Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob was just named one of the Jewish Daily Forward’s 33 most inspiring American rabbis of 2015. We couldn’t be prouder of one of our own being awarded such a deserved honor. Along with 2014 honorees Rabbi Jeremy Fine of Temple of Aaron and Rabbi Michael Latz of Shir Tikvah, and 2013 honoree Rabbi Harold Kravitz of Adath Jeshurun, that makes four rabbis in three years for our humble little community. The Forward compiles the list through a nomination process submitted by friends and congregants, and Rabbi Allen received six separate nominations! From the published paragraph on the Forward:
Rabbi Morris Allen has been our rabbi for nearly 30 years. He has overseen the growth of our synagogue from about 50 families to nearly 400 families. Our members are very committed, with about 250 people regularly attending Shabbat morning services. But Rabbi Allen’s real impact has been on our lives. He has shown us an authentic, traditional, egalitarian approach to Judaism and our community, empowering us to “own” our Judaism. Through his many initiatives, he has enabled us to learn to daven and lead services, read Torah, and study and keep kashrut. Personally, Rabbi Allen has made me a better person. He has enriched me, my family, our shul, and the larger Twin Cities Jewish community, teaching us how relevant Jewish practice and observance is for today’s world.
We asked Rabbi Allen if he had any clue that this was coming, and he said he didn’t even have “any inkling that this was coming out.” None of the congregants that nominated him spilled the beans, nor did the Forward let him know ahead of time; so this came as quite the shock and honor to him.
He came to Beth Jacob 29 years ago, originally leading a group of like-minded congregants out of rented space in the St. Paul JCC. They had a “vision and an ideal on a piece of paper, with 60-70 households committed to make something happen.” Eventually they developed a need for their own space, and in the intervening years, Rabbi Allen believes they have “reshaped the Jewish landscape in the Twin Cities.”
Rabbi Allen touched on the troubling times the Jewish people are in, and the eternal struggle to keep Jewish faith and practice alive. “It’s not about any one of us, but all of us,” he said. The work that he and the members of Beth Jacob are doing is about keeping Judaism strong for centuries to come. It takes all of us to keep it going, but he said that the most important thing to recognize is that, for each individual, “their Jewish lives are theirs. None of us can do Jewish for anyone else.”
His message during our brief phone call was complex, but clear. While emphasizing that everyone must “own” their individual Judaism, like the tribute in the Forward mentions, he stressed how important and necessary it is to act together. And he gave his most effusive praise to his fellow clergy. “The reality,” he said, “is that every one of my colleagues is doing inspiring work. There isn’t one rabbi in town that couldn’t be on that list. A recognition for one of us is recognition for all of us.”
He reiterated near the end of our call that while he is extremely touched that the people at Beth Jacob nominated him for this honor, all his colleagues both here and across the country are doing meaningful and important work. “It’s a nice honor,” he said. “But the most important thing is you got to come in and do the work.” He said he goes to work everyday “honored to be a part of this shul and community.”
The Twin Cities community is honored to have him, and the rest of our amazing clergy–inspiring us in 2015 and beyond.