Becker, Lavy M.

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BECKER, LAVY M. (1905–2001), Canadian rabbi, communal official, businessman. Lavy Becker was born in Montreal to Russian immigrant parents. His father was a shoḥet and cantor there. Becker attended high school in Montreal and New York, where he studied Talmud at Yeshiva College (*Yeshiva University). He earned a B.A. at McGill University in 1926. In 1930 he was ordained by the *Jewish Theological Seminary.

While at jts, Becker came under the influence of Mordecai *Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism (see *Reconstructionism). Like his classmates and friends Ira Eisenstein and Milton Steinberg, Becker's career reflected a profound commitment to Kaplan's ideal of Judaism as a civilization, a Judaism more expansive than what was usually defined as the religious domain. After graduation, he became rabbi at the Sunnyside Jewish Center and over the next ten years he assumed executive positions at the Jewish Community Centers of Detroit and New Haven as well as taking on the position of executive director of the ym-ywha in Montreal. Ever ready to assume significant communal challenges, in 1945–46 Becker became the country director for displaced persons in the American Zone of Occupation, under the auspices of the Joint Distribution Committee and unrwa, responsible for the welfare of the thousands of Holocaust survivors.

After Becker's return to Montreal, he never again assumed a paid position within the Jewish community. He worked first in the family business and then went on to work for others and then himself, when he set up Lavy Becker Consultants. However, he remained deeply involved in Jewish communal life. In 1951, he was the founding rabbi at a new Conservative synagogue (Congregation Beth-El) in the new Jewish community of Mount Royal. Nine years later he realized his ideal of setting up a Reconstructionist synagogue in Montreal, Dorshei Emet, which he served as unpaid rabbi until 1977. During those same decades, Becker served on the executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, where he had special responsibilities for smaller Jewish communities. He traveled extensively through the Caribbean and Latin America, including Cuba, as well as to Iceland. In Canada, he was appointed the chairman of the Centennial Interfaith Council, helping organize Canada's 1967 centennial celebrations.

Many regarded Lavy Becker's life as an embodiment of Mordecai Kaplan's Reconstructionist ideals. Within the Reconstructionist movement he was highly regarded, becoming president of the Federation of Reconstructionist Synagogues (1969–72) and chairman of the Board of Overseers of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (1969–74). In Montreal, the Jewish Community Federation established in his honor the Lavy M. Becker chair at the Reconstructionist College in Philadelphia.

[Richard Menkis (2nd ed.)]