After 25 years serving the largest conservative Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, Sinai Temple‘s Senior Rabbi David Wolpe announced that he will step down on June 30, 2023. Following his departure, for the 2023-2024 school year, Wolpe, 63, will serve as visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School in Boston. Sinai Temple Rabbis Nicole Guzik and Erez Sherman will jointly assume the position of Senior Rabbi next summer, when Wolpe will transition to Emeritus Rabbi.
Since joining Sinai Temple in 1997, Wolpe has emerged as one of the most prominent rabbinic voices in the country, being named as one of the 50 most important rabbis in America by Newsweek, one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post, and twice named one of the 500 most influential people in Los Angeles by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Wolpe amassed thousands of followers on the audio-only social networking app Clubhouse, where he hosted a weekly Torah reading called “Clubhouse Torah” in lieu of services. The social media savvy rabbi announced his retirement in an April 7 post to Twitter and Facebook, reaching a combined total of more than 87,000 followers. While his contract runs through 2024, Wolpe felt it unnecessary for the congregation to wait another two years, given that his successors have already been named. “I thought that it was better for the synagogue to find its way forward after the last couple of years of COVID, because clearly, all sorts of new directions will be needed to revitalize the synagogue, and I thought that new leadership was the right way to go,” Wolpe told the Courier regarding his early departure. “I think that we need to rebuild the community that has been absent for so long, to bring people back into the congregation, and to try to figure out what place the school has, which also endured a lot of difficulty from the masking and the absence of in-person classes. Essentially, we are ramping up again, and I think that having people who are younger and starting out and full of energy is a good thing for the synagogue and for the community.” Sinai’s Board of Director’s is expected to confirm Guzik and Sherman in the next month.
Much has evolved in the quarter century that he has helmed the pulpit, including Sinai Temple’s digital offerings. When Los Angeles County Public Health restrictions prohibited in-person gatherings, Sinai gathered the Jewish community virtually and began streaming its programming on YouTube– which it continues to do.
“When I started, there was barely an internet, the community was a lot smaller than it is now, so it’s changed in 1000 different ways,” Wolpe told the Courier. “I think that the Persian community, which is a considerable part of the congregation, has both grown somewhat in the congregation and become a more integral part of the Beverly Hills and Los Angeles communities. There’s a lot that has changed over the years, and I think that it’s quite wonderful and exciting, and perfect for somebody to create a new model of the synagogue in a world in which all our services are now also online.”
According to Wolpe, Sinai’s membership peaked before the COVID-19 pandemic with close to 2,000 families; now, its membership is about 1,400.
“I think that the final change, apart from it being online and the population, is that we live in a much more polarized world,” Wolpe said. “Therefore, religion ought to have a place to bring people together even more crucially than it did 25 years ago.”
While the role he will assume as emeritus rabbi at Sinai Temple has not yet been defined, “it will be more than symbolic,” Wolpe told the Courier. “But I don’t know exactly what that entails right now.”