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Widely adored MJCS rabbi approaches retirement

Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue’s soon-to-retire rabbi, Judith HaLevy (pictured), will be honored Saturday, May 20, during a luncheon. Shimmy Lautman
Rabbi Judith HaLevy (left) and Cantor Marcelo Gindlin make an announcement during a Rock the Night Away fundraising event in January 2016. 22nd Century Media File Photos
Rabbi Judith HaLevy (left) and Larry Schwartz are pictured during the 2014 Hand in Hand All Abilities Fair.
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
9:24 am PDT May 17, 2017

After more than 20 years of service as the lead rabbi at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, Rabbi Judith HaLevy is retiring. 

Many have enormous accolades for the vivacious, faith-infused, affable rabbi under whose tutelage the Jewish Center and Synagogue has blossomed and evolved into a dynamic center for Jewish worship, education, communal activities and for outreach to Malibu and beyond.

“She was a teacher like our ocean,” MJCS Cantor Marcelo Gindlin said. “With every wave, refreshing and renewing our souls, and at the same time taking us to discover new depths in our spiritual life’s journey. 

“She was for 17 years, is, and will be forever my partner. ... The Jewish Center and Synagogue community has grown to approximately 200 families, many of whom are interfaith families.”

Stories abound recounting how HaLevy has touched, blessed, and supported many. What stands out most is her outreach to the greater community and how, especially in troubled times, she has been a tireless and effective leader, teacher, and moral compass.

“Rabbi HaLevy is the embodiment of the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, or healing the world,” said Steven Weinberg, president of MJCS. “She is and always has been dedicated to and effective in bringing together diverse voices, ethnicities and beliefs in a safe place to foster understanding and create meaningful connections. Developing strong interfaith relationships has been a particular focus of her efforts with clergy of other faiths here in Malibu and elsewhere.  

“Embracing and fully accepting other faiths, as well as LGBTQ people and people from diverse backgrounds and socio-economic stations has been an essential part of the congregation for which she has been the senior rabbi for over two decades — the mission of Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue is to embrace all who seek to be part of us without judgment. That’s why she has led us in building a highly diversified congregation with over 40 percent interfaith families.”  

Congregants at the synagogue are sad to see HaLevy retire, but they are proud of how she has built their dynamic Jewish center and synagogue. She has, by all accounts, a special gift and ability to connect with people, to feel their needs and sorrows, and to inspire. 

“I love and respect Rabbi Judith dearly, and every time I heard her talk it was always with so much wisdom and kindness, that it makes you a better person just being in her presence,” said Ann Krasner of Malibu, aptly summing up what many said about HaLevy’s gift of leading and inspiring.

Fortunately, HaLevy has agreed to serve as rabbi emeritus at times, and she will sometimes teach classes, the part of her position in which she feels she is most impactful. 

“Malibu will always be home to me, even though I will be living in Santa Fe as well,” HaLevy said. “I have most enjoyed teaching.” 

When HaLevy was appointed lead rabbi, it was quite uncommon for such a position to be given to a woman. From the moment she accepted the position, HaLevy has soared and brought an adoring congregation along for the ride.

She has been especially effective in interfaith outreach.  

“Rabbi Judith has always been a faithful friend and colleague and an advocate for interfaith relationships, dialogue, and communion. Every Thanksgiving, she was one of the leaders of the interfaith Thanksgiving service,” said the Rev. Dr. Joyce Stickney, rector of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Malibu. “She opened the doors to the synagogue and welcomed St. Aidan’s church to worship at the synagogue for a few months while our driveway was rebuilt.”

St. Aidan’s and MJCS also collaborated on two midweek adult education series, “Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus,” and “The Children of Abraham - Celebrating the Abrahamic Faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” Stickney noted.

“Through my relationship with Rabbi Judith and the synagogue, I have gained a richer understanding of Jesus, the holy lands, and how we are all originally and most importantly family members,” Stickney said.

“The Children of Abraham - Celebrating the Abrahamic Faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam” series exemplifies HaLevy’s commitment to interfaith understanding, peace and outreach.

“Judith has been the source of inspiration for our coming together as Muslims, Jews and Christians,” said Atilla Kahveci, vice president of the Pacifica Institute. “I will always remember Judith with her heartwarming smile and encouragement for action towards social responsibility projects that emanated from her understanding of Judaism. I don’t think retirement will ever slow her down for a person of faith like Judith.” 

The Rev. Greg Hughes, of Malibu Presbyterian Church, described HaLevy as a “blessing to the Malibu community.” Hughes said he is forever grateful to HaLevy for helping himself and the preschool after Malibu Presbyterian Church nursery school was burned down by an October 2007 fire. 

“Judith and her incredible warmth and love for our community will be sorely missed,” Rabbi Levi Cunin, of Chabad of Malibu said. “She is a champion of community, social justice and equality. She is a great light to the many that were blessed to meet her from Malibu and beyond. 

“I will miss our Torah study sessions together,” he added. “We wish her continued blessings and light on her bright future.” 

The Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue will celebrate HaLevy’s retirement at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 20. The Farewell Gala event is open to the community, and the synagogue invites persons of all faiths and walks of life to come laugh, nosh and dance as they celebrate Rabbi Judith’s incredible journey serving Malibu. For details, visit https://mjcs.org/calendar/farewell-gala-event/.

“We are very sad that she is retiring and we will miss her greatly, but everything she stands for is in our DNA and will be part of us forever,” Weinberg said.