- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Rabbi Harold Schulweis, an influential Conservative synagogue leader and scholar who fostered bold change, has died in Los Angeles at age 89.

His death late Wednesday was announced by Rabbi Edward Feinstein, senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom, where Schulweis was the spiritual leader for decades.

Innovations credited to Schulweis include gathering small groups of families to share religious and family life, a new model for lay-professional synagogue leadership. In 1992, Schulweis welcomed gay and lesbian Jews into the synagogue.

“He was a rare combination of brilliant theological intellect, programmatic innovator and truly buoyant spirit,” Rabbi David Wolpe, of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, said in an email to The Associated Press.

Schulweis’ sermons were “full of deep ideas and Jewish learning but he could provide simple, wise advice,” Wolpe said.

“As a leader in the community for over 45 years, he was an innovator that transformed the synagogue beyond a place of worship into a true community that fostered activism, counseling and charity,” said U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Los Angeles, who was a member of Schulweis’ congregation since the mid-1990s.

The author of nine books, Schulweis also founded or co-founded organizations that recognized Christians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, addressed poverty in the U.S. and worked to raise awareness of genocide in Africa.

Schulweis perennially appeared on Newsweek’s list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America. He also served as an adviser on Judaism for “The Simpsons,” including the episode where it was revealed that Krusty the Clown’s father was a rabbi, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A synagogue statement said Schulweis died at home after a long struggle with heart disease.

Born and raised in New York, Schulweis graduated from Yeshiva University in 1945 and received his ordination as a rabbi five years later. After earning a doctorate in theology, he served at synagogues in Parkchester, New York, and Oakland, California, before coming to Valley Beth Shalom.

Schulweis is survived by his wife, Malkah, their three children and 11 grandchildren.

A funeral is scheduled Sunday at Valley Beth Shalom.

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