October 22, 2018

Rabbi Mark Diamond: From Board of Rabbis to AJC

After 12 years as the top professional at the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, Rabbi Mark Diamond took his post this week as director of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Los Angeles chapter, the local arm of the more than century-old global Jewish advocacy group. 

While moving from ministering to local rabbis to global advocacy may seem like a jump, Diamond says it is a natural next step on his career trajectory, which started with 18 years as a pulpit rabbi at Conservative synagogues in Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; New York; and San Francisco.

As executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis, Diamond not only provided an arena for professional development and continuing education, he established robust interfaith relationships and often served as a Jewish liaison to international consulates in Los Angeles. He has been a guest at both the White House and the Vatican.

“We live in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse communities in the world. We need to look inward at ourselves, but we also need to look at the broader community, and that has always been a hallmark of my work,” Diamond said in an interview in his new office on Pico Boulevard on the morning of Oct. 15   — during his first hour on the job.

At the Board of Rabbis, Diamond also sat on the leadership cabinet for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which funds and houses the Board of Rabbis.

Federation President Jay Sanderson lauded Diamond’s tenure, adding that Federation is using this transition as an opportunity to re-evaluate the board’s role.

“One of the things Federation has prioritized is building a stronger relationship with all the rabbis in the community, and all the synagogues, and so this is a really exciting opportunity for us to reimagine what a really big idea might be for the Board of Rabbis,” Sanderson said.

A strategic planning committee is being set up to determine a future course for the organization, which Sanderson said might include moving some of the interfaith work into the Federation’s community engagement department, and focusing on increasing and better integrating the synagogue-focused work with Federation’s department for synagogue engagement, which Federation created last year. 

Sanderson said Federation will continue to fund the Board of Rabbis, and a search for a director will commence after the strategic planning process is complete.

At AJC, Diamond replaces Seth Brysk, who moved to San Francisco to lead the Anti-Defamation League’s office there.

“I think it’s a good match both for Mark and AJC,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, who has known Diamond for decades and was director of AJC in Los Angeles for 16 years. “Mark works really effectively in the community here in Los Angeles and has worked with the communities AJC works with.” 

One of the greatest areas of overlap for the Board of Rabbis and the AJC is in interfaith work. At the Board of Rabbis, Diamond had a close relationship and ran programs with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and he reached out to a variety of Christian denominations, Baha’is, Muslims and other faiths.

He’ll bring those relationships to the AJC, which, in addition to interreligious programs, works with the African-American and Latino communities, and has a new program in Los Angeles reaching out to the Korean community. Diamond is president of the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders and is on the board of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

Diamond said one of his favorite aspects of the job at the Board of Rabbis was international diplomacy — the board often represented the Jewish community to foreign consulates in Los Angeles. AJC has strong ties with most of the 97 consular offices in Southern California, focusing on Israel issues as well as on Jewish communities in foreign countries and broad-based common interests. Diamond says the California office in particular focuses on Asian and Pacific Rim nations as well as on Latin and Central America.

Diamond is also eager to shift into the political realm. Domestically, AJC is a vocal advocate for immigration reform — an issue close to Diamond’s heart, as he is the grandson of European immigrants. 

AJC meets with local, national and international leaders to advocate for a two-state solution in Israel and to address the nuclear threat from Iran.

Like the Board of Rabbis, AJC runs numerous missions to Israel for students, clergy and other groups. 

Diamond won’t, however, have to entirely give up the Torah study part of being a rabbi — AJC offers a video-study program for lay leaders in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Diamond has been a fellow in Hartman’s Rabbinic Leadership Institute, and he created a Board of Rabbis program to bring in Hartman teachers three to five times a year to teach rabbis. 

“I think Mark really brought a sense of chavruta [camaraderie] to the community ,and he really dedicated himself to reaching out to rabbis of all stripes and making a strong connection between rabbis and Federation,” said Congregation Kol Ami’s Rabbi Denise Eger, the immediate past president of the Board of Rabbis. “He did an excellent job of reaching out across the divides.”

Under Diamond’s leadership, the Board of Rabbis increased membership from 200 rabbis to 350, most of them synagogue rabbis, but also chaplains and organizational leaders. 

The board’s biggest program, the annual High Holy Days sermons seminar, attracted 165 rabbis this year, some of whom flew in from around the country.

He also created various interdenominational community-wide learning programs, and ran programs to send chaplains to prisons and hospitals.

As Federation plans for the Board of Rabbis’ future, the organization will continue to function under its program director and other part-time staff members. The board’s rabbinic lay leadership, under president Rabbi Judith HaLevy, will also step up, Eger said. 

Diamond said one of his tasks at AJC is to bring more rabbis into the organization’s work.

“And I told them that if I can’t deliver that, they hired the wrong guy!” Diamond said.