I recently had the pleasure of nominating Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Senior Rabbi at Congregation of Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, to be honored as a Distinguished Citizen on the City of Irvine Wall of Recognition.
Established in 2006 and located in Colonel Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park across the from Civic Center, the Wall of Recognition is a hallmark of Irvine. Even before Irvine became a city, there was a spirit of community activism, involvement, and pride that set the tone for the municipality Irvine would become. Since the City’s incorporation in 1971, hundreds of individuals have dedicated themselves in service to Irvine as Mayors, City Council Members, Commissioners, Committee Members, and leaders of community organizations. The Wall of Recognition honors these individuals, groups, organizations, and businesses who have made significant contributions to the community.
Rabbi Steinberg embodies the spirit of service to the community. Born in Northern California, Rabbi Steinberg initially studied criminal justice in college and trained to be a police officer. He then felt a calling to serve as a rabbi, earned a masters degrees in Hebrew letters and family therapy, and was ordained as a rabbi in 1995. After serving a congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio, Rabbi Steinberg returned to California to lead Shir Ha-Ma’alot in July of 2001. At that time, the congregation consisted of 300 member families. Today, it is a thriving congregation of well over 600 families.
In the years since he assumed the leadership of Shir Ha-Ma’alot, Rabbi Steinberg has become a community leader in Irvine and Orange County. He has long served as Chaplin for the Irvine Police Department and as a member and Chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, whose mission is to “seek out the causes of tension and conflict, discrimination and intolerance and attempt to eliminate those causes.”
Rabbi Steinberg also serves on the Boards of the Jewish Federation, Orange County Board of Rabbis, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League. He is extremely active at the Jewish Community Center, Tarbut v’Torah and Morasha Day Schools. He is key point person on the University of California, Irvine, campus dealing with the issues of tolerance and diversity. He is the recipient of the “Outstanding Devotion to the Jewish Community Center” award, the “Yachad Award for Outstanding Jewish Community Service” given to a local Jewish professional each year and he was honored by the Central Region of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.
I have known Rabbi Steinberg as a friend and spiritual advisor. When my mother passed away, he visited and brought kindness and healing to my father.
I have also known Rabbi Steinberg as a fighter for justice, a powerful voice against bigotry and intolerance, and as an inspiration in my own journey toward more effective servant leadership.
In response to the hatefull, White Supremist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Rabbi Steinberg urged the OC Human Relations Commission to speak out against it loudly and clearly. “When there is hatred, it needs to be called out as such and responded to with a loud voice that is unequivocal,” Rabbi Steinberg said. The OC Register wrote that “[Rabbi] Steinberg became emotional as he described his feelings as a Jewish man listening to anti-Semitic chants and seeing flags bearing the swastika, the symbol of Adolf Hitler’s regime that exterminated 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. ‘We need to find ways to have peaceful conversations,’ he said.”
When there were anti-Jewish incidents in Orange County, Rabbi Steinberg wrote that “Hate always begins with words. Then words un-responded to will always lead to hate action. And hate action un-responded to will always lead to hate violence. Let us be people who respond. If we lose friendships over our responses, so be it. If we are not part of the group because of our righteous response, then so be it. The alternative of not responding at the very least is re-wounding those who have been literally scared by violence rooted in hate. The very most that can happen if we respond is that we might change someone’s heart from hate to love, from ignorance to knowledge, from foe to friend.”
Irvine is a far better place because of Rabbi Richard Steinberg and he well deserves to be honored as a Distinguished Citizen on the City of Irvine Wall of Recognition.
But it is not only Irvine that is a better place — the world is better place because Rabbi Steinberg lives among us.
Top photo credit: Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG.