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Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard Charges Leaders to Focus on Acts

What does it really take to make the world a better place? We must step out of our comfort zone in order to nurture others and perform acts of loving-kindness. Acclaimed teacher Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard, president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, raised these issues with a crowd of Jewish Federation staff, leadership and his fellow rabbis.

Bernhard is the senior rabbi and religious school director of Adat Ari El in Valley Village. On July 3, he taught various sources on hesed (loving-kindness) as part of an ongoing Board of Rabbis/Jewish Federation series of lunchtime learning.

 “We have to act in a way that our acts are acts of loving-kindness,” Bernhard said. “All Jewish organizations are devoted to this concept—to tikkun (repair). The Torah talks about loving-kindness. You can’t think about loving-kindness—it comes through our actions.”

Bernhard offered Abraham as an example in the Torah: When the opportunity for an act of hesed presents itself, the patriarch runs toward that opportunity. “You grab the opportunity,” Bernhard said. An act of hesed is nurturing—providing food and water, first and foremost, he said. These acts also may include visiting the sick, providing education and following up with someone in need.

“Putting myself out of my comfort zone is where the act of hesed starts,” he said. “Our challenge is to not let ourselves off the hook.”

Jonathan Freund, Interim Executive Director of the Board of Rabbis/Jewish Federation, praised Bernhard’s inspirational message and accessible teaching style. “We are privileged to learn with Rabbi Bernhard today, and we are privileged to have him as a leader in our community,” Freund said.

Rabbi Bernhard was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1996. A native New Yorker, he also studied at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies. After ordination, he joined Adat Ari El as assistant rabbi. He is only the third senior rabbi in the congregation’s 70-year history. Bernhard and his wife, Laurie Jaffe, are the proud parents of three sons, Nathaniel, Micah and Elijah.

The next in the series of luncheon learning is scheduled for October 9 with Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue.

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