Philip Warmflash - 2007 Award Recipient
Rabbi Philip Warmflash remembers being very young and standing with his parents at the very back of the synagogue on Rosh Hashana, several miles from the front of the room, watching a man pick up and blow the biggest shofar that ever existed. When he heard that sound, it touched him in ways that he could not understand then. From that moment he wanted to get closer to that shofar, closer to the action at the front of the room, closer to community. It began a journey that led from that synagogue to Camp Ramah, to Israel, to his undergraduate years at Brandeis University, and MA and Ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
At the Los Angeles Hebrew High and the L.A. Federation’s Youth Department, Phil worked with teens and Youth Professionals, using formal and non-formal study as a foundational component to create a dynamic, united Jewish youth community. Phil’s L.A. journey also led him to meet Amy, his wife, his partner, and the person who, through her love and her support, continues to encourage him to follow his vision. In 1993 his journey, now with daughters Ariel and Jordana, led Phil to become the Executive Director of the Community Hebrew Schools of Philadelphia. Now known as the Jewish Outreach Partnership, this organization helps congregations offer front-row seats to everyone interested in becoming part of the Jewish community. Through workshops that build congregations’ outreach skills and publications that help individuals translate Jewish life into action, JOP helps to increase involvement in Jewish life.
Over the last fourteen years, Phil has been blessed with amazing gifts: personally, the birth of his third beautiful daughter Mira, and professionally, the chance to work with a talented staff and volunteer leaders who are always willing to take risks. Phil has had incredible opportunities, including: teaching with the talented consultants of the Whizin Institute, now the Consortium for the Future of the Jewish Family; serving as rabbi for the high holidays at his home congregation; and consulting and teaching in communities around the country. He has worked with the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Literacy Network to develop a meaning-based curriculum for tefillah and Jewish celebration, and he has taught this curriculum in a myriad of communities nationwide.
Looking back, Phil remembers his feeling as a child hearing the sound of that shofar. Upon reflection, he hears that shofar in each aspect of life, in the voices of his wife and his children, in the words of his teachers and friends and those with whom he works. Phil feels his responsibility is and hopes will continue to be, to help others hear the shofar, or, to paraphrase the midrash (Exodus Rabba 5:9), to hear the voice of God in a way that speaks uniquely to them, and that leads them to take new steps on their Jewish journey.
From Rabbi Philip Warmflash’s Statements of Motivation and Purpose:
“The caption under my sixth grade public school yearbook picture stated that I intended to become a rabbi. In hindsight, I see that as a reflection of a calling that I felt to Jewish life and to the Jewish community. Sixth grade was the year that the rabbi of our synagogue made me part of his family with weekly invitations to Shabbat lunch and study. It was also the year that the principal of our religious school convinced my parents to send me to Camp Ramah. After that year, I told my parents that I thought our home should be kosher; when I returned from Ramah the following summer, it was.
“In high school, I started teaching and have continued ever since. My years of teaching have taught me that to be a role model means to listen to and to learn from students. I strive to understand and acknowledge where a student is on his or her personal Jewish journey and to help that individual feel supported to take a new Jewish step on that journey. “In my first year in Philadelphia I did a quick study of the ‘unaffiliated’ population with which I was working. The answer to one question, ‘Are you a Jew by choice?’ profoundly shaped my work. Almost 100% of those responding, even those born Jewish, answered ‘Yes!’ Most Jews, whether or not they are synagogue members, see Judaism as a choice that they are empowered to make. My task as a rabbi and educator, and someone who cares deeply about Judaism, is to help individuals find meaning in Jewish life that they may not have ever anticipated; making the Jewish choice a Jewish commitment.
“JOP is working in partnership with rabbis and synagogues from all regions of Greater Philadelphia and from all movements to help Jews take new Jewish steps. With a focus on Jewish education and Jewish text, education is being used as the basis for community outreach efforts, for building community Kehillot and for extensive work with synagogue volunteers and professional leaders to renew and revitalize their institutions. “I want to continue to help Jews take new Jewish steps by providing them with the Jewish education and Jewish experiences that will enable that to happen. I would like the privilege to continue to work in the JOP as we strive to actualize our mission and to help meet the challenges of our changing Jewish community and in some small way, contribute to tikkun olam.”
From his Letters of Support and Nomination:
“As the principal of the Community Hebrew Schools of Philadelphia, Phil was able to build the trust necessary to create a positive working relationship between his school and the network of synagogue Hebrew schools. Through his work with the families of the school, most of whom were not synagogue-affiliated, Phil envisioned, created, and received funding for “Making Connections,” which allowed him to outreach to minimally affiliated and intermarried families who are often so difficult to engage in Jewish life. During his entire career, Phil has continued to be a learner, a teacher and a rabbi.”
Rabbi Sheldon Dorph
Head of School, Jewish Community High School of the Bay
“Over the years, I have watched with delight as synagogue leaders and rabbis have ‘discovered’ how the Jewish Outreach Partnership can effectively partner with them to strengthen and revitalize their synagogues. Phil knows how to build connections that work and last, both with his rabbinic colleagues and with lay leaders, and is able to renew a sense of the holiness of synagogue work for individuals who are in danger of burning out, even as he is able to reach out and engage those who have not previously been involved in synagogue leadership. He understands and appreciates denominational strengths, and has a proven track record of empowering individual rabbis and synagogues to take best advantage of the wide range of resources available to them, both in and beyond their movements.
“Rabbi Warmflash is a master teacher, a superior administrator, and a visionary who makes change happen. He has built a powerful model of Jewish outreach in Philadelphia by identifying the strengths and areas that need attention in the Jewish service-delivery systems in our community. He understands that outreach to those who are peripherally involved and unaffiliated can lead to renewing synagogues, and that reenergized synagogues strengthen the larger community.”
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell
Director, Pennsylvania Council and Philadelphia Federation of Reform
Synagogues, Union of Reform Judaism
“Under Rabbi Warmflash’s leadership, the Jewish Outreach Partnership has pioneered high-quality, accessible and visually attractive educational materials that are designed to strengthen the Jewish home. These materials focus on key Jewish values, holidays and Shabbat. While initially targeting the unaffiliated population, these resources have proven to be so popular that local and national congregations and schools have decided to use them.
“What distinguishes JOP’s approach is that it views itself as a complement to schools and synagogues, not competition. JOP recognizes that central institutions need help in absorbing populations that have opted out of the organized Jewish community. It educates schools and synagogues on how to be more receptive to the unaffiliated population through its collaborative training programs and individual consultations and then attempts to channel them back into the institutions. Thus, JOP has shown that creative outreach approaches and institutional change efforts can work together.
Rabbi Hayim Herring
Executive Director, Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal
“Rabbi Phil Warmflash is a visionary Jewish educator who has understood that synagogue renewal, combined with Jewish education and outreach, is the keys to the Jewish future of North America. JOP programs literally have transformed dozens of synagogues through a series of diverse programs that Phil has created and developed over the past twelve years. At a time when many American Jews have been lamenting the ineffectiveness of so many synagogues to respond to the extraordinary challenges of American Jewish life, Phil’s work at JOP has demonstrated that synagogues can be far more effective provided that they have access to the kind of educational material, leadership training, and synagogue change programs that JOP has developed.
“I believe Phil has shown a remarkable gift for assessing what synagogues need in order to become more powerful agents of Jewish engagement. But Phil not only sees the challenges that face us, he has a true gift for creating programs that help synagogues be better able to meet the challenges of Judaism in the 21st Century.”
Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
Senior Rabbi, Beth Sholom Congregation