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David wolpeBy MYRON LOVE Rabbi David Wolpe prefers to downplay his high level public profile.

The author of several books, in demand public speaker and long time spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles makes light of having made Newsweek Magazine’s list of one of America’s most influential rabbis in 2012.
“That is always the first thing that comes up in reference to me,” he says. “It will probably be engraved on my tombstone.”
Wolpe was in Winnipeg last weekend (December 3-5) to share his wisdom and insights as Scholar-in-Residence at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue – and he left with a very good impression of our community.
“I received a very warm welcome,” he says. “The people I met were all very kind. It seemed to me that there is a real depth of Jewish feeling here. I really enjoyed my time in Winnipeg.”
Wolpe’s focus over the weekend was on the importance of faith. “Faith matters,” he pointed out, “because faith gives people and a society courage, resilience and hope. It provides a community with cohesiveness. And faith communities do an awful lot of good in the world.”
For David Wolpe, the rabbinate is a “family business”. His father, Rabbi Gerald Wolpe (who passed away in 2009), was the spiritual leader of Har Zion Temple in Philadelphia for 30 years and was also prominent in the larger community.
“I always had the idea that a life spent writing, teaching and public speaking would be the best possible life,” David Wolpe says. “I thought that I would find that ideal as an English professor. But the rabbinate was more appealing. I am able to interact with people with a deeper and more impactful level at all stages of their lives.”
He recalls the most important piece of wisdom he was given for those who are considering answering the call to the rabbinate. That is that a rabbi has to love all fellow Jews.
Wolpe reports that his congregation in L.A. numbers about 1,800 families. “We have a lot of young families among our members,” he notes. “We celebrate one or more bar-mitzvahs every week. We have a strong day school and our summer camps are always full.”
He acknowledges though that the Conservative and Reform movements in North America are both struggling. “We are being crowded out by all the noise in the marketplace of ideas,” he observes. “And it can take a lot of hard work being Jewish.”
He remains optimistic about the future though. “Right now, we are seeing a worldwide trend toward traditional and fundamental observance,” he notes. “It can be dispiriting. But I believe that wave will wane and people will return to a more conservative form of observance.”
When asked about the situation for Jewish students on many North American university campuses, he notes that the picture is mixed. “My daughter is a freshman,” he points out. “I see a lot of intellectual energy and goodness. On the other hand, there is an abysmal level of ignorance, especially where Israel is concerned which has resulted in a strong anti-Israel sentiment.”
He also referred to a culture of grievance that is infecting America in general.
As for American Jewish support for Israel, he notes that his congregation regularly sends a large contingent to the annual AIPAC general meeting. “There is a lot of important work being done in the wider Jewish community, especially in terms of educating younger people about Israel’s position and dilemmas in the world.
“There is no substitute for actually visiting Israel.”
While Wolpe says that he believes that the Israeli government has made mistakes, “that is to be expected when one is facing unremitting pressure,” he observes.
Wolpe thinks that Americans are becoming increasingly aware that the heart of the problem in the Middle East has nothing to do with Israel. “For many Arab countries, Israel is an irritant and a way for undemocratic governments to whip up support for their repressive policies,” he says. “The problem is the dearth of responsible governance and the growth of extremism in the Arab world.”
Wolpe notes that even with his prominent public profile, the bulk of his time is still spent with helping his congregants with their issues. “I receive thousands of emails and try to respond to all of them myself,” he says.
“I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction helping people and I have to say that I like all the people I work with in my congregation.”