Staff Profile: Rabbi Emeritus Michael Zedek

Rabbi Emeritus Michael Zedek will return to the bima this fall to lead High Holy Day services at Emanuel Congregation for the first time in five years.


“I am grateful for the opportunity to assist the Congregation, and that feeling of gratitude is the principal emotion of this moment,” he says.


He and Cantor Shelly Friedman are developing a hybrid worship service—one that would be available both online and in person.


“All of us need to deal with the experience of coming together after 16+ months of some form of isolation,” says Rabbi Zedek. “What does it mean to be a community? How do we take the challenge of the lockdown and make it a force for continued growth for and in us? With regard to what hasn’t changed, the age-old liturgy and the opportunity for introspection remain vital and essential.”


Rabbi Zedek has seen a lot in his long career. He was ordained in 1974 and served as senior rabbi of B’nai Jehudah in Kansas City, Missouri, and as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati before coming to Emanuel in 2004.


“The most moving vital part of serving as a congregational rabbi is that every day someone touches your heart, and, if you are fortunate, you may do similarly with members of the community,” he says. “That is a remarkable privilege, joy and challenge.”


Rabbi Zedek has kept busy since becoming rabbi emeritus in 2016. He accepted an invitation to serve as a senior advisor to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing the concerns of Midwestern colleagues. He has also led High Holy Day services for the Thailand Progressive Jewish Community and is finishing a manuscript for a book that he hopes will be published soon. He has continued to be involved at Emanuel.


“One of my greatest privileges has been to continue Rabbi Schaalman’s Saturday morning Torah class,” he says.


In addition, he is a volunteer board member for Faith in Place, an environmental justice group that works with faith communities across Illinois, and Arise Chicago, an alliance between religious leadership and workers.


On a more personal note, he and his wife, Karen, travelled frequently before the pandemic, keeping up with their far-flung grandchildren in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh and family in the Kansas City area. To keep fit, he’s been making regular visits to the gym—although, he concedes, “not always with a smile.”


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Jacqueline Seaberg

Volunteer, Emanuel Communications Team

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