2017 Top 40 Under 40: Michael Knopf, 34

Rabbi at Temple Beth-El

Last spring, Michael Knopf’s congregation sponsored an Iraqi family to come live in Richmond. “Educating and organizing my community to take on that responsibility, and being part of the work of supporting this incredible family, felt like an incredible achievement,” he says.

Knopf plans to keep riding this healing express. He says the chaos of the 2016 election cycle affected him deeply. “It has fueled me and propelled me to be even more committed to the work of repairing the world, which is a central teaching of Judaism,” he says. He looks to the Torah verse of Deuteronomy 22:3 to stay inspired as an activist: “You must not remain indifferent.”

Richmond is a city moving into the future, and Knopf wants to keep Judaism contemporary for new audiences. He’s staged pop-up-rabbi sessions in ordinary places like Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market, to invite open conversation. He’s also co-founded a program that mixes hip activities, like Belle Isle brunch picnics, with ancient Jewish teachings.

More recently, Knopf held a Jewish New Year celebration in conjunction with the Richmond Folk Festival. He’s certainly attentive to the power of modern art forms. His Rosh Hashanah Live event has become known for its use of pop and rock, and for its inclusion of Hebrew-averse celebrants.


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