Leonard Rosenthal doesn’t spend much time thinking about the afterlife.
6660 Cowles Mountain Boulevard, San Diego
Tifereth Israel Synagogue
Contact: 6660 Cowles Mountain Blvd, San Diego 619-697-6001; tiferethisrael.com
Membership: 325 families
Rabbi: Leonard Rosenthal
Born: Los Angeles
Formation: University of California-San Diego; Hebrew University, Jerusalem; University of Judaism, Los Angeles; Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, NY
Years Ordained: 34
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?
Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal: I don’t really offer sermons, but what’s called a “D’var Torah” — literally, “a word of the Torah,” small explanations of what’s going in in that week’s portion of the Torah, lessons about Judaism, or thoughts about the Jewish world in general. They last no more than five to ten minutes and I deliver them on Fridays. On Saturday mornings, I am teaching lessons primarily based on that week’s readings from the five books of Moses, the first books of the Hebrew Bible, also called the “Torah,” or from the Midrash, the collection of traditional rabbinical explanations. Sometimes, too, lessons are a topical free-for-all. More formal sermons, given during the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — they usually last about a half hour.
SDR: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?
RR: I’m concerned with the falling off of people from the traditional organized religions, and particularly the Jews falling away from their faith in modern society. I’m not saying that secularism is evil, but the world misses something important when we turn away from our spiritual journeys. In America, it’s hard to see religion remaining a vital part of culture, especially based on numerous studies, including Pew studies, which show the American population becoming increasingly secular — save for the fundamentalists.
SDR: What is the mission of your congregation?
RR: To provide for the spiritual education and social needs of its members, in a Jewish context. We have an excellent religious school — the Abraham Ratner Torah School — which is a supplemental school which takes place after public school hours…. In general, the educational and religious programs at Tifereth are a source of pride to me. In Judaism, we consider the next generation to be the next link in the chain of Jewish tradition and continuity. Unless we educate future generations, Judaism will not survive.
SDR: Where’s the strangest place you found G-d?
RR: Let me share a story. Recently, I got this letter from someone about some Boy Scouts who were members of the congregation. They were selling popcorn as a fundraiser for their troop, and a woman came up to their table and bought a whole case of popcorn from them. She told the Boy Scouts she was going to donate it to a homeless program. The person who wrote the letter was moved by her act and wanted me to know about it. That’s where I find G-d. There’s a line at the end of the musical Les Misérables that is fitting here: “To love another person is to see the face of G-d.” I think that’s a sentiment worth living.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
RR: Not sure. I’m not placing any bets because no one’s come back to say one way or another. This concern is considered secondary in Judaism. There may be an afterlife or there may not be, and if there isn’t, well, at least you’ve done all you could to make this world a better place. In Judaism, we don’t have a strict teaching on the afterlife, and there are many different choices to learn from, so I don’t know. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.