The Washington area Jewish community this week honored Mordecai Kaplan, founder of the Reconstructionist Movement in Judaism, closing out a series of celebrations across the country marking the philosopher's centennial year.
The Washington Board of Rabbis joined with 30 Reform and Conservative Jewish congregations in the area in cosponsoring the celebration at Adas Israel Synagogue in the District of Columbia.
Since Kaplan's 100th birthday on June 11, similar events have been held in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, according to Rabbi Morris Gordon, coordinator of the evening here.
Kaplan, who has devoted his life to reinterpreting and adapting Judaism for 20th century America, was not able to attend the celebrations. He is in New York City, recovering from a broken hip.
He was represented here by his daughter, Judith Eisenstein, a musician who has incorporated Jewish themes in her compositions, and her husband, Ira, who succeeded Kaplan as president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College he founded in Philadelphia.
Adas Israel Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, who counts himself as one of Kaplan's "disciples," called him "an indigenous American Jewish philosopher . . . who has influenced all three branches of Judaism Orthodox, Conservative and Reform . Even those who disagree with him have been influenced by him. He has forced every Jewish philosopher to reexamine his premises."
Kaplan, Rabinowitz said, "introduced both rationalism and naturalism to Judaism . . . He redefined Judaism as an evolving religious civilization of a people -- evolving because it changes, and civilization because it is more than just a religion." He said Kaplan "had no time for the nonrational in religion."
Rabinowitz added that Kaplan "redefined the synagogue as more than a house of worship. He created the concept of a synagogue-center with a gymnasium, a communal activities center, and the like."
Gordon, also a disciple of Kaplan, recalled a session with the philosopher during a visit to Israel five years ago. "He was going around teaching these young Israelis, who didn't have much use for religion, what Judaism was all about."
The interview was cut short by the arrival of a motorcyclist from a kibbutz. "Here he was, at 95 . . . he climbed into the side-car and off they went," Gordon recounted with a chuckle.