscience, his prophetic way of insisting that we dig deeper in our own souls and consciences—that we stop the argument about whether God exists and start finding the godliness and the goodliness in ourselves and those with whom we share our homes, our communities, and our planet.  There were always so many reasons to admire Rabbi Schulweis.   You know how it is—sometimes you admire someone from afar and when you get more familiar what you see is less admirable.  

Quite the opposite happened to me with Rabbi Schulweis.  The closer we got the more I admired him.    

Rabbi Schulweis was not just our rabbi and teacher and not just a social philosopher and idea generator; and, he was not just the man who called on our community to start an organization to fight genocide; For Jewish World Watch he has been so much more. He has been was an active leader in realizing the organization’s vision, day-in day-out for the past decade. He attended every monthly board meeting, until very recently when he became too weak to do so. For years, he traveled all over southern California with me, speaking to groups of all sizes, ages and faiths.  His humility was so evident in all of this community work. Several years ago we took a long drive to address what was supposed to be a sizeable audience. When we arrived, the crowd was embarrassingly small. I was horrified.  Rabbi Schulweis did not skip a beat.

He was fully engaged with the audience. He was so uplifted on our long drive back home--—never giving a second thought to the disappointing showing.      

He especially enjoyed our outings to meet with JWW’s partners in other faith communities. He loved speaking with the priests, headmasters and students in Catholic and Christian schools; he forged our relationship with the Armenian community, making sure that JWW would become the first Jewish organization to support long overdue legislation (which sadly, still has not been enacted), recognizing the Armenian genocide.  

He marched with us in front of the Chinese Embassy to protest the government’s horrific human rights violations. A few years ago, he was ready to go to Washington DC to be arrested with George Clooney as a means of drawing attention to the genocide in Darfur—we had to stop him from that one, as we knew it would not be good for his health.  In the ultimate display of support and commitment, at one of our rallies he actually put a JWW t-shirt on—so he’d be a visible member of the JWW contingent.  Of course, he wore the t-shirt over shirt and tie!

Over the past decade, I saw Rabbi Schulweis’ characteristic humility, warmth and charm fully evident in his one-on-one meetings with the many young teens who sought to interview him.  He treated each of these sit-downs with the same seriousness that he’d give to an LA Times reporter.  

During our Board meetings, if someone forgot a name or the disposition of a certain debate from a prior discussion---he was right there, following every word, filling in the blanks that no one else in the room remembered, even in recent months, when his health proved challenging and his energy was down. Right to the end, he would still, whenever possible, attend our meetings.  When he couldn’t make it, he always wanted a summary the next day—what was discussed? What was decided? Who attended?

And, we had a familiar ritual with each trip to Africa. He insisted on seeing us before we departed. He wanted to know our full itinerary and be reassured that we would be safe. And he would bless us.

He’d read every one of our blog entries, following every aspect of the trip. When we returned, he’d want a full debrief. How were our projects progressing? Who did we meet? He’d want stories about the people we encountered, the individuals, the children, the new connections. That is what mattered most to him. He hung on to every word, at times saddened by the reality of the situation and at times beaming with pride about our successes. It seems that through his desire for details and stories he was able to vicariously experience these difficult journeys.

“My immortality, if there be such for me, is not in tears, blame of self recrimination, but in the joy you give to others, in raising the fallen and loosening the fetters of the bound.”

Of all of the visits and conversations I have had with Rabbi Schulweis, it is our very last conversation less than two weeks ago that was perhaps the most profound. It will stay with me forever. Already in quite a weakened state, Rabbi Schulweis was notably agitated about the events that lead to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, and the chokehold that killed Eric Garner in New York.  He said that these police practices are intolerable and racially biased. He asked why he was not hearing a louder voice of protest from the American Jewish community.  

Rabbi Schulweis was a man who simply could not tolerate injustice…even as his heart was fading -- even as he knew his end was near…he would not give up his pursuit of and for justice.  And his expectation of us was clear as well--- to continue this sacred work:   

The fringes of the tallit placed on my body are torn, for the dead
cannot praise You, O Lord.
The dead have no mitzvot.
But your tallit is whole and you are alive and alive you are called to
You can choose, you can act, you can transform the world.”

A while later that afternoon, Stan Zicklin, Malkah, Rabbi and I were visiting, and Rabbi Schulweis posed a question. He asked, “How do you know if you have lived a good life? A worthwhile life?”.  After 40 years of being his student, I did a very Schulweisian thing.  I turned it back on him. I asked him, “How would YOU evaluate whether you’ve lived a good life—?”   Without hesitation he said “A rabbi who has brought people together - people who were divergent in their views and practices, people who ordinarily would not have connected, people who were estranged, or even simply irrelevant to one another….I would say, that such a rabbi has lived a good life.”  

What a remarkable moment to experience…a man, near death, evaluating the essence of his life’s purpose as a rabbi.

About 10 months ago when Rabbi Schulweis was ill, almost every board member of JWW sent me notes to deliver to him. I want to share with you the words of one such Jewish World Watch board member…words which demonstrate, so beautifully, that Rabbi Schulweis accomplished his dream.

Dear Rabbi Schulweis:   I don't think that I have ever told you what you and  JWW have meant in my life. By allowing me to be part of your extraordinary vision, you have altered my view, not only of the world, but of my place in it. By starting this organization, you have challenged me and many others to leave our comfort zones and recognize that we can in fact DO something in places that seem so far away and remote. I see the world and our interconnectivity differently because of you.

But most of all, I have been so touched by your inclusiveness. I love that JWW embraces anyone who needs us and that while steeped in Jewish tradition, we welcome and embrace all faiths. It is a powerful message that the world so desperately needs. Diana

Yes, Rabbi Schulweis was an intellectual giant; a profound philosopher; an eloquent and prolific writer; an original thinker and a masterful speaker.  Those attributes made Rabbi Schulweis a great rabbi.  But Rabbi Schulweis was more than just a great Rabbi.   He was also one of the Greatest Human Beings that any of us will ever know…and that was the quality that made him so magnetic.  

At this year’s Walk to End Genocide, it took a very long time to bring Rabbi and Malkah in a golf cart from the parking lot at Pan Pacific Park down to the area of the Walk.  People of all ages thronged around the golf cart wanting him to stop for a photo—hundreds of people, from young kids to politicos and religious leaders, were taking selfies with Rabbi Schulweis and posting them on their Facebook pages. In an era full of superficial fame, Rabbi Schulweis provides the true model of celebrity.  Indeed, not only in Los Angeles, but across the US and far beyond, Rabbi Schulweis is a superhero of a movement—a movement he started in the last decade of his life!  How remarkable.    

Between the ages of 80 and 90 when most people would be slowing down, or stopping altogether, Rabbi Schulweis conceived of and helped to grow a new global human rights organization and he found room in his heart to make a whole new group of friends—…friends whose lives became intertwined with his.  Listen to this from one of our JWW board members—also from last March:

Dear Rabbi Schulweis.

Thank you.  Thank you for standing up.  Thank you for speaking on behalf of those who cannot speak.  For being a witness.  For calling on others to do so, when your eyes, and arms, could reach only so far.  Thank you for opening your mouth and for opening my eyes.  Thank you for helping teach me to recognize a different facet of myself than I knew before, for teaching me to better understand how much one person can do and, in reaching that realization, understanding that capacity can also mean responsibility.  Thank you for having such a strong gravitational force, and for allowing me to be pulled into your orbit. Please know that if it is you now having difficulty speaking, there is a chorus of voices here ready, willing and able to continue to sing your songs and continue to speak for those on behalf of whom you have been speaking. .. Peter 

On one of our trips to Congo, a group of survivors asked us to pray with them for their safety and then asked us why we came to Congo.  

I told them about how Rabbi Schulweis for 50 years had asked “where were the people of conscience when our 6 million were murdered?” I told them about Rabbi Schulweis’ sense of despair at the end of the Rwandan genocide when we knew that 1 million people had been murdered in 100 days and about the shame he felt for not having mobilized and spoken out.  I told them about the vow Rabbi Schulweis made that he would never again be silent in the face of genocide and how that led him to propose Jewish World Watch when the tragedy emerging in Darfur became clear to the world. And then I told them that in our synagogues we also pray, but that Rabbi Schulweis has taught us to pray not only with our hearts, but also to pray with our feet.  One of the people in the room stood up and shook her head in approval and said “This Rabbi is a very wise man; I want to meet this wise man and learn from him.”  

We have met this wise man, and we have learned from him, and none of us will ever be the same.  

“My immortality, if there be such for me,… is in your loyalty to God's special children -- the widow, the orphan,
the poor, the stranger in your gates, the weak – [in this] I take pride.”

It has been the greatest privilege to stand in the bright light of Rabbi Harold Schulweis and to be part of a team to help amplify that light for the good of the world.  It has been the greatest privilege to learn from him, to partner in the repair of the world with him, and, above all, to share a deep friendship with him.   I will hold in the highest esteem his exceptional relationship with his perfect match, Malkah and the grace with which Malkah and her children shared their patriarch with me, with you, and with the world.  

How perfectly apt that he left us during Chanukah—during the darkest time of the year, Chanukah’s flames create light—that is exactly what Rabbi Schulweis has done  in so many profound ways for all of the years of his life.

My immortality is bound up with God's eternity, with God's
justice, truth and righteousness.
And that eternity is strengthened by your loyalty and your love.”

A friend wrote: It is said that in the end, people are judged not only by what they did but also for what they caused. Rabbi Schulweis caused so much peace, caused the lives of so many to be so much better, in some cases, caused them to be at all. He caused the world to better understand the sacred power of conscience.

“Mourn me not with tears, ashes or sackcloth…” Says Rabbi Schulweis,

Honor me with laughter and with goodness.
With these, the better part of me lives on beyond the grave”

Janice Kamenir-Reznik

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Video Tribute for Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis: The First 80 Years"]

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="In Tribute to Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Eulogy from Rabbi David Ellenson"]

I know that so many of you are here today will speak and think lovingly and fully about Moreinu v’rabeinu Harold Schulweis. He has touched and transformed our lives in so many ways, and I would thank my colleague and friend Rabbi Feinstein for inviting me to add my voice to those of others as we pay tribute to Harold.  I-lu fi-nu malei shirah ka-yam -- even if our mouths were as full of song as the seas, we could not do justice to all his accomplishments, nor to the greatness of his person.  

I do not even pretend to know how to express my gratitude and respect – my love -- for Harold Schulweis.  When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1979, he invited me to lunch and soon thereafter her asked me to teach adult education classes at Valley Beth Shalom.  Later I was honored to serve with him and Rabbi Feinstein on the High Holidays and a remarkable and nurturing relationship was developed and maintained for the next 35 years.  

Rabbi Schulweis was for me – as for so many of you – my yo-etz (my counselor). In 2001, when I was pondering whether to leave my academic post at HUC and seek the Presidency of Hebrew Union College, it was Rabbi Schulweis I knew I had to approach.  For, as I struggled with this decision, I knew that I had to consult a person whom I respected and trusted before making my decision.  Rabbi Schulweis was that person.  Like so many of you in this congregation tonight who have faced critical moments in your own lives, I called Rabbi Schulweis and I came here to Valley Beth Shalom to seek his advice. Rabbi Schulweis took me out for lunch and we talked and discussed what this position would mean for me, my family, and the Jewish people.  I cannot recall all the words of wisdom Rabbi Schulweis imparted to me that day.  However, at the very end of our conversation, he told me that he thought it was imperative that I apply for this position.  He told me that I would well be able to do a certain amount of good in the world for the Jewish people that would exceed anything I might be able to – no matter how important -- as a professor.  That discussion was a turning point in my decision to make application for the position I held for more than a dozen years.  If Harold Schulweis -- who taught all of us over and over again how to make the words of Torah and the teachings of our Masoret – our Tradition – real and present in the world, if Harold Schulweis, who asked all of us over and over again how our community would treat the weak and downtrodden, if Harold Schulweis, who challenged us to create an inclusive community that would refuses to shut out and exclude those who are different, if Harold Schulweis, who bore his monumental learning with such grace and humility and who inspired us on every occasion with his intellect, his goodness, and his heart -- told me that I needed to occupy the position of President of Hebrew Union College for the good of the Jewish people, how could I not do so?  Whatever positive contributions I made during the time I served in that post, I owe in no small measure to Harold.  I, like so many of you, admired him and his humanity – his yiddishe neshama and his goodness and righteousness – beyond measure.

Harold Schulweis was, among so many other things, an intellectual and yo-dei’a sefer, a student of Jewish tradition and I loved to discuss Jewish intellectual teachings and books with him.  One of the signal honors of my life was that he asked me to write the Foreword to the republication of his masterful book, Evil and the Morality of God.  It is in that spirit, that I would offer one last teaching in his memory.  I think he would appreciate it.

 According to Jewish Law, the general rule is that it is forbidden to conduct a funeral and bring a casket into a synagogue.  Yet, there are exceptions to this rule.  This is when the deceased, as Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann (1843-1921) of Berlin, the head of the Orthodox Berlin Rabbinical Seminary wrote, is “yachid b’doro - unique in his generation.”  Rabbi Hoffmann said that such a man is akin to an “Eshkol – ish she-hakol bo,” a grape-cluster “in whom all is holy and pure, and who is possessed of both great knowledge (beki’ut) and great analytical ability (harifut).”  Such men “work day and night in promoting Torah, commandments, and good deeds.”  Each one is as “swift as a stag and as strong and courageous as a lion.”  They labor tirelessly on behalf of the Land of Israel and are unceasing in their efforts to promote institutions of education and Torah.  They care continuously for the poor and the orphaned and protect our people everywhere from those who would do us harm.  And all this they do out of the goodness that animates their souls.  They do not seek reward and they do not pursue honor (rodeph aharei kavod).  Rather, they are humble and modest, honoring every creature as if he or she was their most outstanding rabbi and teacher.  On account of the honor that is due these men, there is no question, Rabbi Hoffmann ruled, that it is fitting to enter their casket into the synagogue and to eulogize them there. 

Our generation and our people have been blessed to have such a leader.  Few generations are blessed with a Rabbi Harold Schulweis.  It is an honor bestowed upon us that we have the privilege to eulogize him here and to say farewell to his physical presence today at Valley Beth Shalom.

In II Samuel, Chapter 1, we read that when David learned of the death of Saul and Jonathan, he said, “Your glory, O Israel, lies dead on your heights.  How the mighty have fallen.  They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.”  And when David later learned of the death of Abner, he proclaimed to his soldiers and all of Israel, “You well know that a prince, a great man in Israel, has died this day.” 

All of us know that Harold Schulweis was “swifter than an eagle, stronger than a lion” in life.  He was a prince in Israel.  We will not see his like again anytime soon.  

Tzaddikim b’mitatam hayyim heim – the righteous even in death live on in their words and deeds. 

To Malka and all the Schulweis family, I would recite the familiar yet heartfelt words – Hamakomy’nacehm etchem – May God grant you special comfort you among all those who mourn at this moment for your beloved Harold.  Y’hi zichro baruch – may the memory of Harold Schulweis continue to shine out beyond the grave and bless us all.  

Rabbi David Ellenson

[/collapsed] [collapsed title="Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis Passes Away at 89-Rabbi Harold Schulweis, regarded as the most influential synagogue leader of his generation, died at his home after a long struggle with heart disease. He was 89 years old."]

Rabbi Harold Schulweis, regarded as the most influential synagogue leader of his generation, died at his home after a long struggle with heart disease. He was 89 years old.

Rabbi Uri Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center, was a freshman at UC Berkeley when he first heard Schulweis speak at a Rosh Hashanah service, and became a friend and admirer for life. On a later occasion, Herscher introduced Schulweis to an audience, saying in part, “Harold Schulweis is a rabbi. This is a little like saying, a Rembrandt is a painting. Or a Stradivarius is a violin…He is a rabbi of rabbis…He has, as much as any rabbi in our time, given Judaism meaning, relevance and renewed purpose.”

Schulweis recognized the power of congregations to shape the lives of a generation of Jews isolated from community and alienated from their traditions by the rhythms of American life and the spiritually corrosive elements of American culture. In 1970, he was invited to the pulpit of Valley Beth Shalom in the burgeoning San Fernando Valley community of Encino. Under his leadership, the synagogue grew to become the largest Conservative congregation in the Western United States, and became a living laboratory of social activism and creative spiritual life introducing innovations that became staples for Jewish congregations across North America.

Responding to the loneliness and isolation of suburban life, Schulweis introduced synagogue-based “Havurot,” in 1971, gathering small groups of families to share religious life and family celebrations. His “Para-Rabbinic” initiative offered a revolutionary model of lay-professional synagogue leadership. Schulweis launched a para-professional Counseling Center within the synagogue, offering psychological and family support to the synagogue members and the wider communities. Each of these innovations has been replicated in congregations nationwide.

Schulweis opened the doors of his synagogue to all. He pioneered initiatives welcoming children and young adults with special needs into the synagogue’s educational and religious programs. He reached out to Jews-by-choice and unchurched Christians seeking a spiritual home. In 1992, Schulweis was among the first rabbis in the Conservative Movement of American Judaism to openly welcome gay and lesbian Jews into the synagogue.

Schulweis’ pulpit became a launching pad for his efforts to push contemporary Judaism beyond its narrow ethnic preoccupation. Judaism, he frequently preached, is a global religion, with concerns that embrace the world. “Our greatness as a religion,” he wrote, “is that we Jews conceived of ourselves as God’s allies, partners, and friends. We gave the world conscience. We gave to the world a sacred universalism that remains at the foundation of our relationship with the world.”

In 1966, Schulweis met a young math instructor at Berkeley who shared the story of his family’s rescue from the Nazis by a German Christian family. The family had never been recognized or thanked by the Jewish community. Thousands of rescuers, Schulweis learned, lived in poverty, receiving neither recognition nor aid. In response, he founded the Institute for Righteous Acts, which would become, in 1986, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (, recognizing, celebrating and supporting thousands of Christians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Schulweis was profiled on “60 Minutes” for his unique vision, locating moral heroism in the darkest of historical moments.

With activist Leonard Fein, he founded Mazon (, in 1985 as a Jewish community response to hunger and poverty in America. Mazon ask Jewish families celebrating life moments to dedicate 3% of the cost to the hungry who live among us.

In 2004, Schulweis delivered a sermon on the Jewish high holidays calling for a Jewish response to genocide. He challenged the congregation:

“We took an oath, “Never again!” Was this vow to protect only Jews from the curse of genocide? God forbid that our children and grandchildren ask of us, ‘Where was the synagogue during Rwanda, when genocide took place and eight hundred thousand people were slaughtered in one hundred days?’”

According to Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Schulweis’ successor at Valley Beth Shalom, “Rabbi Schulweis found the presence of God in acts of moral courage, compassion, and human decency. He constantly reminded us that we are the hands of God in this world.”

Among those moved to answer the rabbi’s challenge was attorney Janice Kamenir-Reznik, who assumed the role of founding president of the Jewish World Watch (, now a coalition of Jewish organizations dedicated to raising awareness and mobilizing resources in response to the on-going genocide in Darfur, Congo, and around the world. JWW has grown into the largest anti-genocide grassroots organization in the world, with some 30,000 to 40,000 donors. Schulweis’ challenge, and her friendship with the rabbi, “has transformed my life and has changed my philosophy of what it means to be a Jew,” said Kamenir-Reznik. “Nothing I have done in my life has been more meaningful and has had a larger impact.”

Schulweis’ concern for genocide around the world, led him to reach out to the large Armenian population in his San Fernando Valley neighborhood. In 2005, Schulweis officiated with Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Armenian Church of North America at the first joint commemoration of the Jewish and Armenian Holocausts. He joined band members of the rock band, System of a Down, all of them children of survivors of the Armenian Holocaust, in an educational program affirming the common responsibilities of Jewish and Armenian youth to remember their collective experiences of genocide, and to act to prevent its reoccurrence.

Schulweis was born in the Bronx, in 1925, the son of a ferociously anti-religious editor of the Yiddish daily “Forverts.” As a child, Schulweis never set foot in a synagogue, but grew up surrounded by Yiddish poets, nationalists, revolutionaries, and artists. At the age of 12, he happened upon a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. Attracted by the music he heard from the street, he slipped in and was enraptured. He began studying Talmud with his pious, Hasidic grandfather, eventually enrolling at Yeshiva College where he graduated in 1945. An ardent student of philosophy, he became a disciple of Mordecai Kaplan at the Jewish Theological Seminary where he was ordained in 1950. At the same time he studied philosophy under Sidney Hook at New York University, receiving a masters degree in 1950 with the first English language thesis on Martin Buber’s philosophy. He subsequently completed a doctorate in theology at the Pacific School of Religion. Schulweis taught philosophy at City College of New York, and served pulpits in Parkchester, New York, and Oakland, California, before coming to Valley Beth Shalom.

As much public intellectual as pulpit rabbi, Schulweis authored nine books and hundreds of articles in which he offered a unique interpretation of post-Holocaust Jewish theology. Schulweis’ “Theological humanism” is rooted in the Biblical conviction that the human being bears the divine image, and in philosopher Martin Buber’s concept of God revealed in deep human relationships. Schulweis imagined God not above us, but within and between human beings. Prayer and religious observance, Schulweis instructed, are not directed above as a plea for supernatural intervention, but within – as an inspiration to individual and communal reflection, commitment and moral action. Building on the theology developed in his doctoral writing, Schulweis advocated “predicate theology,” identifying those aspects of human activity which are “Godly.” “God,” he frequently argued, “is not believed, but behaved.” Conscience is the living nexus between the divine and the human in everyday life. The cultivation of conscience is the central function of religious life and religious education.

Among Rabbi Schulweis’ greatest legacy is his vast library of publications that will live on and serve for generations to come in his memory. Just a few of note are: Evil and the Morality of God (Jersey City, N.J: Ktav Pub. House, 2010.); For Those Who Can’t Believe, Overcoming the Obstacles to Faith (1995, New York: Harper Perennial; Finding Each Other in Judaism: Meditations on the Rites of Passage from Birth to Immortality (2001, New York: URJ Press)In God’s Mirror, Reflections and Essays (2003, Jersey City, NJ: KTAV); Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey(2010, Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights)Embracing the Seeker (2010, Halperin, M., (Ed.) Jersey City, NJ: KTAV). The Schulweis Institute online library,, offers a collection serving as the living repository for over 750 audio, video and document copies of the Rabbi's writings, sermons and teachings.

Among his numerous awards and honors are the Israel Prime Minister’s Medal, United Synagogue Social Action Award, and Los Angeles County’s John Allen Buggs Humanitarian Award, as well as honorary doctorate degrees from the Hebrew Union College and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

Schulweis is survived by his wife of 64 years, Malkah, his children Seth Schulweis of West Los Angeles, Ethan (Cindy) Schulweis of Beit Hashita, Israel, and Alyssa (Peter) Reich of West Los Angeles, and eleven grandchildren. Contributions in Rabbi Schulweis’ memory can be sent to Valley Beth Shalom, Jewish World Watch and the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

Contributions can be made online via the following web sites:

Valley Beth Shalom:

Jewish World Watch:

Jewish Foundation for the Righteous:


Personal messages for the Schulweis family 
may be sent to:


For more information, contact:
Rabbi Edward Feinstein, Valley Beth Shalom,

Thu, April 2 2020 8 Nisan 5780