Building a new Model of Political Leadership: How Rabbi Stephanie Kolin Changed Us and Our Community

Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.

Posted on February 2, 2015 / 13 Shevat 5775

Written by Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.


With the announcement this week of the appointment of Rabbi Stephanie Kolin to the position of Associate Rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York, we have the opportunity to celebrate the evolution of Just Congregation’s creation of “Reform California” and the defining role played by its extraordinary leader.

The storyline here is not only about how one person can affect change but also of how a movement can be created, nurtured, and led by an inspiring leader.

In examining the rise of Reform California as a new political force within this state, we can explore the impact of what religious leadership can mean in a 21st century context. Stephanie not only brought herself, including her knowledge of community organizing, her Jewish prophetic passion, and an extraordinary degree of personal energy and integrity, but she would also bring a leadership style that served to empower her colleagues and in turn engage their congregational leaders.

For Rabbi Kolin this was as much about “team” as it was about mission. From the outset she would frame the entire cause for building a new model of social engagement around the collective will, insights, and commitment of her partners. The team would evolve, not only in terms of numbers but through a maturation process of shared learning. Several principles would frame this enterprise: to “organize”, “empower” and “invest” the collective energies and resources of our community in growing our political resources and connections in order to build partnerships and alliances with other state-wide actors. The outcome would be to achieve a new vision of what California could be by taking the political steps to change the status quo.

While Stephanie’s presence on the ground in Los Angeles would be no more than four years, there will be a lasting impact for the Reform movement in California. Her hand is evident in helping to construct new relationships for the Jewish community within the political arena and as importantly within our communities. As Rabbi Rick Jacobs has noted: “Reform California alone brings together congregational leaders from 120 Reform communities across the state and has celebrated significant legislative victories on immigration and affordable housing.”

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