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
"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
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. …