Making Room For Another Rav
Rabbi Avi Weiss is my rav. While the terms rabbi and rav are often used interchangeably, a rav often denotes a personal spiritual guide. Rav Avi, a title widely embraced by his congregants and admirers, is my religious mentor, friend, and confidante. He inspires me as well as thousands of others by raising a voice of moral consciousness to individuals or governments that persecute Jews and other minorities. He is the founder of the leading open Orthodox synagogue (HIR-The Bayit) in the country. He is also the visionary who one decade ago established Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), an open Orthodox rabbinical school, where he served as president. That is, until this past Sunday.
In mid-2011, Rabbi Weiss convened a small group of YCT board members and confidantes and announced his plan to recruit a successor at YCT. Encouraged by the Jim Joseph Foundation (a significant funder of YCT), Rav Avi felt that the time was right for a succession plan and expressed a desire to help handpick his successor. He worried about the fate of his beloved YCT without a clear plan for the future, and he was ready to make room for and mentor a successor. Though I had long anticipated this day, I felt my stomach drop. Who could possibly succeed this remarkable man? Who could inspire, guide, and create a new vision for YCT’s next decade? Who could inspire the next generation of open and engaging Orthodox rabbis?
The answer to these questions is Rabbi Asher Lopatin. Rabbi Lopatin and I actually met two years ago at a Wexner Alumni Shabbaton in Chicago. Accompanied by his wife, Rachel, Rabbi Lopatin and I spoke for nearly three hours that Saturday night. I can’t remember what we discussed, but I remember being struck by his intelligence, his warmth, and his engaging personality. His wife, Rachel, reminded me that she and I had been set up on a blind date more than 20 years ago (though neither of us could remember who had set us up!).
This past Sunday, Rabbi Lopatin was installed as the new president of YCT in a ceremony attended by several hundred people. The attendees included the senior leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements as well as Wexner’s own Rabbi Elka Abrahamson. Rabbi Lopatin spoke of his vision for YCT and the way the Torah can inspire and bring Jews closer together. In a sign of the love and respect, which Rabbi Lopatin has already engendered in the YCT community, nearly every speaker at the installation referred to him as Rav Asher.
In helping to handpick such a worthy successor, Avi Weiss has taught his followers the importance of making room for another rabbi.
Rabbi Avi Weiss is my rav. But now Rabbi Asher Lopatin is, too.
Here are Rabbi Asher Lopatin’s remarks from the special event:
Dan Perla, a Wexner Heritage alum from NY1, is a program officer in day school finance at the AVI CHAI Foundation, overseeing ongoing grant programs geared toward improving the financial viability of day schools. Previously, Dan spent nearly 18 years as a security analyst and portfolio manager at investment firms and hedge funds. Dan served for seven years as the president of The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and remains a member of its executive committee. Dan currently serves on the boards of Mechon Hadar, The SAR Academy of Riverdale and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, an open Orthodox rabbinical school which he attended as a student from 2008 through mid-2011. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.