Glide Gains a Rabbi, Engages Jews in Multi-Faith Social Justice
I am fortunate to work in several critical program areas at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund. Beyond our Jewish Life program, I take responsibility for part of our Safety Net portfolio, which focuses on helping those in our community who are in immediate need of food, shelter, and security.
I attend numerous meetings with our grantees in this capacity and many of these are faith-based service organizations. The lengthy list of leaders in providing crucial, life-saving services includes St. Anthony Foundation, Glide Memorial Church and Foundation, Episcopal Community Services, and Catholic Charities. These all are incredibly large multiservice organizations. St. Anthony and Glide combined serve almost 2 million urgently required meals each year.
Working with organizations such as these — and working so closely with those leading the Jewish community — has led me and my peers to wonder aloud why there is no Jewish analog to Glide or St Anthony in the Bay Area. Where is the large-scale, faith-based, Bay Area Jewish service organization that brings food, healthcare, shelter, social work, and spiritual care to our most vulnerable neighbors?
The Fund, along with several of its grantees, was not content leaving this question unanswered. We supported an exploration to engage the local Jewish community in becoming a major, active partner in hunger prevention.
Then I met Rabbi Michael Lezak.
Rabbi Lezak, currently working with Marin’s Congregation Rodef Shalom, is a man dedicated to social justice. He was on his own quest to learn more about hunger and homelessness in San Francisco. I took him on a tour of key organizations, making introductions and provoking conversations. At Glide Memorial Church and Foundation, I expressed to the leaders gathered in the room what I’ve expressed to you here: that “Jews are always asking ‘Where’s the Jewish Glide?'”
Speaking with them and with Rabbi Lezak, I had an epiphany: We didn’t need the Bay Area’s Jews to develop their own version of Glide. Glide as it currently exists could and should engage and serve Jews, and people of all religions, faiths, and beliefs. Glide Memorial Church and Foundation already was the Jewish Glide.
All it needed was a Rabbi.
If you have no first-hand experience, then you may not know that Glide truly is for everyone. Many Jews participate in its joyful Sunday celebrations. Jews volunteer in its dining room. They engage in its successful efforts to raise awareness on issues of social and economic justice. And so the question we were posing became, “Should Rabbi Lezak be the Rabbi at Glide?”
It seemed like such an obvious idea and yet it felt revolutionary. Why should a new effort be formed when we could partner with Glide, already such a potent force for good. And the timing was perfect, as Glide had just launched a Center for Social Justice. Discussions began and blossomed. Blessings were offered and exchanged.
As of July 1, 2017, Rabbi Lezak will be based at Glide.
The Walter & Elise Haas Fund collaborates with several other donors in support of this project. We believe he will deepen Jewish engagement at Glide and serve as a tangible, active reminder to the broader community that we are stronger together.
At his welcome sermon at Glide in March, covered well in J. Weekly, Rabbi Lezak posed a question to the gathered attendees — one that feels so timely in this political milieu and as we approach Passover. “What do you do if Pharoah is operating in your zip code?” the Rabbi asked.
His answer? You show up, of course. You get proximate, as Bryan Stevenson says.
Being engaged in community organizations is more important than ever today. We stand in solidarity with people who have been and continue to be marginalized. Having a Rabbi at Glide is a sign of the kind of interfaith partnerships that the Haas Sr. Fund has long supported.
I am excited to see how this effort, this Rabbi, and this community will grow over the months ahead. I hope this work can serve as a model for increased interfaith partnerships in the Bay Area and around the country. Looking forward to seeing you at Glide sometime soon.