Growing up, Rabbi David Wolpe knew he wanted to be a writer, although he wasn’t sure what he would write about. In college, during a discussion with the rabbi at Camp Ramah, where he was working, the rabbi suggested that Wolpe attend rabbinical school to find inspiration for topics.
“He was right,” Wolpe says.
Wolpe’s upcoming talk at the Valley Beit Midrash opening lecture on Oct. 11 will focus on the subject matter of his 2008 book, “Why Faith Matters.”
He says his talk is not only for those who consider themselves “believers” but also for “nonbelievers.”
“I want to try to make a case that faith matters a lot, even to people who don’t believe,” he says.
In addition to being the author of eight books, Wolpe is a weekly columnist for time.com – recent columns include “The Playground Theory of Morality,” “The Internet Can’t Replace Real Human Interaction” and “The U.S. Has a Moral Obligation to Help Syrian Refugees.”
Additionally, for more than 20 years, he has written a column for the Jewish Week in New York – “a very brief column that’s supposed to be inspirational,” he says.
Becoming a rabbi was not a strange career choice for him, Wolpe says, as his father, Gerald Wolpe, was also a rabbi. “Having grown up with my father, who was a wonderful rabbi and a wonderful sermonizer, I guess I wanted to grow up to give sermons, but on paper,” he says.
(As rabbi of Sinai Temple, the oldest Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles, he continues his father’s tradition of giving sermons to a congregation – over the High Holidays, he presented five sermons, on topics such as forgiveness, acceptance, the way the Jewish community talks with each other and giving.)
Wolpe’s most recent book is “David, the Divided Heart,” which he was approached by Yale University Press to write as part of its Jewish Lives series. He was told he could choose any Jewish figure, and he selected King David.
“David has always fascinated me. His is the most elaborate story in the [Tanach]and also he’s my namesake,” Wolpe says.
“I had no hesitation. ... The more I learned about him, the more fascinating he became. Every day, I was grateful that I’d made that choice because David is truly one of those endlessly fascinating characters. So much so that once I finished the book, I’m still reading about him ...
“David is extravagantly adored and yet it never says that David loves anyone else. That was one fascinating thing to explore, and the other was why this very flawed character becomes the person from whom the Messiah comes.”
“David, the Divided Heart” was a finalist for the 2014 National Jewish Book Awards and has been optioned for a movie by Warner Bros.
His other books include the national best-seller “Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times” and “Why Be Jewish?”
Wolpe has been named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post. He previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Hunter College and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He has also written for many other publications, such as The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and the Jerusalem Post.
“We’re so excited to bring in a renowned leader like Rabbi Wolpe to Phoenix,” says Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash. “There’s a reason he was named one of Newsweek’s top American rabbis. He has been on the cutting edge of fusing an erudite, intellectually rigorous and compassionate Judaism that is accessible to all.”
Who: Rabbi David Wolpe
What: Valley Beit Midrash, 2015 Sy Sacks Lecture
Topic: ‘Why Faith Matters’
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11
Where: Temple Chai, 4645 E. Marilyn Road, Phoenix
Cost: $18 suggested donation