Friday, May 24th

WRT Celebrates Beloved Rabbi Jonathan Blake

RabbiJoanathnBlakeOn Friday night April 6, Westchester Reform Temple’s sanctuary was standing room only for a celebration marking Rabbi Jonathan Blake’s twenty years at the synagogue and his fiftieth birthday as well. Rabbi Blake’s mentor and predecessor Rabbi Rick Jacobs, now head of the Union of Reform Judaism, kicked off the toasts and tributes, saying he felt so fortunate to be back in Scarsdale to honor Rabbi Blake and remembered how impressed the original search committee was to find a rabbi with beautiful singing voice. Before taking his leave, Rabbi Jacobs noted that he was off to Congregation Kol Ami for a second local appearance that night.

The well-orchestrated service included individual blessings from each of Rabbi Blake’s fellow clergy members, a toast from his proud mother and a shout out to some of the guests in the room including four of his five college roommates. The evening was a “This is Your Life” nod to every stage of the rabbi’s life.

Temple President Warren Haber spoke about Rabbi Blake’s extraordinary moral compass and leadership, mentioning his many roles in the community, including his work as chaplain for the Scarsdale Fire Department. And in a videotaped presentation, several dozen congregants offered tributes in verse, costume, and even in song to the rabbi, citing his spectacular range of talents and interests— oenophile, foodie, snappy dresser, leader, comforter, teacher, master intellectual, preacher, chef, movie buff, and bookworm. They remembered his presence at pivotal times in their lives, saying he was there to share in their simchas and comfort them in times of loss. Finally, Scarsdale Mayor Justin Arest and Village Trustee Dara Gruenberg offered an official proclamation from the Village of Scarsdale enumerating Rabbi Blake’s accomplishments with a long list of “whereas” clauses that ended with the declaration of April 7 as “Jonathan Blake Day” in Scarsdale. (See below for the proclamation.)

Rabbie Blake’s oldest childhood friend seconded that affirmation of Blake’s vocal talents, noting that the two sang in a choir together in elementary school and have continued musical collaborations since then. Rabbi Blake’s gorgeous voice is on frequent display at the temple…and on this evening his wife, Broadway performing artist Kelly McCormick took a break from her role in the national road show of "Girl from the North Country” to serenade her husband, singing “Grateful” by John Bucchino in her own mellifluous voice.

When the guest of honor finally got his turn to speak, the popular rabbi offered a combination of soul, intellect, and sense of humor. He referenced this week’s Torah portion, ably chanted by his nephew in his honor, calling WRT the modern day Tent of Meeting, explaining what he learned from Moses’ experience as a Jewish leader.

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"First, that it is not good to go it alone.

Second, that something important happens inside the Tent of Meeting.

Third, that we’re supposed to be doing here is taking the blessing out of the Tent and into the world.

He said, “People often ask me, “Do you ever get nervous up there on the bimah?” And I say, “No, not really.” And that’s because I never have to do this alone. I get to do this with the best people in the world."

And indeed, many of the best people in the world were in the sanctuary that night. Kudos to Nancy Michaels and Beth Ehrich for arranging the special service as well as Cantors Amanda Kleinman, Danielle Rodnizki and Isaac Sonett-Assor, and Rabbis Leah Citirn and Sasha Baken for their contributions to the heartfelt and melodic tribute to Rabbi Blake.

Proclamation from the Village of Scarsdale

Whereas, the Village of Scarsdale stands as a testament to the values of community, compassion, and service to others; and

Whereas, Rabbi Jonathan Blake has been an esteemed leader, guiding light, and cherished member of our village and the congregation of Westchester Reform Temple for two decades; and

Whereas, Rabbi Jonathan Blake’s unwavering dedication, boundless empathy, sense of humor, and profound wisdom have demonstrably enhanced the lives of countless individuals within our community and beyond; and

Whereas, Rabbi Jonathan Blake's commitment to fostering understanding, promoting unity, and spreading kindness has enriched the fabric of our village and strengthened the bonds that unite us; and

Whereas, Rabbi Jonathan Blake joined Westchester Reform Temple in 2003 as a summa cum laude graduate of Amherst College and with a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters and rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and

Whereas, Rabbi Jonathan Blake has served as the senior rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple since 2011; and

Whereas, Rabbi Jonathan Blake is a noted speaker, singer, and commentator on Jewish text and Jewish life; and

Whereas, Rabbi Blake serves on the Boards of UJA-NY and Zioness, as a trustee and the Co-Chair of the Annual Giving Campaign of the CCAR, and on the President’s Rabbinic Council of HUC-JIR; and

Whereas, Rabbi Blake has forged a partnership with, and preaches at, Greater Centennial AME Zion Church annually; and

Whereas, Rabbi Blake serves as a chaplain to the Village of Scarsdale’s fire and police departments and served as president of the Scarsdale-Hartsdale Interfaith Clergy Association; and

Whereas, Rabbi Blake’s tireless efforts in promoting social justice, advocating for equality, and championing the rights of all individuals have left an indelible mark on the collective conscience of our village.

Now, therefore be it resolved that I, Justin Arest, Mayor of the Village of Scarsdale, do hereby proclaim my deepest gratitude, admiration, and appreciation for Rabbi Jonathan Blake. With heartfelt sincerity, on behalf of the entire Village of Scarsdale, I express our profound thanks for his twenty years of exemplary service, leadership, and unwavering dedication to our village. In a time of rising antisemitism, Rabbi Blake’s work is even more critical in quelling hatred and dispelling ignorance. His eloquence has not only inspired hearts, but also fostered dialogue, understanding, and unity among residents with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds.

In recognition of his outstanding contributions, we declare April 7, 2024, to be "Rabbi Jonathan Blake Day" in the Village of Scarsdale, a day dedicated to honoring this talented individual’s remarkable ongoing legacy and celebrating his enduring positive effect on the lives of our residents.

May Rabbi Jonathan Blake continue to inspire us with his compassion, uplift us with his teachings, celebrate life’s joys with us, mourn life’s sorrows with us, and guide us with his wisdom for many years to come.

(Photos by Leslie Regan)

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