Interview with Rabbi David Saperstein - Part 2
In our second installment of Q&A with Rabbi David Saperstein, Rabbi Lavey Derby asks about his roll and influences.
Q: You’re held in high esteem by colleagues and peers: who do you admire and why?
“Too many to do justice to. I have been blessed to meet and work with so many of the greats over the years. My parents rank alone in their influence on my life: My father, as a beloved rabbi for nearly 50 years in one synagogue and he and my mother as passionate social justice activists. In the Jewish social justice arena, my two most influential Jewish social justice mentors were Al Vorspan, the longtime social justice VP of the Reform Jewish Movement, and at 90, in my view, still the most eloquent spokesperson for Jewish social justice in America, and Leibel Fein (Prof. Leonard Fein) the founder of “Moment Magazine,” Mazon and numerous others entities and the most influential liberal ideologue in contemporary Jewish life. Intellectually, my older brother Prof. Marc Saperstein, a leading Jewish historian and scholar on the history of Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Muslim relations, Rabbi Eugene Borowtiz, a leading theologian of this generation, the late Conservative Rabbi Robert Gordis, one of the finest writers on applying Jewish values to contemporary problems, and Leon Wieseltier, who has so magnificently integrated Jewish values and aesthetics into his role at the front ranks of American public intellectuals on such a broad range of artistic, moral and political concerns – these have all had a profound influence on me.
As to political leaders: With all the cynicism about American politics, I have been and remain struck by how many people come to Washington, to state capitals and local government yearning to live a life of service to make our nation and the world a better place. I fear that current political events will erode the sense of the American commonwealth and deter the next generation of inspiring and visionary young leaders from entering public service. But that my life’s path was blessed to be interwoven professionally and personally with Ted Kennedy, Paul Simon, Frank Wolf, John Lewis, Hillary and Bill Clinton, the Obamas, — and so many brilliant and talented Jewish public servants from Jacob Javits, Paul Wellstone, Barney Frank and Henry Waxman to the array of inspiring Jewish women now serving in Congress – truly cosi r’vayah – my cup runneth over. I love my job and couldn’t; imagine any other that would bring me more personal and professional satisfaction”.
Q: For the past three decades you have provided a critical voice for social justice issues. What would you most like to be remembered for?
First, for having inspired other Jews to live out a life of purpose that weaves together their Jewish and American identities into a cohesive whole imbued with a sense that God has ennobled our lives by calling us to be God’s partners in shaping a better world. And second, that there will be those who know, including my own family, — that although most people will never know my name, because of the laws over the past three plus decades I helped a bit in getting passed and the bad ones I helped a bit in stopping, I have made life better for millions. What a blessing to have been given such an opportunity.
Rabbi Saperstein is speaking at the PJCC and other locations on the San Francisco Peninsula through February 11, 2014. See dates and times.