Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt To Retire After 36 Years at Congregation B’nai Tzedek

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Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, the founder of Congregation B’nai Tzedek, is retiring after 36 years of balancing his internal duty to lead with a steadfast national voice of unwavering support for Israel.

At 71, Weinblatt assumes the title of rabbi emeritus as the Conservative synagogue, once a handful of members, has evolved into a welcoming and nurturing community in Potomac for nearly 600 families.

“B’nai Tzedek is now large enough to allow us to have a full staff and to offer a wide variety of programs, yet small enough that people still feel a personal connection,” Weinblatt said.
Hundreds gathered at his retirement gala on May 19 during which Gov. Wes Moore delivered remarks. Weinblatt gave the benediction at Moore’s inauguration ceremony and for governors preceding him.

“Those public aspects of the role of a rabbi have been very fulfilling and meaningful to me,” said Weinblatt, who has advocated for Israel during visits to Capitol Hill and led missions to the Jewish state.

The rabbi also values the intimate moments of pastoral care, like counseling a family in a difficult situation.

“Sometimes it’s been to bring about healing and reconciliation between estranged family members,” he said. “Then there’s the sharing of life cycle moments.”

B’nai Tzedek leaders, who have yet to name a replacement, praise Weinblatt’s dedication to the congregation.

“We have an incredibly special congregation, and that is due to Rabbi Weinblatt’s leadership,” said Rachel Federowicz, vice president of community engagement. “Not only does he look inward and is completely there for members of his congregation, but he is also always there for the greater community. He shows up for all the right causes.”

Founded in 2019 by Weinblatt, the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition has grown to encompass nearly 1,000 rabbis from various movements dedicated to promoting love and commitment to Israel. On May 20-22, he ran the organization’s third conference in Washington, D.C., attended by 70 rabbis.

“I’m a Zionist, and I appreciate having the most pro-Israel rabbi in this area,” said Carol Greenwald, a 15-year member of B’nai Tzedek and a student of Weinblatt’s Torah classes.
Weinblatt listens well and can teach at different levels of Torah knowledge and observance.

“He’s a brilliant teacher,” Greenwald said. “It was really a joy to go to his class and a joy to listen to him.”

Bruce Genderson, past president and current chairman of the board of trustees, considers Weinblatt to be a close friend, as do dozens of members. “He has taught all of us how to live more Jewishly and be engaged in the community more broadly.”

Congregants will miss the sense of humor of a rabbi who was a stand-up comedian in high school and in college.

“His talks and his relationships with people are all tinged with humor, and he uses humor to make important points,” Genderson said.

Weinblatt said his humor has been beneficial in his role as a rabbi.

“I’m able to connect with a congregation when I’m giving a sermon and break the tension in the boardroom. It helps keep things in perspective,” he said.

The rabbi will continue to be involved with the synagogue in a yet-to-be-defined role. After 60-hour work weeks, he will have more time to devote to the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition and allocate additional time for his family, which includes eight grandchildren.

The timing of his retirement is significant. He would have retired a year earlier, but he wanted to shepherd the congregation through the pandemic. Then came the Hamas massacre on Oct. 7, which gave him a crucial reason to stay on.

“Most of my sermons since that time have been to offer support and comfort and to help explain what’s going on. People have gotten a great deal of strength from that,” he said. “So, I’m glad that I was able to be here during this difficult time.”

Ending on a high note is always a positive choice.

“I love every moment of everything I do every day,” Weinblatt said. “Hopefully, members feel that way and that it is best to retire before anyone stops feeling that way.”

The Yom Kippur War in 1973 inspired Weinblatt to pursue a career as a rabbi. He was then a senior in college.

“Looking back, I realized the tenuous nature of Israel’s existence and at the time it really had a profound effect on me,” he said. “I said to myself that I would do whatever I could for the survival of Judaism, Israel and the Jewish people.”

Accepted to Hebrew Union College, he traveled to Israel during his first year to study Hebrew. Subsequently ordained in 1979, he served as a rabbi at two Reform synagogues, including one in Bowie, before ultimately determining that the Reform movement was no longer a comfortable fit for him.

In 1988, he started B’nai Tzedek as a Conservative synagogue. He joined the Rabbinical Assembly, an international association of Conservative rabbis.

The rabbi and a handful of families got the synagogue off the ground without seed money from Jewish organizations. By 1992, the synagogue bought land and, by 1994, B’nai Tzedek opened a new building.

Weinblatt has cherished being a pulpit rabbi throughout all these years.

“It offers so many opportunities to both touch people and be there for them, to play a meaningful role in their lives; to make a positive contribution to the perpetuation of Judaism and the Jewish people,” he said.

Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.

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