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Pulling up stakes like Abraham before him, a Connecticut rabbi sets out for a new land

By Cindy Mindell

GLASTONBURY – After a decade as spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Haverim in Glastonbury, Rabbi Craig Marantz will be heading west this summer, to the pulpit of the Emanuel Congregation in Chicago. He will succeed Senior Rabbi Michael Zedek, who is retiring this month.

“Rabbi Marantz created an atmosphere of warmth and caring,” says Judy Kulick, Congregation Kol Haverim executive vice president. “He has officiated at interfaith and same-sex marriages. He’s always willing to go the extra mile; he’s very unselfish. I’m sad to have him go.”

Ordained in 1999 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City, Marantz earned a BA in History from UCLA and an MA in Education from Stanford University before entering the rabbinate. After ordination, he served as director of education at The Temple in Atlanta, Ga. and as associate rabbi of Temple Israel in Omaha, Neb. Named a 2015 Jewish Ledger “Mover & Shaker,” Marantz is wrapping up his service as chaplain in the Connecticut House of Representatives and on a UConn Health Center Institutional Review Board. For several years, he was on the faculty of URJ Crane Lake Camp.

Marantz is known for his dedication to interfaith relations and social justice. At Kol Haverim, he works with the outreach committee on programming geared toward interfaith families. As a member of the Glastonbury Interfaith Clergy Group, he involves his congregants in community-wide events like the annual Thanksgiving worship service and the annual Holiday Toy Drive for the Village for Families & Children in Hartford. He engages with challenging current events, telling the Ledger last August that it is the duty of a pulpit rabbi to discuss the Iran nuclear deal from the bimah. Last September, Marantz traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to take part in America’s Journey for Justice, an historic 40-day, 860-mile march from Selma, Ala. to Washington, D.C., organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in partnership with the NAACP. The event encouraged activism to protect the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage, and equitable public education.

Marantz draws inspiration from the Lech Lecha Torah portion as his wife, Betsy, and their two children set out on their “urban adventure.”

“In order to find his new and improved spiritual calling, Abraham has to go from that place of familiarity to a brand new place, with new challenges and opportunities,” he says. “We’ve been here 10 years and it feels like home. I am very fortunate to have served this marvelous community in Glastonbury, where I’ve grown up a lot as a rabbi. I awoke one day and realized that my sense of calling, how I wanted to serve the Jewish community, had shifted. The Emanuel Congregation community in urban Chicago came calling and I heard the call. For the spirit to grow, it requires movement. For the soul to flourish, it requires taking risks. But if we go forward to seek greater blessings, that doesn’t mean we haven’t discovered great blessings where we are. People have been kind, generous, and supportive to me as I’ve grown as a rabbi.”

Marantz explains his deep commitment to the interfaith community as being part of his DNA. “My mother was born in a Catholic Charities Home to an unwed Portuguese woman and was raised in a Jewish family;

I was raised in a Jewish family, so my very blood is the diversity that I speak of,” he says. “I’ve been nurtured as a Jew but I’m serious about how I am composed, so I take these opportunities seriously to build fellowship between faith traditions. We are all created b’tselem Elohim, in God’s image, and we all possess intrinsic worth in God’s eyes, and so this understanding requires us to show respect for who we are and that includes some of the differences between us. There is this remarkable diversity of religious pathways that flows out of this reality that we are all created in God’s image. So I have to believe that there’s a reason for this diversity of faith traditions marking our lives, and it becomes vital in that context to be respectful, supportive, and affirming of varied traditions. To the extent that we stand on different platforms vis a vis acts of lovingkindness, justice, and fellowship, we should do our best to work together.”

Marantz plans to continue along this path at Emanuel Congregation in Chicago, which boasts a long tradition of interfaith and social-justice engagement, thanks to Rabbi Emeritus Herman Schaalman, the oldest living Reform rabbi at 100 and a pioneer in fostering interreligious understanding throughout the world.

There’s a lot that Marantz will miss when he leaves Kol Haverim and Connecticut. “I know I’m going forward and I will grow from all the beautiful blessings I’ve enjoyed here for 10 years,” he says. “Not a moment will go by when I won’t transform those blessings into growth and for that, I am very thankful.”

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