Knowing at 17 or 18 that he wanted to “create spaces for other people to awaken to G-d,” Rabbi K’vod Wieder of Temple Beth El of South Orange County planted the seeds of his future with a 1994 trip to Israel. Today Rabbi Wieder fulfills that determination in an innovative way – as a dually affiliated rabbi of a dually affiliated congregation.
On Friday, October 23, the congregation celebrated Rabbi Wieder’s dual ordination as a member of both the Rabbinic Assembly (Conservative) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform). The accomplishment puts him “at the forefront of the Jewish community as a dually affiliated rabbi of a dually affiliated congregation with a unique opportunity to blaze a new trail started by Rabbi Allen Krause and Henry and Susan Samueli,” said Sherri Krause, the widow of the founding rabbi of Temple Beth El.
“Focusing on social justice and tikkun olam, Temple Beth El is the home of progressive Judaism,” Krause—the founder of Temple Beth El’s madrikhim and madrikhim-in-training-programs—explained. “Now Rabbi Wieder will help us to deepen our commitment, refresh and renew programming and explore new and exciting ways to engage people with the community.”
She added, “K’vod was invited to participate in a two-year, cross-denominational leadership program to work across the aisle to enable synagogues to transform. He’s a compassionate listener who asks good questions, he makes learning fun and he encourages people to participate.”
Rabbi Sammy Seid of Ner Tamid Synagogue of Poway, who served as a rabbinic intern at Temple Beth El, said that Rabbi Wieder is “the right person to become a dually affiliated rabbi and lead a dually affiliated congregation. Rabbinic tradition says that the Torah has 70 faces, meaning that it belongs to each of us. Rabbi K’vod Wieder has looked into each.”
Rabbi Seid described Rabbi Wieder as “the best active listener who listens to the needs of congregants,” adding that he is “moving pluralism forward and being a trailblazer.” Rabbi Seid said, “I hope it brings you joy.”
Rabbi Sid Schwarz, a senior fellow at Hazon who created and directs the Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI), a program that trains rabbis to be visionary spiritual leaders, called Rabbi Wieder’s dual ordination “a unique circumstance and an impressive achievement.” He said Rabbi Wieder was “a person of intelligence and Jewish commitment and a caring person.
Rabbi Schwarz added, “Thank G-d for giving His wisdom to an earthly being. Be strong and of good courage.”
Cantor Natalie Young of Temple Beth El said, “In this time of turbulence and uncertainty where we can feel choked by the waters rising around us, there are those who have had the good sense to build an ark to provide shelter from the storm. Through intention and inner strength, one must decide what is a necessary part of its infrastructure; what will keep it stable and who will be invited in.”
Emphasizing that true leaders do not build arks for themselves alone, but find ways to have others help so that the final creation has room for everyone, Cantor Young added, “We have been blessed with Rabbi K’vod as a rabbi and friend, whose vision and effort to create a loving and caring community of individuals, has helped draw in and elevate the different voices in our temple family.”
She concluded, “Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? One who learns from all people. K’vod, I am grateful to have you as my teacher, as a partner, and as my friend. I have watched you grow and truly expand the way in which you lead our community as a rabbi. It is inspiring to see how you have been able to learn from the many disparate voices, which you have absorbed with an open heart. While you are strong in your convictions, you have never been rigid and unwilling to consider new ideas and perspectives. We celebrate you today and recognize the tremendous honor and privilege it is to have you as a member of both the Rabbinical Assembly and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Thank you for your dedication to our beloved community and for sharing your leadership with all of us.”
Rabbi Wieder said that he “started to realize three or four years into (my tenure at) Temple Beth El that I resonated with both Reform and Conservative values. He added, “I wanted to make ritual accessible to people where they are. I liked the idea of individual choice in Reform, the individual autonomy of how to connect to Judaism, to look to the tradition for wisdom and be committed to social justice and social action. The Reform movement has the Religious Action Center (RAC) to try to live these values. I realized that those were my values, so I wanted to formalize my connection and be part of a network of support.”
Noting that he had access to resources from both of these streams of Judaism before his dual ordination, Rabbi Wieder said that he had an additional reason for making the commitment. “Now people will understand that I can meet them where they are,” he explained. “In addition to furthering my professional development, it helps some members of the congregation to see me more as a Reform rabbi.”
Rabbi Wieder loves being a rabbi in order “to be a part of other people’s growing and learning towards depth, G-d and their purpose in life; to help facilitate their growing in connection to themselves and to awaken in people how our tradition can be an incredible pathway toward that lifestyle. We connect through life cycle events, counseling, learning together, engaging services or meditation experiences.”
He concluded, “I feel that by being part of Temple Beth El, my own relationship to the Jewish community has deepened and broadened. By serving a diverse congregation, I’ve been able to expand my own boundaries. It’s been a long, rewarding and fulfilling journey.”
ILENE SCHNEIDERis a contributing writer to JLife magazine.