|A personal tribute to a prominent rabbi|
|Written by David Rabinovitz, Special to The Chronicle|
|Wednesday, June 20 2012 12:50|
My uncle, Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, who for 26 years guided Washington, D.C.’s largest and oldest conservative synagogue, passed away on Friday, June 8. It was his 95th birthday.
During his nearly three decades as the spiritual leader of Adas Israel Congregation, guests in his synagogue included presidents, Israeli prime ministers, Supreme Court justices, countless members of Congress, government officials and journalists.
His obituary was in the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Forward, Israeli newspapers and carried by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. So I was quite surprised not to see a mention of the death of this prominent man of the Jewish world in The Chronicle.
Perhaps his most notable accomplishment, Rabbi Rabinowitz served two terms as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative rabbis.
He was especially concerned with Zionism and Israel, and their relation to Conservative Jewry.
Together with representatives of the Reform movement, in 1977 he successfully negotiated with Israel’s then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the indefinite postponement of a bill to change Israel’s Law of Return and Israeli definition of Jewish identity. The projected changes, if adopted, would have compromised the role of Conservative and Reform rabbis and challenged the status of their converts. The changes were not implemented.
As RA president, he traveled to Egypt to meet with religious and political leaders. He was a guest in Anwar Sadat’s home.
Rabbi Rabinowitz led his congregation and Washington’s Jewry through much of the turbulent times of race relations in the ‘60s. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at a city meeting my uncle hosted in 1963.
In 1964, immediately after the assassination of President Kennedy, Rabbi Rabinowitz was invited to give the sermon at Mount Vernon Place Baptist Church, which was attended by President and Lady Bird Johnson. Upon returning home, my uncle received a personal call from the first lady asking him for a copy of his speech. That night, in his televised Thanksgiving address to the nation, President Johnson included the theme of my uncle’s sermon, and quoted from it.
He danced with Betty Ford at the White House, and received a personal letter from President Reagan upon his retirement.
He was a graduate of the University of Iowa, Yale University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was an honorary fellow of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was predeceased by his wife Anita (Lifson) in 2008, his son Nathaniel in 2007 and his brother Ronald (my father) in 2006. He is survived by two daughters, four grandchildren, a great grandson, a brother and many nieces and nephews (including myself).
In 1947, one of his earliest professional duties as a rabbi was officiating at the marriage of my parents in Monterrey, Mexico, my mother’s hometown. The ceremony was in Yiddish, Hebrew, Spanish and English.
In his younger days, Rabbi Rabinowitz was one of the original founders of AZA (Kansas City, Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., and Des Moines were the first four chapters in the country), and served as one of the earliest international presidents. Rabbi Rabinowitz was vice chairman of the B’nai B’rith Youth Commission and chairman of its Judaica publishing committee, which published a series of pamphlets for young people, many of which he authored. He was also chairman of the editorial board of the National Jewish Monthly. While he was president of the Rabbinical Association, he helped edit the new Haggadah issued by the Conservative movement. It is still in wide use today.
Rabbi Rabinowitz was very active in Jewish community affairs as well. He served as Chairman of the Rabbinic Cabinets of UJA and of AIPAC. He was the also the founding president of Mercaz, the Movement for the Reaffirmation of Conservative Judaism.
He was a scholar, a historian a profound thinker and an author. He was a powerful rabbi, poised and polished. He was eloquent and elegant. Our family was always so proud. But despite the many accomplishments of this great man, to me and all the cousins from Des Moines he was still just our Uncle Stanley.