For Rabbi Richard Kellner, service means using the framework within the Torah to make the world a better place. A part of that is teaching his own children and those who attend Congregation Beth Tikvah or URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute to develop a connection to their religion that also imparts an interest in tikkun olam. Within leadership roles in Reform Judaism across Ohio and beyond, Kellner works to ensure social justice issues and helping those in need are at the forefront of the movements.
What inspires you to give back to the community?
As a Jewish leader, I live a life of service. Every day when I study and teach Torah, I reflect on how we can bring our sacred texts to life. I have always been taught and continue to teach, that Torah is a living document, meaning that we bring it to life through our words and deeds. The sacred words of Torah provide a framework for us to act in holy ways and make the world better.
I also reflect on being a parent and what I want my children to learn about the world and how we should act. I see myself as a role model to them and they inspire me to give back even more when I see them giving back to their communities.
Was there ever a turning point or shift that made you change how you approach community service or become active in the Jewish world?
I remember attending a NFTY Kallah as a teenager on Long Island. During the kallah, we went to a food bank that was in a huge warehouse (much like Mid-Ohio Foodbank). I remember packing boxes and realizing that even though I was not doing much, I was making a difference in people’s lives. Later that year, while attending the Miller High School program at Hebrew Union College in N.Y., I remember working at their soup kitchen. We made sandwiches and served them to the homeless. I remember speaking with them and seeing their faces light up at the sight of a sandwich. It was then I realized that even if we do something little, we can make a difference in people’s lives.
Is there any particular cause, issue or organization you are especially passionate about? What have you done to address it?
I have always been passionate about helping those who are hungry. I created an initiative at Beth Tikvah to form a partnership with the Worthington Resource Pantry. We have many temple members who volunteer at the resource pantry each month and our students often volunteer there during the school year. I have also become greatly concerned about the level of mass incarceration in our country and our state. I, along with colleagues and congregants from across Ohio, have advocated for the passing of legislation that would expand treatment in lieu of conviction and record sealing for non-violent felons convicted of low-level drug offenses. I have testified in the Ohio Senate on a number of occasions. I have also run the Tel Aviv half marathon to raise funds to support Reform Judaism in Israel and shaved my head to raise funds for pediatric cancer research.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the Central Ohio Jewish community? What should be done to promote change?
We have few opportunities to engage with our youth in meaningful Jewish ways. We need to capitalize on those opportunities and make them incredibly meaningful. Every touch point is a possible moment of inspiration, which places an enormous amount of pressure on Jewish leaders to infuse a Jewish connection into every moment we have with our youth. I love spending two weeks every summer at our movement’s summer camp. Jewish moments happen there all the time. I can teach Torah on the basketball court or the chadar ochel. They can be meaningful, informal moments of making sacred connections. When I was growing up, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel three times before my 18th birthday. I am grateful to my parents for making this a value and for a generous donor, Raymond Heetner, who donated enough funds to support 60% of a teen trip to Israel. To help increase Jewish education and the creation of meaningful Jewish moments, we need more moments. We need to send more kids to camp and Israel.