Monday, November 21, 2011

The Rabbi's Mountain

Few rabbis have been honored with having a mountain named for them. But, tucked away in the Laurentian range of Quebec, Canada, stands Mont le Rabbi-Stern (Mount Rabbi Stern). This 2,250 foot (above sea level) topographical feature was named in 1985 in honor of Rabbi Joshua Stern (1897-1984), the late Rabbi Emeritus of Montreal’s Temple Emanu-El.

One might think that the mountain was named to honor a native son of the province, but Rabbi Stern was born in Eragoly, Lithuania. When he was eleven, two years after a pogrom in his village, his family moved to Ohio. Steuberville, his new home, was a startling contrast to the shtetl where he had lived. After being schooled only in cheder, surrounded by the holy texts and Jewish tradition, the young Joshua found himself in an American public school. Nevertheless, he pursued his dream of becoming a rabbi (his hero in his youth was Moses). He attended Hebrew Union College (HUC), from which he was ordained in 1922. After five years at his first pulpit in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Rabbi Stern came to Montreal’s Temple Emanu-El in 1927.

Stern’s greatest achievements, and the work for which he received great acclaim and not-a-few rebukes, was in inter-faith relations. He himself remarked, “I tried to Christianize the Christians and Judaize the Jews.” Working on improving cross-clergy relationships, Rabbi Stern built relationships across the ecumenical spectrum. It was a lifetime of work in the predominantly Catholic province. In fact, it took 16 years from when he founded the Institute for Clergy and Religious Educators in 1942, for Catholics to officially attend. Additionally, Rabbi Stern was a vigorous social reformer (especially during the difficult days of the depression), a strong proponent of adult Jewish education and an active Zionist.

*Bibliographical Note: Joseph Graham, Naming the Laurentians: A History of Place Names 'up North'

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