By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
It’s official! When you bump into Rabbi Amy Bernstein at the gas station or in the Village, you can still refer to her as rabbi but you may also call her “prez!”
That’s because Bernstein—a rabbi at Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Synagogue who sits on the Executive Committee of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California—has been installed as the Board’s president.
The installation took place at a January 16 afternoon ceremony held at KI’s Community Room, where 150 attendees came to share her grand moment.
Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson, who was in attendance, praised Bernstein’s ascension into the board’s top position.
“Congratulations to Rabbi Bernstein,” Sanderson said. “We would also like to acknowledge and thank Rabbi Jason Weiner for his leadership and time over the past year.”
Originally from Atlanta and a graduate of Northwestern University and Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, Bernstein spent 14 years serving as rabbi at Temple Israel in Duluth, Minnesota, before relocating to Pacific Palisades at a time when Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben and the late Sheryl Lewart were about to retire. Bernstein became senior rabbi at Kehillat Israel in July 2014 after serving for four years as the synagogue’s associate rabbi.
“He set it up so that my coming in was a good thing,” she said of Reuben.
Bernstein’s arrival at Kehillat Israel about a decade ago coincided with the thick of the Great Recession.
“That was affecting a lot of people,” she recalled. “The synagogue was doing a lot to help people.”
Bernstein is not coming to her new role completely unequipped. Back in Minnesota, she served two terms as president of Arrowhead Interfaith Council and six years on the Board of Trustees of the College of St. Scholastica, where she was also on the founding board of the Oreck/Alpern Inter-religious Forum.
“We are all very excited that Rabbi Amy Bernstein is taking this significant leadership role as the new president of the Board of Rabbis,” Sanderson told the Palisadian-Post. “We look forward to working together to build a stronger Jewish community and support rabbis throughout Southern California.”
Bernstein, who lives with her partner, daughter and pet Chihuahua in the Palisades, said in some ways the community reminds her of Duluth.
“It’s more similar to the Palisades than LA,” she said.
She told the Post that the civility and politeness that she found in Duluth is certainly on display in the Palisades, more so than the more extroverted alpha types of residents one might find in New York City or even in Los Angeles, where many East Coasters wind up residing and working in.
“In LA, you have these high-powered creative people,” she said of the East Coast vibe.
Moving forward, Bernstein said she is proud to carry the mantle for her two-year term.
“It’s really important that everyone take their place at service,” said the rabbi, who wants the board to “be the face and the example to unite each other’s differences.”
Given the current climate of political divisiveness and societal anxiety, rabbinical work is more important than ever as our society sees people “crushed by technology and entertainment,” Bernstein said. “Our inner lives are crushed.”
When people log onto social media, “we feel incredible pressure of people seeming to have it all together,” she continued. “We have allowed our culture to flourish around tech. It’s unsettling to say the least.”
Added Sanderson, “We have never needed stronger rabbinic leadership in our community than now.”