By: Dr. Kelli Criss
In our series, Faith in Florida, we’d like to familiarize the faith community with leaders who serve Florida in ministry and public service. We posed four questions to leaders. Each blog shares a leader’s responses with you. We thank God for the service of these leaders and pray for them daily. Today, we profile Rabbi Leonid Feldman.
Rabbi Leonid Feldman
Rabbi Leonid Feldman has been the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach since 2005. Born in the former Soviet Union, Rabbi Feldman has experienced violent anti-Semitism, imprisonment in Russia as a Zionist activist, Jewish rebirth, and freedom in the West. Rabbi Feldman holds graduate degrees in rabbinic studies from the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, in Education from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and in Physics and Theater Arts from Kishinev State Pedagogical Institute in the USSR. He has completed course work towards a PhD in International Relations at the University of Miami.
Your Faith’s Influence
How has your faith influenced your decision enter ministry and to serve Florida?
My road to faith and to God was a very atypical one. I was born and grew up in the former Soviet Union where religion was, in essence, illegal. As a high school physics teacher, I was also trained and was required to teach “Scientific Atheism.” The textbook basically made fun of the Bible and insisted that only stupid and uneducated people could believe in God.
On the other hand, as a Jew, I was often beaten and blamed for “killing Jesus.” I had no idea who Jesus was, but eventually a neighbor explained it to me.
When I was a student in college, a dissident gave me a book about Israel. This is when I learned that Israel was a Jewish country and as a “Feldman,” I would not be discriminated against there. Miraculously, a couple of years later I arrived in Jerusalem. I saw many religious Jews in the streets and I was very curious about them, but nobody explained to me what Judaism was about. Israel was unprepared to deal with a committed atheist.
I eventually came to the United States to study for a Ph.D., and here my transformation took place. I was very fortunate to have met two of the most gifted teachers of Judaism – Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. I became a “born-again Jew” and decided to learn as much about Judaism as possible. The more I read, the more I was falling in love with Jewish philosophy, traditions and history.
One year later, I became a student in Rabbinical School and in 1987 I was ordained as the first and only Russian Conservative Rabbi in America.
I have been a congregational Rabbi ever since then.
Top 2021 Public Policy Priorities
Considering your faith, what are your top public policy priorities in 2021?
According to all polls and surveys, Jews are the least religious group in the United States. As a Rabbi, this is my main concern and priority.
I try making Judaism relevant to Jews, and I must fight ignorance of basic ideas and concepts of Judaism among my people. In terms of public policy priorities, my priorities are very similar. Americans know nothing about the history of our unique country and “patriotism” has become almost a dirty word. I would love to return the Pledge of Allegiance and The Ten Commandments to the classrooms and I want our schools to teach basic Judeo-Christian values. The indoctrination and brain-washing of our youth begins very early, and as a result of this America is going through a dangerous crisis.
Who has greatly influenced your relationship with God, whether family, mentor, friend, faith leader, or public figure?
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin who was a major inspiration in my becoming a Rabbi is also my best friend. He has written many books and is highly respected as a public moral leader. I have been extremely fortunate having him as my mentor, my friend and my counselor.
What books are you reading currently?
I have recently read several books about King David who is my favorite hero in the Bible. I have just begun an important classic from the 1970s, “Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong” by William Kilpatrick. This book must be read by anybody interested in saving America.
Getting to Know Rabbi Leonid Feldman
We’re excited to be profiling additional leaders who serve Florida’s faith community throughout the remainder of 2020. Be on the lookout for our Faith in Florida series. Visit our Florida Faith and Freedom Coalition website and read previous blogs to learn more about us.