August 31, 2000
After 18 years in the Bay Area, the Board of Rabbis' Mark Diamond intends to make his mark in Los Angeles.
Settling with a cup of coffee into the comfortable armchair in his new office, Rabbi Mark Diamond might need to get used to doing a lot more sitting.
For 18 years, Diamond worked as a pulpit rabbi, spending the latter half of those years with Oakland's venerable Conservative synagogue, the 93-year-old Congregation Beth Abraham.One month into his new role as executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, (a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles) Diamond is energized by the City of Angels.
"There's an enormous reservoir of talented rabbis in the L.A. community," said Diamond. "We have some real giants walking among us."
Diamond, 45, has sat on council boards before. The Chicago-born spiritual leader was president of the 35-member East Bay Council of Rabbis in the early 1990s. Yet Diamond considers the confederation of rabbis he now oversees a particularly unique entity, "in many respects, cutting edge. This is not taking place in other cities."
Diamond is using this year to experiment with various pro-grams and different meeting places to help boost attendance at Board of Rabbis meetings. Plans are underway for rabbis to get together each month and study Torah. The first two seminars are already booked - one with Rabbi Richard Levy of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; another with Rabbi Bradley Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at University of Judaism.
Other areas Diamond wants to address include the chap-laincy program serving prisons, hospitals and nursing homes; finding new methods to attract younger Jews; and improving adult Jewish education."We want to show that there are so many beautiful, positive, healthy reasons to be Jews," Diamond said.One of Diamond's pivotal experiences occurred in the spring 1976 - after graduating from Carleton College and before entering Jewish Theologi-cal Seminary - when he was given a Dodge Aspen, a token salary and a healthy cross-section of the Midwest to raise Jewish consciousness and awareness as a United Jewish Appeal field worker.
Another turning point came in late 1995. The Internet was becoming an increasingly popular element of American life, and America Online (AOL) was developing some Jewish culture areas. Marc Klein, editor and publisher of the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, asked Diamond to set up an "Ask a Rabbi" consultation forum on AOL. Diamond obliged and thought nothing of it until he came back after a holiday and found 100 e-mails waiting for him. Encouraged by the enthusiasm, he continued the site. At the forum's height, Diamond and his multi-denominational team of rabbis were fielding 200 questions a week.Los Angeles Jewish Federation President John Fishel takes Diamond's post very seriously as "a synergy between the Federation and the synagogue community." Diamond was hired, Fishel said, because "he has a good vision of how the rabbinic community and the synagogue community can work with our federation. He has the right personality to work with a diverse group."
Yet even as Fishel welcomes the incoming Diamond, Con-gregation Beth Abraham has a mighty big void to fill.
"He's going to be greatly missed," said Herman "Pinky" Pencovic, a past Beth Abraham president and current chairman of the synagogue's board of trustees. "It's a big loss for us."
Diamond feels comfortable at Federation, working alongside Fishel and with agencies such as Birthright Israel Experience.
"Personally, if I had millions to spend, I would make sure that every young Jew gets to Israel twice in his life - high school and college," he said.
Diamond also looks forward to working on Federation's senior management team.
In his short time in Los Angeles, Diamond already finds that "people are thirsting for serious Jewish learning," said Diamond. "We are incredibly blessed in such a reservoir of committed people who recognize the meaning and beauty of Jewish life."
Diamond looks forward to the upcoming Board of Rabbis Web site, due after the High Holidays, which will resurrect his "Ask a Rabbi" service for the general public, in addition to providing a tool for the city's rabbinate. He stresses that the new site will be an avenue toward Jewish concerns, but not the final destination.
"There are so many Jews out there who are lonely, hurting, striving to take the extra step," said Diamond. "We, as the Board of Rabbis, need to help connect them to take that first step."
Look for the Board of Rabbis of Southern California Web site this fall athref=http://www.boardofrabbis.org.>www.boardofrabbis.org