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Feinberg, Abraham L.


FEINBERG, ABRAHAM L. (1899–1986), Reform rabbi and activist. Feinberg was born in Bellaire, Ohio, to immigrant parents from Grinkishok (Grinkiskis), Lithuania, which Feinberg referred to as "the birthplace of my spirit." He earned a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati and was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1924. After ordination he served in a number of American pulpits but left the rabbinate in 1929 to embark on a singing career as Arthur Frome. He returned to the pulpit in 1935 in response to Hitler's growing strength and attacks on the Jews. In 1943 he accepted a position at Toronto's Holy Blossom Temple, the premier Reform congregation in Canada. During his tenure, the Holy Blossom grew rapidly, a testimony to Feinberg's skills as religious leader, and especially as a preacher. He extended his influence by being a highly successful radio orator.

A firm believer in the prophetic ethic as emphasized in Reform Judaism, Feinberg had supported various left-wing causes while in the United States, and threw himself into the Canadian scene with energy. Holding that Canada should be free of all forms of prejudice, he spoke out against antisemitism and racism including Canada's wartime treatment of the Japanese and discrimination against blacks in Canada. He was a crucial presence on the Joint Public Relations Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress and B'nai B'rith, pressing the committee to protest mandatory prayers and Christmas carols in Ontario public schools and to lobby for fair employment and housing practices in Ontario. Feinberg became an outspoken advocate of nuclear disarmament and chaired the Toronto Committee for Disarmament while he continued his advocacy of civil rights as the vice president of the Toronto Association for Civil Rights. Feinberg's political activism led to surveillance by Royal Canadian Mounted Police intelligence officers. An rcmp file eventually released to his daughter contained 1,100 pages, with even more devoured by the rcmp's shredder.

Feinberg retired from Holy Blossom in 1961 and was named rabbi emeritus. He continued his activism, protesting the war in Vietnam, and in late 1966 and early 1967 led a delegation to meet with Ho Chi Minh. In 1972 he moved to Berkeley, California, to be near his son Jonathan but relocated across the Bay to be the rabbi for Glide Memorial Church, which catered to "the outcasts of our social system." He also became a spokesman for "gray lib," fighting oppression of the elderly. He subsequently moved to Reno, Nevada, where he continued his advocacy for the elderly. At age 70 Feinberg resumed his singing career and released 10 songs, but his most famous performance was singing "Give Peace a Chance," with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their Montreal hotel room in 1969.

Feinberg was the author of three books, Storm the Gates of Jericho (1964); Rabbi Feinberg's Hanoi Diary (1968); Sex and the Pulpit (1981). He also wrote numerous magazine and newspaper articles.

[Richard Menkis (2nd ed.)]

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