We are glad to have such a wonderful leader in Rabbi Sheldon Pennes. His humor, warmth and knowledge help nurture and engage our community.
His story began in a traditional Jewish family: His grandfather, an Orthodox Rabbi, was ordained at the well-known Slobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania, about one hundred years ago. The family came to the United States in 1923 and settled near relatives in Pittsburgh before heading west again to the Los Angeles area and settling in Alhambra, where Rabbi Pennes was born and raised. He attended the Alhambra Synagogue Center, which later became Temple Beth Torah.
In addition, Rabbi Pennes remembers attending services at the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights where his father would say “Kaddish” on weekdays. After his Bar Mitzvah, Rabbi Pennes continued his Jewish Studies at the Los Angeles Hebrew High School through his graduation from Alhambra High School. It was during that time that he became affiliated with Temple B’nai Emet, as Hebrew High classes met in Montebello during the week. Rabbi Pennes received his B.A. at U.C.L.A. while also studying at the University of Judaism at the same time.
After receiving his B.A. in 1972, he continued pre-Rabbinic studies at the U.J. and graduated with an additional B.A. in 1974. He next attended the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York receiving a Master’s degree in 1975 and ordination in 1978. During this time, he also studied for a year in Jerusalem, as well as at Columbia University in New York City.
After graduation Rabbi Pennes returned to Los Angeles, where he assumed his first pulpit in Newport Beach. The next year he married Wendy, who he had met while studying in Jerusalem. Together they have three children, Alice, Charlie and Sophie. Rabbi has a love for children, and a belief in teaching and role modeling the values of our tradition.
Rabbi Pennes began serving at Temple B’nai Emet in 1992. During his early tenure is when he says he began to fully appreciate Judaism’s (and his own) veneration of the wisdom that comes with aging as Temple B’nai Emet, like many religious communities, was aging in place while the surrounding communities were diversifying quickly.
In 2000, he began working in hospice and founded a Jewish Hospice support non-profit to provide help to the Jewish community. His experience with the reality of aging led him to the simple observations that the elderly are filled with wisdom and value. Indeed, if wisdom is a gauge, then age is beauty. The more we age, the more fruitful in wisdom we become. Respect, veneration, admiration - these are the basic parameters within which we approach aging, the aged, and the treatment of the elderly. Jewish tradition is suffused with sacred obligations regarding the aged.
This value system with our elders ensures that our future is strong as the Rabbi teaches is transmit our values and beliefs to each other as well as to future generations. This, indeed, is at the heart of a Jewish way of life.