Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, spiritual leader to presidents and ambassadors, dies

(JTA) – Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, who for 26 years guided Washington’s largest and oldest Conservative synagogue, died on his 95th birthday.

Rabinowitz died Sunday at his daughter’s home in San Diego, Calif., where he had lived for the past year.

During his nearly three decades as the spiritual leader of Adas Israel Congregation, he preached to and spiritually led presidents, Israeli prime ministers, Supreme Court justices, countless members of Congress and administration officials.

Rabinowitz led his congregation and much of the city through the turbulent years of the John F. Kennedy assassination and that of his senator brother Robert, the killing of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the riots that spread across the District of Columbia in its wake, the Vietnam War and the Six-Day War in the Middle East, and the fight for Soviet Jewry.

King spoke at a city meeting Rabinowitz hosted at Adas Israel in 1963.

Years later in 1979, Rabinowitz was asked to quickly round up 30 skullcaps and pamphlets with the transliterated prayer for grace after meals for a ceremonial Shabbat meal at Camp David during peace negotiations between the Egyptians and Israelis. Rabinowitz later attended the signing of the peace treaty on the front lawn of the White House and a large formal dinner.

Rabinowitz, a native of Duluth, Minn., who was raised in Des Moines, Iowa, began his career in 1943 as director of the Midwest office of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the Council of Conservative Synagogues of Chicago, traveling as an itinerant rabbi from community to community to fill in for those serving overseas during World War II. He subsequently became director of field services for the United Synagogue of America and was its acting executive director in 1946.

In 1947, Rabinowitz moved to the congregational rabbinate, serving three Conservative congregations in a 40-year career in the pulpit.

In Washington, most of Israel’s ambassadors attended his services, as did Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin and Israel’s U.S. Ambassador Simcha Dinitz celebrated their sons’ bar mitzvahs there, as did many hundreds of others. 

When Rabinowitz retired from the pulpit in 1986, Adas Israel elected him rabbi emeritus for life. President Ronald Reagan sent a formal letter of congratulations. Rabinowitz also was elected president of the Rabbinical Assembly in 1977 for two terms. 

He had a master’s degree in Hebrew literature from JTS, which also awarded him an honorary doctorate. He was an honorary fellow of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Rabinowitz was predeceased by his wife, Anita Lifson, whom he married in 1945; she died in 2009. Surviving are two children; a son Nathaniel died in 2007.

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