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By MYRON LOVE Spiritual leadership comes in many forms. But the bottom line, as enunciated by Jane Eisner, the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, comes down to “the power of personal connection – through study, social action or simple acts of kindness”.


In late March, the Forward published a list of 33 of America’s “Most Inspiring Rabbis”, three of whom have Winnipeg connections.
Undoubtedly, the best known of the three to readers of this newspaper would be Rabbi Carnie Rose of Congregation B’nai Amoona in St. Louis. The second son of Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose was born and bred in Winnipeg. He left here in 1989 to study for an MBA and the rabbinate at the University of Judaism in LA, and was ordained in 1995. Before coming to B’nai Amoona ten years ago, he (and his family - wife, Paulie, and four children ranging in age from 10 to 16) served congregations in Columbus, Ohia, Tokyo and New York City. His current congregation has a membership of about 800 families.
“I wasn’t looking for a new job when B’nai Amoona approached me,” Rose says. “I knew the congregation because I had interviewed here years before for assistant rabbi. It was hard to leave my congregation in New York – but we are more comfortable with a midwestern ethos. St. Louis offers a lifestyle similar to what I experienced growing up in Winnipeg.”
Rose speaks lovingly of growing up in Winnipeg and what he learned here about community service through the examples of his parents, Neal and Carol, and volunteering as part of his education at Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate.
“I would volunteer at the Sharon Home and Shalom Residences,” he recalls. “I would go with my father on hospital visits. And we always shared our Shabbat and Yom Tov meals with many guests. My parents always showed concern for the marginalized members of our Jewish community.”
 The lessons that he learned at home, he has introduced in his congregation. He has focused on making his synagogue a welcoming place for gay people, the handicapped (The bimah, for example, has had tramps installed to make it accessible to congregants in wheelchairs.), and those who have served prison terms.
“Our congregation has received several national awards for our inclusiveness,” he notes. “We were the first congregation to receive the Ruderman Prize (worth $50,000) for being inclusive of the physically handicapped.”
Also following his parents’ lead in Winnipeg, Rose is involved in interfaith work in St. Louis. “Our recent interfaith Pesach seder attracted 250, including 75 who weren’t Jewish,” he says.
As to making the list, he says that it is both humbling and embarrassing. “It’s wonderful that members of my congregation put my name forward,” he says. “But I don’t do what I do for honours, but rather for the love of the ‘Jewish People. As my father always says, we change the world ‘Yidl by Yidl’. That’s my goal.”
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Rabbi Michael Knopf’s connection to Winnipeg is also through the Rose family. In 2008 he married Carol and Neal’s daughter, Adira. (The couple have two children, a two-year-old daughter and five-month-old son.)
“I was honoured, humbled and surprised to be selected for the list so early in my career alongside teachers and people I have admired, especially Carnie,” says Knopf, the 32-year-old spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Richmond, Virginia. “This boosts my strength and energy in serving my community.”
It was Knopf’s involvement in a leadership role in USY in high school that led him to consider the rabbinate. “I really became passionate about building and strengthening a sense of Jewish community from that experience,” he recalls. “I began to develop a deeper relationship with Judaism.”
He received his rabbinic training at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, the Conservative movement’s Los Angeles seminary. He was ordained in 2001. His first congregation was in Philadelphia. He came to Richmond and Congregation Beth El last fall.
Richmond, he reports, has a Jewish community of about 10,000-15,000. The community is comparable in size to Winnipeg, he points out. His own congregation numbers 430 families.
“I heard that I received many nominations from current and former congregants,” says Knopf, in explaining how he was chosen for the list. “People noted how I make Judaism more relevant to my congregants. In the 21st century, we need to make Judaism more inclusive and welcoming.”
The Forward testimonial from congregants described some of the new directions in which Knopf has been moving his congregation – events such as a Purim party that featured dancing to 1980s music; a band performing live music at Friday night services; dress-down Shabbat services and toys in the sanctuary for the little ones to play with.
Knopf is also following up on the interfaith work in which he was involved in Philadelphia. He is helping to form a Religious Leaders Council in largely Protestant Richmond.
“The Jewish community here is very well regarded” he says. “Last Chanukah, OI and Jewish leaders were invited to the Governor’s Mansion for a Chanukah Party for the first time.”
 “Rabbi Knopf is working hard to expand our congregation and to make Judaism welcome to all,” the congregants wrote. “He will soon be officiating the first marriage of a same-sex couple in our temple’s history. His number one priority is to make our temple most welcoming to interfaith couples, and has expanded what a non-Jewish partner may do in the sanctuary during their children’s b’nai mitzvah. He is the ultimate community leader. In just half a year, he has transformed Temple Beth El. We know the best is yet to come.”
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Rabbi Elizabeth Baral, the spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville, Alabama, has fond memories of her time in Winnipeg as a student rabbi at Temple Shalom here.
“I was fortunate that Temple Shalom was willing to allow me to inflict student training on them,” she jokes. “I am grateful that the congregation was willing to engage with me in my struggle to learn what it takes to become a rabbi.”
Baral served Temple Shalom on a part-time basis in 2007 and 2008. She remembers the congregation as “a wonderful and inclusive community”. She particularly recalls a bat mitzvah at which she presided for a “differently abled” young woman as one of the “most moving” bat mitzvahs that she has ever participated in.”
Baral attended Brandeis University and, like Michael Knopf, discovered a passion for Judaism through her leadership role in school – in her case through Hillel and teaching Sunday school. She was ordained in 2009 and began her tenure at B’nai Sholom shortly thereafter.
She reports that Huntsville (in northern Alabama) has an overall population of about 300,000. Her congregation numbers about 150 families. There is also a smaller congregation of about 60 families and another 100 or so unaffiliated Jewish community members.
“We are famous for the number of Ph.D.s we have here,” she says. “Huntsville is home to America’s missile command centre. We have a number of rocket scientists in our congregation.”
As a rabbi, professionally, she concedes, she does feel somewhat isolated in Huntsville. She reports that she and her family keep kosher and import most of their food from Atlanta, a three hour drive away.
Like Knopf and Rose, she is much involved in interfaith activities in the larger community. One of her congregants, describing Baral for the Forward, noted that “in the five years since Rabbi Bahar came to Huntsville, our congregation has become more welcoming to same-sex couples, worked with local school systems to implement an anti-bullying initiative, spoken out against Alabama’s anti-immigration law, and helped educate the community about the problem of homeless LGBT teens. Rabbi Baral is a role model who leads by example and teaches us all-important lessons about the meaning of Judaism and the joy we can find in tikkun olam.”
“I was gratified to have been considered for the Forward list,” says Baral, who has two pre-school children with her husband, Uzi, a jeweler in Huntsville. “I try to emphasize the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger.”