Rabbi Malcolm Cohen Chosen for Rabbis Without Borders

By Ashley Glenn

Rabbis Without Borders is an innovative initiative working towards spreading Jewish wisdom in new, creative ways with the changing times. The group has now selected its seventh class for its competitive rabbinic fellowship program and one of the rabbis selected was Malcolm Cohen, rabbi of Temple Sinai for 11 years, located in Las Vegas.

“The program is designed to make rabbis better at their job, more creative and more innovative,” Cohen said. “[It is] without borders in the sense of going beyond the borders of the usual way of doing things.”

The goal, Cohen said, is to try to spread the positivity Judaism can provide to humanity by going beyond the usual borders of the traditional Jewish community. Rabbis from different denominations become part of the program to share ideas of how they can better spread Jewish wisdom in an ever-changing society.

“It’s not so much the core ideas of Judaism, because they’re pretty much never changing and really always beautiful, important and compelling,” Cohen said. “It’s more the packaging, the engagement in social media and thinking about programs that aren’t located in the synagogue.”

To be a member of RWB a rabbi must apply to join and will go to programs specialized to help rabbis think more creatively about their jobs. They meet three times on different retreats and thereafter work on writing articles for different publications on Judaism, provide new and interesting programs within their own community and serve communities that don’t have rabbis.

RWB was founded 2008 and has since served over 2 million people in the United States. Rabbis have since reported that they see 96 percent of RWB Fellows have strengthened and increased their comfort crossing denominational and institutional boundaries, 91 percent have created new programs in their synagogue or organization and 81 percent have seen an increase in participation in programs and use of services in their synagogue or organization.

“I think one of the reasons that they let me in the program is because I, with my congregation here, went down to the Freemont Street Experience outside the Harley Davidson showroom and started singing Hebrew and Yiddish songs to see who we could attract and who we could have conversation with,” Cohen said. “So it’s thinking outside the box like that.”

Now that Cohen has been accepted into RWB, he is planning new programs for Las Vegas’ own Jewish community in hopes that thinking outside the box will better impact locals. One idea he calls Street Life, themed around Las Vegas’ own street life, which would include photographers explaining some of their work on the subject, local chefs with favorite street foods and Cohen sharing stories from Jewish tradition about street life that is also inclusive of the public.

“I think it’s great because it means I can learn new things,” Cohen said. “I think a congregation or rabbi is a really great job in it of itself because you’re always meeting random people and every day is different, but you can run the risk of getting stale.”

Cohen sees this as an opportunity to take traditional Judaism to the streets and to get involved in the community in a way never thought of before. With other ideas of how to get the local community involved, new innovative programs can be expected.

To learn more about Rabbis Without Borders and the work they do, visit rabbiswithoutborders.org.

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