Call it a career: After 42 years, Rabbi Robert Slosberg is retiring from Congregation Adath Jeshurun 

   It was 42 years ago that Robert B. Slosberg – a newly-minted rabbinical graduate of New York City’s Jewish Theological Seminary – arrived at Congregation Adath Jeshurun to work alongside then-Rabbi Simcha Kling. The understanding was that the Cleveland-born Slosberg, who’d just turned 27, would take over from Kling in a transition that would be orderly, deliberate, unhurried. 

   But Kling’s health was failing, and soon Slosberg found himself heading up what was, at the time, Louisville’s sole Conservative-movement synagogue. Now, four decades later, Kentucky’s longest-serving Rabbi is retiring – stepping down officially June 30 at 5 p.m., when he assumes the title of Rabbi Emeritus. Cantor David Lipp has been named

Rabbi Robert Slosberg (courtesy  of Jay May Photography)

Spiritual Leader, taking over from Rabbi Joshua Corber resigned to deal with personal health issues. 

    Last month, Rabbi Slosberg sat down for a conversation with Community Managing Editor Andrew Adler. Below are excerpts from that interview, which have been edited for length and clarity. 


After 42 years, what’s your most prominent sensation: exhaustion, elation, or emancipation? 

     I don’t think it’s exhaustion or emancipation. I don’t see my life changing that much – I’ll still be coming to Minyan and participating in AJ’s life – I just won’t have the responsibility. And having been through the pandemic, there’s also the sense that we made it. It was a really difficult three years, in particular 2020, which was really, really difficult. 


Has that responsibility weighed heavily on you? 

I’ve never seen it as a burden. I felt it was a commitment, a way of life. But there is a lot of responsibility. I mean, there have been people who have called me in their darkest hour, sometimes even in dangerous moments where I’ve had to respond and represent the congregation. But it’s also enabled me to have responsibilities outside the community, volunteering nationally, and internationally regarding Israel. But it’s also been a great source of joy and pride. 


Take us back to the first day when you walked in AJ as Rabbi. 

I met Rabbi Kling, whose health was already in decline. He’d had, I think, a bypass just before I came, and I realized that I was going to be taking on a great deal more responsibility than I’d ever dreamed. But Rabbi Kling was so welcoming, loving and sweet right away. He said, ‘We’re going to be partners, and everything anything you want to do, you’re welcome to do.’ I saw it as an opportunity to learn from a wonderful human being. So that first day I was very excited – (though) there was no training or preparation for what I was walking into. 


Slosberg had graduated from a joint degree program, earning a B.A. in History from Columbia University alongside his rabbinic degree from JTS. His seminary training, steeped in almost a century of tradition, focused considerably more on books than on bimahs. 

There was training in counselling, which I thought was really, really helpful, but I don’t think there’s any preparation for, you know, being a rabbi. Even with an internship, you don’t grasp the enormity of the responsibility, and all the things you will have to deal with. I’m told it’s gotten much, much better, and there’s a greater focus on the practical aspects of the rabbinate. 


Was your becoming a rabbi inevitable? 

The extended family business was Stride Rite shoes (co-founded as Green Shoe by Jacob A. Slosberg in 1919), but my dad chose not to work there, but to become an accountant and move to Cleveland with my mother, who was from New England, and where there were job opportunities. I considered medicine. But once I latched on to the rabbinate, it was so meaningful to me that I never wavered. 


Were your parents observant? 

They were pretty secular Jews. We joined the Conservative synagogue only because it was on the same block as our home. 


It turned out that Columbia and JTS had more to offer than just academics – the future Deborah Slosberg. 

I happened to be the (student) president of the school, and one day the dean called me into his office and said, ‘Look, there’s this new girl coming to transfer into the program, and I want you to make her feel at home. We met in an elevator. At the end of my senior year of undergraduate school – 1976 – we were married. (Three children would eventually follow.) 



What are some of the most significant changes you’ve observed during your tenure? 

We’ve become much more involved with social action and justice than we were, say, in the 70s and 80s. We were not very connected to Israel. And I don’t think we were involved in the general community as much as we are today – through CLOUT (Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together — an affiliation of Louisville religious congregations working toward social justice and related issues) – and the projects we’ve partnered in. A couple of times with Jewish Hospital we set up a fund to help with the Lost Boys of Sudan, and we reunited three families. Whereas I think the synagogue and probably the Jewish community was more insulated. 


A lot of doors were closed to Jews, you know, pre-80s. That’s why there was a Jewish country club (the Standard Club) and the need for a Jewish Hospital. Now there’s not a week that goes by where there’s not someone in the community, who’s not Jewish, who comes to me for help of some sort. We’ve got a reputation for trying to help people, or to facilitate people getting help who are in need – without proselytizing and expecting them to become Jewish…One of the beautiful aspects of AJ is that it’s encouraged me to use whatever skills I have with outside organizations. 


Ambition can be a hard thing to, to judge, especially when you’re thinking about one’s own ambition. After one decade, maybe two decades, were you thinking, ‘I want to move somewhere else.’ Maybe get back to Cleveland, or move up in the rabbinical hierarchy, nationally? 

What mattered was doing what I wanted to do. The size of the congregation didn’t really matter. I was fulfilled. And you know, with a bigger congregation there are a lot more funerals – and the few I’ve done out of town, they were all-day affairs. I wanted to be part of people’s lives. There are tradeoffs. Yes, I could have made a lot more money somewhere outside Louisville, but I’m not sure I would have been as fulfilled, and I believe my kids would have probably seen a lot less of me. 


Deborah Slosberg carved out her own legacy as director of the Louisville Melton School for Adult Education, as did Robin Silverman – who’s also retiring this month after 31 years as synagogue administrator. That’s a lot of continuity. 

Part of it is the sense of loyalty to the congregation. When someone on the staff has been sick, we’ve never abandoned them – not once. We’ve had people with cancer and we didn’t. Now we’re under Cantor Lipp’s leadership, and we’re going to have a lot of new faces, but I’m sure they’ll find this to be a great place to work for. It’s not an easy job – and everyone has their own mishigas about what they expect out of the synagogue. 


Given Rabbi Corber’s unanticipated resignation amid your pending retirement, Cantor Lipp has a tremendous task ahead of him. How will he and AJ manage? 

He’s going to do just as he’s done when I was out of town. He very capably runs the congregation, and I think we’re going to bring in a guest rabbi for the High Holidays to work with him and (his wife) Rabbi (Laura) Metzger. Look, I think he’s the only person who could really help with the healing and moving forward of the congregation. And I will be volunteering. I won’t be doing funerals and things unless asked by the cantor, but I will help in any way that I can. 


Cantor Lipp is as dedicated, hardworking and intelligent as anyone we could have. He hasn’t just been the cantor of the congregation – but the model I’ve used is really a partnership. There’s only one of him, but I’m still going to be in the city, and we’re going to be bringing people in to help here and there. And Rabbi Metzger is an amazing teacher, so it’s all of us who are going to be there as we figure out a path forward. It’s all hands on deck. It’s been a difficult year, but we all have a great deal of affection for Rabbi Corber, and we want him to focus on his health. The congregation has been very supportive of that. 


The Brandeis University-led Study of Jewish Louisville acknowledges that the road ahead is anything but certain. 

We’ve got a lot of people who went to college and then on to graduate school, and they leave owing a great deal of money. They’re in debt. So I think money is an issue. And with dual-religion families, there are people who are pulled in different directions. It’s a huge challenge. I think we’ve got people in place who can help navigate these waters, but my guess is that we’re going to have to do things differently and reinvent how religion is experienced in Louisville. 














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