As a high school student in Israel, Rabbi Joshua Kullock listened to lectures given by Rabbi David Hartman for the first time. He was inspired by Hartman’s teachings on Jewish pluralism and Torah. And now, after a lengthy application process, Kullock will join the eighth cohort of rabbis to participate in the Shalom Hartman Rabbinic Leadership Institute. “The program speaks to me because of my personal theology and philosophy,” says Kullock, “I am happy and excited to get started.”
The program spans three years and consists of both summer and winter study on site at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and various online studies. The application process for the program is rigorous, including personal essays, recommendations, and interviews. Twenty-five rabbis in each cohort come from around the United States, Canada, and Israel. “This is an opportunity for delving into Judaic studies for longer than a typical three-day conference,” he says.
Kullock has been the senior rabbi at West End Synagogue for the last 10 years and has had his sights set on this program all along. Still, his acceptance was not a given. “I still don’t know why I was picked,” he says with a twinkle. But those who know him, know why. Mark Freedman, former CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville, wrote one of Kullock’s letters of recommendation. “This is a great testament to his rabbinic ability and the reputation he has established over the last decade in Nashville,” he says, “He thought the program was slanted towards big city rabbis, but he just has a natural leadership ability. The cream rises to the top.”
And perhaps it is because of Kullock’s location in Nashville that he was an appealing choice. During his tenure at West End Synagogue, he has proven to be transformational not only for his congregation, but also for Nashville’s Jewish community. In his letter of recommendation, Freedman writes, “West End Synagogue has been transformed under and through Rabbi Kullock’s dynamic brand of sustaining leadership…Rabbi Kullock has reenergized and increased his membership, recruited strong leadership, and led a successful capital campaign that has led to significant renovations and improvements to the shul. And equally as important, he has restored and rejuvenated the spiritual bond of the Congregation…All of this is a testimony to Rabbi Kullock’s vision and intellectual brilliance made even more remarkable by the fact that he has accomplished all this under the cloak of COVID over these past three years.”
In addition, Kullock says Nashville’s Jewish community exemplifies pluralism come to life, “We are an interesting example. We don’t need to learn about it because we live it here.” In fact, during Kullock’s tenure as chair of the local council of rabbis and cantors, he spearheaded the creation of a book, “Torah from Music City,” a volume of Torah commentary by each of the city’s local rabbis. The Hartman program, says Kullock, fosters the same type of collaboration rather than competition.
Freedman says the timing is ideal for Kullock to join the select group of rabbis who have been chosen through the years. “Only 150 rabbis in over two decades have been accepted into this program,” he says, “This will give him a broader view of what it means to be a rabbi and a leader, especially now as people are shaping their identity around Israel.”
This year’s Hartman Rabbinic Leadership Institute kicks off in May 2024, with an orientation, followed by the first three-week in person session in Jerusalem. Kullock is excited to begin and looks forward to spending summer in his favorite place.