Institute of Judaism Turns 50

Article excerpt

The Institute of Judaism celebrates its 50th anniversary this

weekend at Congregation Ahavath Chesed, 8727 San Jose Blvd.

Rabbi Jacob Kaplan was the guest speaker of the first Institute

on May 7, 1946. His topics were "The Philosophy of Judaism" and

"The Ethics of Judaism."

Pretty basic stuff, but the purpose of the Institute has always

been to educate non-Jews about Judaism.

And in those early years, in the wake of the Holocaust, that

meant keeping to the basics because Jews and non-Jews,

especially Christians, didn't mix, at least on religious levels.

For many people, the Institute was the first opportunity for

Christians to meet Jews and hear what they had to say on matters

of faith.

"It was quite an unusual development," said Howard Greenstein,

who retired last year as rabbi of Ahavath Chesed. "For the

better part of a quarter of a century, it was the only forum

for discussing interfaith issues in the city. I don't know of

any occasion when clergy, much less lay people, came together to

talk about religious issues at that level with that kind of

scholarly input."

The Institute was established by Rabbi Sidney Lefkowitz, who had

recently been installed as the assistant and would soon succeed

Rabbi Israel Kaplan at the synagogue, Greenstein said. Kaplan

had already taken the rare step of initiating a dialogue with

Catholics and Protestants.

"It was part of an outreach to the community to explain Judaism

to the non-Jewish community and to engage the interfaith

community in dialogue," Greenstein said. "He [Lefkowitz] made it

clear it was intended in no way to be confrontational or

argumentative but to be informational and educational. …