Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz believes his job is to get his hands dirty.
The 37-year-old Scottsdale, Arizona resident is the president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, a Jewish education program. He said he entered the clergy because he saw an opportunity to help other people and “bring a little light into the world.” Newsweek named Yanklowitz one of the top 50 rabbis in the United States.
In October, Yanklowitz is scheduled to visit Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale as a scholar in residence. Yanklowitz said he wants people to arrive for his three-day visit with questions and leave with even more questions. As an “open” Orthodox rabbi, he is known for promoting ideas that sometimes break from tradition.
“Open Orthodoxy is only another extension of this belief that Orthodoxy has much to give back to the world in terms of affecting people in a positive way without the spiritual rigidity,” he said. “We seek to be more open to textual interpretations, to women’s leadership, to the LGBT community, to spirituality, to other Jewish denominations, to other faiths, to joining collective social justice efforts, to human expression, and so much more.”
Yanklowitz said rabbis not only reflect their community but also should lead efforts that seek justice, peace and truth. He describes his social activism goals as “protecting the vulnerable,” and said he has specific interests in workers’ rights, animal welfare and foster and adoption advocacy.
Yanklowitz is scheduled to participate in programs during the weekend of Oct. 12 through 14. Daniel Weber, a member of CBINT’s social action committee, said most of the programs are free and all are open to the public. The only cost to attend is for the Shabbat dinner, which costs $20 per person or up to $50 per family. For more information, visit CbintMilwaukee.org or call 414-352-7310.
A Friday night introductory talk will set the groundwork for the weekend, Weber said. On Saturday morning, Yanklowitz’s program will focus on immigration from a Jewish perspective. Following a kiddush luncheon Saturday afternoon, a discussion will address mental illness as a social action issue, Weber said.
Later that evening, a program will focus on Judaism, social action and “developing a moral voice.” Weber said the session aims to not only inspire people to partake in social action initiatives but also help people get started.
“We want people to not just walk out of the room saying, ‘I really should do something,’ but to have walked out of the room and said, ‘I just did something, that I started a process by which I am now actively engaged in social action,’” he said.
To close out the weekend, Yanklowitz’ teen-oriented Sunday morning program will address ethical consumption.
Weber said he wants people to leave Yanklowitz’s visit understanding that Judaism has a message to share.
“We have something to offer in terms of possible solutions and possible pathways to walk to deal with some of these issues,” Weber said. “I think too many people don’t understand the depth, the breadth and the beauty of what Judaism can bring to the difficult problems that face us today.”
Yanklowitz said he hopes to learn as much from people who attend the programs as he teaches.