By Cindy Mindell
ORANGE – Rabbi, international interfaith activist, scholar – and now a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), Mark L. Winer, the first spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of Greater New Haven, has become the first American-born rabbi to receive the same honor as that bestowed upon the Beatles nearly 50 years ago.
Winer received the order of chivalry from Queen Elizabeth II on New Year’s Eve in recognition of his work promoting interreligious partnerships during a period of rising religious tensions in England. The citation acknowledges Winer “for promoting interfaith dialogue and social cohesion in London and the UK.”
While his 45-year professional career has taken him all over the world, it began at Temple Emanuel in Orange, where he served as the congregation’s first full-time rabbi. He will be honored there on Nov. 21 with a special dinner and service.
Born in Logan, Utah in 1942 and raised in Dallas, Tex., Winer graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude in 1964 and earned a PhD with highest distinction in 1977 from Yale University in sociology, comparative religion, contemporary Jewry, and race and ethnic relations. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1970 at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City.
Winer came to Emanuel in 1968 as a student rabbi and was hired as the congregation’s rabbi after he received ordination. His tenure lasted until 1977, when he left to lead Temple Beth David in Commack, N.Y., and then Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, N.Y., where he was named rabbi emeritus since 1998.
That year, he moved to London, England to lead the West London Synagogue of British Jews, the oldest existing Reform temple in Europe, a position he held for 12 years. While in London, he launched a British branch of his international interfaith charitable initiative, FAITH: The Foundation to Advance Interfaith Trust and Harmony, which he had founded in the U.S. in 1995. The organization now also has branches in Israel, Germany, and Russia, with plans to expand into Brazil, South Africa, and Dubai. In 2002, while retaining his American citizenship, Winer became a British subject as well, and served two one-year terms as chaplain to the Lord Mayor of Westminster.
Upon returning to the U.S. in September 2010, Winer continued his lifelong devotion to interreligious reconciliation. He is founding director of the Center for Ecumenical and Interreligious Studies of St. Thomas University in Miami, Fla., where he is also adjunct professor of religion. Winer has also served as chairman of the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s International Faith Task Force and as president of the National Council of Synagogues (USA).
He has helped resolve several international interfaith challenges, including the dispute between Catholics and Jews over the Carmelite convent in Auschwitz, and the treaty between Israel and the Vatican. He was also a key negotiator in the release of Ethiopian Jews.
Winer was instrumental in building interfaith relations and preaching for interreligious reconciliation after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and the 7/7 London Underground bombings. During that period, he appeared frequently on national BBC broadcasts calling for understanding and mutual respect.
Winer has maintained close ties to Temple Emanuel, where he will be honored at a congregational dinner and special service. He is a close personal friend and mentor of the current rabbi, Michael Farbman. The two met in London in 1998 when Winer arrived to lead West London Synagogue and Farbman was studying for the rabbinate at Leo Baeck College.
Born and raised in Vitebsk, Belorussia, Farbman didn’t know he was interested in Jewish communal work until he was selected for the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s two-year leadership program in 1993.
“It finally became obvious to me that, despite my resistance, I had to consider a rabbinic career because it was clearly what I wanted to do,” he says. “For a child of two Soviet engineers to become a rabbi evoked laughter from me and everyone who knew me.”
Farbman married Olga Markus, a fellow participant in the leadership program, and the couple relocated to London in 1996 when he received a full scholarship to the rabbinical seminary at Leo Baeck College. He met Winer during his second year at the rabbinical seminary, when Winer was starting out as rabbi of West London Synagogue. During Farbman’s third year, Winer had to undergo emergency back surgery and asked Farbman to lead services at West London Synagogue.
“I was just a kid from Russia and a third-year student and I showed up at this congregation from 1840, in a building from 1870, and I was petrified,” Farbman recalls.
But he was invited to stay – first as a student rabbi for two-and-a-half years, then, after ordination, as an assistant rabbi under Winer for three years.
“It was the beginning of a very close professional and mentoring relationship,” Farbman says. “Mark is like a second father to me.”
Farbman and Markus had two sons while in London, with Winer officiating at their baby-naming services. After ordination in 2001, the family relocated to St. Petersburg, Russia in 2004 for three years to build a Reform congregation. The West London Synagogue congregation, under Winer’s leadership, raised $2 million to purchase property for the new synagogue and supplemental funds to help defray the salaries of clergy members after Farbman’s departure.
Farbman then spent two years as rabbi-in-residence at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C. before coming to Orange.
When Farbman was hired as spiritual leader of his mentor’s former Orange pulpit in 2009, it was pure coincidence. “They called me and asked me to visit them, and I went back to look at the congregation’s history,” Farbman recalls. “I realized that Rabbi Winer’s name was all over the place, which kind of freaked me out. It was bashert, and a very strange and special moment.”
Like Winer, Farbman is also dedicated to strengthening the interfaith community. He is an active member of the Interfaith Cooperative Ministries in New Haven and the Orange Interfaith Clergy group and serves on the board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice of Connecticut.
In interfaith communal conversations on difficult issues like gun violence and physician-assisted dying, Farbman says, “we explore our common humanity, which is difficult to do in any other setting. If we don’t pretend that there aren’t differences between us, but instead focus on engaging with them and with each other, there are multiple blessings to be found. Coming from where I came from, that kind of an influence is from Mark Winer.”
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