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Rabbi Mark Shapiro, who led Glenview synagogue for nearly 4 decades, dead at 85

He started as rabbi of an older West Side synagogue that merged in 1965 with a newer Reform Jewish synagogue to form Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim.

Rabbi Mark Shapiro.
Rabbi Mark Shapiro.
Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim

Rabbi Mark S. Shapiro, longtime leader of Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Glenview, was an eloquent orator and social justice leader who inspired many of his students to become religious leaders themselves.

Rabbi Shapiro, a Northbrook resident, died Aug. 28 at 85 of Parkinson’s disease.

“One of the things he was most proud of is he had many, many, many students — upward of 30 or 40 — who decided to become rabbis and cantors and teachers and Jewish educators,” said Steve Shapiro of Minneapolis, the eldest of Rabbi Shapiro’s three sons. “That was a legacy he was maybe more proud of than anything.”

Rabbi Shapiro led Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim, known as BJBE, in Glenview from 1962 to 2000. Continuing as rabbi emeritus for the synagogue, which has since moved to Deerfield, he presided over funerals until three years ago.

“He was one of the leading rabbis of his generation,” BJBE Rabbi Karyn Kedar said.

A native South Sider and lifelong White Sox fan, Rabbi Shapiro attended Hyde Park High School and the University of Chicago. He received his master of Hebrew Letters with honors and rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, then began his career in 1960 at Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, New York.

Returning to Chicago, he initially was rabbi of the Lower West Side synagogue B’nai Jehoshua, which was founded in 1893 but had seen many of its members follow the pattern of Jewish migration to the suburbs.

In 1965, it merged with a newer Reform Jewish synagogue in Glenview, Beth Elohim, led by Rabbi Shapiro.

“He was young in his career, and he formed the very DNA of the congregation,” Kedar said.

The same year the congregations merged and Rabbi Shapiro and his wife Hanna moved to Glenview, he marched with other religious leaders alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama.

Kedar said he was “a man of conviction” who also was passionate about Israel “before that was in vogue.”

In 1982, he met with the “refuseniks” who were forbidden to emigrate from what was then the Soviet Union and was a founder of the interfaith group United Power for Justice in Action.

In 2016, he published a collection of sermons and other writings in a book titled “Close Your Books” — in other words, pay attention.

Kedar said Rabbi Shapiro’s influence is “the ripple effect that continues on.”

Rabbi Shapiro and his wife Hanna were married for 61 years. In addition to her and his son Steve, he is survived by sons Eliot and David and grandchildren Natalie, Noah and Rose

Funeral services were held Monday at BJBE with burial at B’nai Jehoshua/Zion Gardens Cemetery on the Northwest Side.