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Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein to Take a Step Back

“I will be here and the new person the committee engages will be here. The following year I will step into a new position as the second rabbi of the synagogue.”

Rabbi Ed Feinstein, spiritual leader of  Valley Beth Shalom, the San Fernando Valley’s largest synagogue, sought to be concise and clear about his immediate future. 

“I want to step back, not step aside,” he told the Journal. “I would like to remain as a rabbi of the community. I really enjoy this work, and I have a place here. But I want to give up the administrative and the leadership responsibilities of the first chair. I want to take a second chair position.”

Feinstein joined VBS in 1993, and then became senior rabbi in 2005 when the late and legendary Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, then 80 years old, similarly stepped back. Now, Feinstein plans to keep up with some rabbinic duties while finding someone else to take care of the others. 

“The rabbinate in a congregation like this one is very complicated and multifaceted,” he said. “There are certainly parts of which I resonate to so deeply. I love teaching, I love taking care of people [and] I love spending time with kids.”

He continued, “There are administrative matters and leadership responsibilities I think someone else could take over. Everything has become more complicated than it used to be.”

Ordained 40 years ago, Feinstein’s first job was founding director of the Solomon Schechter Academy in Dallas. He also served at Dallas’ Congregation Shearith Israel and spent three years as executive director of Camp Ramah before Schulweis invited him to join VBS in 1993.

This past summer, the board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles voted for Rabbi Noah Farkas, 41, who was seen as a potential successor to Feinstein, to succeed retiring Jay Sanderson as president and CEO. 

The synagogue now has a search committee looking for a successor. “Next year will be a year of transition,” Feinstein said. “I will be here and the new person the committee engages will be here. The following year I will step into a new position as the second rabbi of the synagogue.”

As for what Feinstein plans to do in the future, he is going to work on writing projects — he’s already the author of five books — and enjoying some extra time with his family. 

“I feel like our congregation and the Jewish community in general have gone through a generational shift,” he said. “The same thing happened when I began this job. We went through a generational shift, and my teacher, Rabbi Schulweis, said ‘You need to lead now because you can speak to this generation in a way that I can’t.’ I have the exact same feeling now 16 years later. I would love someone who can speak to this generation, in its idiom, in its language, to take over the principal leadership of the community. I would like to still be involved, but I think in order to reach that generation, we need someone at the helm who speaks that language.”

No single factor sparked his life-changing decision. However, his daughter is pregnant with his and his wife Nina’s first grandchild, and he hopes to travel more.

“I look forward to being a zayde, and having someone in the world who I can share my life with in that way,” he said. “I am old enough now to appreciate where I really am in the world, but young enough to enjoy some travel and projects we would like to take on. We would like to spend time in Israel, spend some time on the East Coast with friends who are there – just to enjoy life.”

As to whether or not this was a difficult decision, Feinstein said, “You don’t give up something this valuable without some qualms and second thoughts and wrestling with it. But it’s clear this is what has to happen now.”

No matter what life has in store for him, Feinstein has a positive outlook and is looking forward to his next chapter. 

No matter what life has in store for him, Feinstein has a positive outlook and is looking forward to his next chapter. 

“I am married 42 years to the girl I love,” he said. “We’re still best friends. We have been privileged to raise three beautiful kids who are now married and employed. My dad, thank God, is still alive. He is 94. My mother is a little bit [younger]. They are healthy and have been with us. I have survived cancer twice. That was an experience. We have been blessed.”

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