Voice for Equality: Rabbi Peter Knobel

Rabbi Peter S. Knobel has been the spiritual leader at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston, Illinois since 1980, encouraging stimulating interaction between clergy and congregants with the goal of infusing deeper Jewish meaning into the lives of individual members and the community as a whole. In addition to his congregational responsibilities, Rabbi Knobel serves in leadership roles in the Reform movement on a national level as well as being actively involved in the Chicago-area community. Learn more here.

Posted on July 5, 2010 by Lisa Black on chicagotribune.com:

"Evanston Rabbi Peter Knobel likes to say he grew up in a binary world, where everything fit in neat categories: black and white, male-female, gay-straight.

"Over time, he said, he learned that life doesn't work that way, and changed his position on issues such as the freedom to marry — which he now supports — while influencing the nation's Reform Jewish population as a leader who helped develop a new prayer book used by hundreds of congregations.

"Knobel, 67, described as a bridge-builder between other faiths, retired last month after 30 years leading Beth Emet, The Free Synagogue in Evanston. While he expects to stay busy teaching and working with the Jewish community, he said that it's time to let a younger generation find ways to keep worship relevant.

"'We need to deal with new realities,' Knobel said.

"Beth Emet, also celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, 'is a place that recognizes there are certain core values and how you apply those core values may change over time.'

"He sees a more affluent, mobile and technologically savvy population less concerned with whether a synagogue is deemed Reform, for its liberal theology, or Conservative, which is more traditional. Instead, newcomers are seeking a preferred style or content of worship, such as whether services are offered in Hebrew, Knobel said.

"'In the last 30 years he has wanted the congregation to grow, and kept it very vibrant,' said Rabbi Andrea London, 46, who replaced Knobel. 'One could perhaps have rested on those laurels. He never did that. He always said you have to keep looking toward the future.'

"As the son of a German World War II refugee, Knobel was shaped by the aftermath of the Shoah, or Holocaust, focusing on survivors who were remaking their lives. As a young rabbi, he emphasized establishing Israel as the home state and ushered in an era of civil rights, seeing more women take to the pulpit.

"What I have always said is, 'This is what I believe now,' Knobel said. I have had people say, 'I am not very happy with that. I want my rabbi to know (certain truths).' 'I can't say that in 10 to 20 years I might not change my mind. I hope in my years I will grow and develop.'

Knobel describes himself as a 'former homophobe,' who underwent an agonizing transformation and change of heart after serving on a national rabbinic committee studying gay and lesbian relationships. He now advocates for the gay community and has officiated at two weddings between lesbian couples, he said.

... "Knobel encourages his congregants to speak out on current issues such as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and American health care, but says he never takes a political stand from the pulpit.

"'I take a religious stand,' he said. 'It just sounds like politics to some people.'"  [Link]

Freedom to Marry salutes Rabbi Peter Knobel as a Voice for Equality!

If Rabbi Knobel's support inspires you, take action by signing the Freedom to Marry Pledge.