Lawrence Troster, Chester County Rabbi and Environmental Activist, Has Died at 65

Rabbi Lawrence Troster
Rabbi Lawrence Troster cooking (Photo courtesy of Kesher Israel Congregation)

One night, when Elaine Kahn had just started dating the man who would become her husband — the two met as students at the University of Toronto — they stayed up until the wee hours while he explained medieval German Jewish town government structures.

“It was completely fascinating,” Kahn recalled, “and I was like, ‘I will never be bored for a minute with this person. This is who I want to get married to.’”

That person was Lawrence Troster. He would go on to become a rabbi, serving at Kesher Israel Congregation in West Chester. He also became a leading Jewish environmental activist. On May 24, he died at 65. According to Kahn, he had prostate cancer, which was first diagnosed 17 years ago.

Troster’s interests were wide-ranging. He was passionate about social justice, and enjoyed learning about art, music and just about anything else, Kahn said. He did work in bioethics, interfaith relations and lobbied the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the Conservative movement to ordain women, Kahn said.

“He had a lot of integrity, a very honest man,” Kahn said. “Politics was not his game. He wasn’t good at political maneuvers. What you saw was what you got, and he was an absolutely fabulous, fabulous father. Our daughters have been extremely lucky. From the time they were too big to pick up, he had been saying, ‘OK. I want to be a zayde someday. This was not pushing them to get married early or anything like that. He just loved little kids and wanted to be a zayde.”

At the time they met, Troster wasn’t planning on becoming a rabbi. He wanted to become a Jewish history professor. He decided to pursue the rabbinate because there was a need and he could still teach in that role. He obtained his rabbinical ordination from JTS. JTS later awarded him with an honorary doctorate for his more than 25 years of rabbinic service.

He had been the spiritual leader at Kesher Israel for four years when he died, but will have a permanent presence there via the synagogue’s Ner Tamid. During his time there, he set up a green team, leading to a solar-powered Ner Tamid at the synagogue.

Troster also made efforts to make the community more inclusive by, for example, loosening kashrut policy and allowing community members to bring dairy and vegetarian dishes into the synagogue, President Sean Donovan said. Kesher Israel also put streaming services in place for community members to watch services at home, at Troster’s encouragement. Streaming services make it easier for those who can’t come to the synagogue — whether they are physically homebound or can’t attend for another reason — to participate.

In a Jewish community like West Chester, where there are few synagogues, inclusivity is especially important, Donovan said.

“He could be doing magic tricks for the preschoolers, then go teach a class to the intellects of the intellects in our community, then go have a beer,” Donovan said. “He humanized the rabbinate for us.”

Most of all, Troster was a family man. His face lit up whenever his grandchildren would come to Kesher Israel and sit on the bimah, Donovan said.

His extensive environmental activism was partially informed by his love for his family. That work included founding Shomrei Breishit: Rabbis and Cantors for the Earth and serving as the rabbinic scholar-in-residence of GreenFaith and the rabbi-in-residence for the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College, among other positions. He wrote Mekor Hayyim: A Source Book on Water and Judaism and a chapter on Jewish environment ethics in The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews.

In 2005, Troster was invited to attend the International Conference on Environment, Peace and the Dialogue Among Civilizations and Cultures in Tehran. He was the only rabbi among the 50 invitees, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Troster was hesitant about going, but decided it was important to bring Jewish representation to the conference.

“He wanted the world to be safe for his children and eventually for his grandchildren,” Kahn said.

Troster is survived by his wife, Elaine Kahn; his daughters and sons-in-law, Sara Kahn Troster and David Freidenreich and Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster and Paul Pelavin; his grandchildren, Naomi and Jacob Freidenreich and Liora and Aliza Pelavin; his sister Cyrel Troster; his brother Joel Troster; his sister-in-law Sheryl Smolkin; his mother-in-law Carol Kahn; his sister-in-law Rochelle Kahn; and nieces, nephews and cousins.

Donations in his memory may be made to Arava Institute or Kesher Israel Congregation.; 215-832-0729


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