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Last winter, Sharon Kleinbaum, the firebrand rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah—the country’s largest and best-known gay synagogue—marked her 20th anniversary in the pulpit with a Hanukkah celebration headlined by the actress Cynthia Nixon, who has been active in gay-rights and a regular guest at the synagogue. The evening featured a panel with the political writer Frank Rich, a longtime congregant, and an appearance by Christine Quinn, New York’s City Council Speaker, who came to present Kleinbaum with an official city proclamation. “She is one of the favorite religious leaders in my household,” Quinn told the crowd. “I’ve never seen her at an event or at a function or on the street or wherever where she hasn’t gone out of her way to give me—you’d think she was a bear, that’s what you get from this little woman, I always get that hug.” On cue, Kleinbaum dashed onstage and wrapped her arms around Quinn, New York’s first female and first openly gay political leader and currently the front-running candidate to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor. Then the rabbi turned and made her way back to her seat in the audience next to the other political powerhouse in the room: the labor leader Randi Weingarten, who is head of the American Federation of Teachers, a close friend of the Clintons, and Kleinbaum’s romantic partner. As she sat down, Kleinbaum gave Weingarten an exuberant kiss that was audible from the balcony of the crowded auditorium, at John Jay College near Lincoln Center. Kleinbaum is hardly the only religious leader in New York who balances a public record of spirited demonstrations and arrests with serious insider pull; the Rev. Al Sharpton practically defines the form, and other Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Avi Weiss, have adopted the model as well. But this, in many ways, is Kleinbaum’s moment: a year in which many of the issues moving the city and the country—same-sex marriage, income inequality, civil liberties—are ones Kleinbaum has long made her own, and in which those closest to the rabbi are politically ascendant. Continue reading.