Rabbi Joan Lenowitz

The ketubah of Rabbi Joan Lenowitz’s mother’s mother’s mother hangs on her wall. It is simple, not ornate like modern ketubot, but it creates a memory and attests to her membership in the tribe. Joan grew up with two brothers, Phil and Dave, and a sister, Diane, in a home on Long Island where politics; especially issues of civil rights, and music, theater, and sports were always central to dinner conversations, and humor and political arguments were the favorite pastimes.

The children went to Sunday school, and High Holiday services, and had a Passover Seder, but Shabbat candles were never lit. Jewish practice was not central to their family life. In the home of her beloved Grandma Susie were the smells of Jewish cooking and baking and the symbols of Jewish life.

Her grandparents were as honest as the day was long, and it was very long; they owned and ran a candy store in Brooklyn; the hours were long and the work was hard, but they never groused and never spoke ill of anyone, but took delight in all that was theirs, especially their grandchildren, and they were generous to a fault. In this way Torah was transmitted to her.

But to breath is to study, for Joan. Her academic career was stimulating but left a void, and once she got a taste of the depth of wisdom and the literary beauty of Jewish text she could not get enough. Raising a family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina did not lend itself to serious text study, so she snuck away to places of Jewish learning whenever possible; to study centers in Israel, to wherever CAJE conferences were being held, to KlezKamp, to Imun, to Wagner, to the National Havurah Summer Institute, to the Whizin Institute. Ultimately she ran out of places and found herself at the door of AJR thanks to a colleague, Rabbi Michael Kohn, who knew she needed to be there.

In the meantime, prayer found her, softening her intellectual approach and her life; her two brilliant and wonderful children, Lilah Beth and Aaron Saul, arrived to give her the greatest cause for joy and reverence.

It was a great pleasure for Joan to serve Congregation Ohev Shalom of York, Pennsylvania as their student rabbi for three years. No one could have received a warmer welcome nor a more embracing acceptance than she did into this exemplary community, where care for one another dominates the agenda.

God has generously blessed her with life and health, with family, friends, colleagues, and teachers. Her gratitude to all her teachers, and the teachers of her teachers, is tremendous. How great is the gift that they have allotted her, a look into their hearts of wisdom!

Her greatest debt is to her beloved parents Arthur Lenowitz, Avram Yitzhak, and Grace Uscherenko Lenowitz, Zlotta Risa, z”l, who conspired with God to bring her to life and gave her a life filled with joy. It is humbling for her to always remember the greatness of those from whom she came. As a gift upon her entry to rabbinical school her father revealed something previously unknown to her about her paternal grandfather, who had died before her birth and who was a mysterious character rarely mentioned by the family; he was a traveling salesman who carried his Talmud with him when he was on the road.