The Rev. Al Sharpton has been known to court controversies over the years, but after decades spent battling on behalf of Black Americans the National Action Network founder has become perhaps the most prominent civil rights leader in the country. An MSNBC and radio host who’s the subject of a new documentary called “Loudmouth,” he has used his platform to stand up for the families of slain Black men like Trayvon Martin and George Floyd – and help fuel the Black Lives Matter movement. A former candidate for president, U.S. Senate and New York City mayor, Sharpton became an ally of Barack Obama and a foe of Donald Trump – and was among the first people President Joe Biden told about a possible run for a second term.
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and other New York Catholic leaders stated they would work toward reducing abortion while providing resources for pregnant women. Dolan also penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed chastising Democrats and Republicans over abortion and gun policies that contradict what he calls the church’s “culture of life.” Dolan did manage to keep the peace while hosting both Gov. Kathy Hochul and Rep. Lee Zeldin at the annual Al Smith Dinner in Midtown during the gubernatorial campaign. While Dolan has suffered some major policy setbacks in Albany in recent years, he still has a flock numbering the millions – more than any other single religion in New York.
As founding pastor of the 32,000-member Christian Cultural Center, A.R. Bernard positioned his Brooklyn church and its community service at the “intersection of faith and culture,” leading it to become New York City’s largest house of worship. The former banker served on then-President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board (he later resigned) and then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Faith-Based Sector Advisory Council. Late last year New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams held an interfaith event at Bernard’s church, and this year he hosted U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Easter Sunday.
Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum gave his coveted endorsement to Gov. Kathy Hochul, who privately met with the Satmar Hasidic leader in October. Hochul pledged to support religious education after a report found Hasidic yeshivas denied students a secular education. Teitelbaum’s sect was one of the few ultra-Orthodox groups to back the Democratic governor, who ultimately prevailed over Republican Lee Zeldin by six points. Two days after the election, Teitelbaum told Yeshiva students that Trumpism had “infiltrated the Jewish camp” and chastised his followers for supporting the former president.
Endorsing Gov. Kathy Hochul in the crowded Democratic primary was an easy call for Zalman Teitelbaum. But the Satmar Hasidic leader stayed out of the general election as other ultra-Orthodox leaders got the vote out for her competitor, Republican Lee Zeldin. Teitelbaum’s followers in South Williamsburg largely voted for Zeldin, who campaigned extensively in Orthodox neighborhoods. He may have to mend ties with the Hochul administration, although the governor said regulating yeshivas was not her responsibility – and his sect already enjoys a close relationship with New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
Reconstructionist Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who leads the largest LGBTQ congregation in the country, added an international focus to her advocacy when President Joe Biden appointed her to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2019. Kleinbaum briefly stepped down to help her congregants during the pandemic but has since rejoined the commission. This year, she visited Ukraine with her spouse, AFT’s Randi Weingarten, to meet teachers and students displaced by the war, and pushed Egypt and Iran to release religious prisoners.
The Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr. rooted his early community work in anti-violence campaigns and by serving on the board of the National Action Network. But lately, Walrond, a former congressional candidate, has been drawing national attention for saying it’s “insanity” to believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven and for making it his mission to undo traumas institutionalized religion has inflicted on LGBTQ individuals. So far it’s working: Walrond says his 10,000-member Harlem church is growing because of his focus on young people. His wife, the Rev. LaKeesha Walrond, makes up the other half of this religious power couple. She’s not only a preaching pastor at First Corinthian – she’s also the president of the New York Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
Former Bronx Council Member Fernando Cabrera briefly considered primarying Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before deciding to run for Bronx borough president instead. Cabrera lost to Vanessa Gibson in June, but his close ties with Mayor Eric Adams helped him secure a senior adviser role within City Hall’s newly created Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. The move prompted an outcry from LGBTQ groups, who objected to Cabrera’s views opposing gay marriage and embrace of countries with anti-gay laws; Cabrera has since apologized for his remarks.
David Niederman, the head of the state’s largest Hasidic community, helped sway the New York City Democratic mayoral primary last year by encouraging his Satmar followers to rank Eric Adams among their ballot choices. Niederman and other Hasidic leaders visited Adams in March and hosted him before Rosh Hashanah to discuss antisemitic crimes. Niederman is fending off increased scrutiny after a report found Hasidic yeshivas weren’t providing basic secular educational instruction. He did not endorse either gubernatorial candidate, although many Orthodox voters favored backing Republican candidate Lee Zeldin.
From the Bronx to Washington, D.C., the Rev. Que English has dedicated herself to serving local communities through faith-based initiatives. English now serves as the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In this position, she works with the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. English also serves as president of the Bronx Clergy Criminal Justice Roundtable, which uses a holistic approach to elevate individuals reintegrating into society after incarceration.
For two years, Yeshiva University refused to recognize an undergraduate LGBTQ club, prompting students to sue the Modern Orthodox school for violating state human rights laws. In response, Ari Berman took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in September that Yeshiva must recognize the club. Berman said the court gave the school a “roadmap” for a future victory. In the meantime, Yeshiva canceled all extracurricular clubs before launching its own LGBTQ group, which has yet to hold meetings or attract members.
During the Rev. Floyd H. Flake’s 40-year pastorate of the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York in Jamaica, Queens, the church’s commercial and residential developments and social enterprises have made it one of the largest non-governmental employers in Queens. His impact only grew while serving in Congress for 11 years, where he sat on the Banking and Finance and the Small Business committees. Last year, his wife, the Rev. Elaine M. Flake, succeeded him as senior pastor of the 23,000-member church.
Evangelical megachurches are more prevalent in the suburbs, but downtown Brooklyn boasts one of the largest in the region. For the past four decades, the former college basketball player and author Jim Cymbala has grown the Brooklyn Tabernacle from a congregation of 20 to a small empire with overseas ministries and a choir that has won six Grammy Awards. Cymbala’s latest book, which gives advice to struggling pastors, and the Tabernacle’s newest gospel album, “A Night of Worship,” were both released this year.
The Brooklyn-based religious educator leads a network of 760 independent Hebrew day schools that teach young Orthodox Jews across the country. But Rabbi Zvi Bloom and Torah Umesorah’s torah-based instruction is under increased scrutiny from the state Department of Education after the New York Times reported that yeshivas were not providing an adequate secular education to their students. Torah Umesorah’s leaders vowed to defend their right to teach Jewish texts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and led a campaign that sent the state 300,000 letters opposing legislation regulating yeshiva curricula.
Niagara University’s annual President’s Dinner honored several influential individuals in the Buffalo-Niagara area, including Bishop Darius Pridgen. Pridgen is the senior pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church and is the City of Buffalo’s Common Council president. At Bethel, Pridgen has fostered services for the Buffalo residents seeking essential resources and access to food and clothing. Following the deadly Tops supermarket shooting in May, Pridgen responded with a plan for his congregation to place an emphasis on mental health moving forward.
When the Rev. William Luper abruptly stepped down as Trinity Church’s rector in January 2020, the Episcopal Church’s board tapped its vicar, Philip Jackson, to be their priest-in-charge. Rev. Jackson helped steady the Wall Street institution during the coronavirus pandemic by administering virtual services, ensuring that construction of its new 26-story Trinity Commons headquarters remained on track, and distributing $80 million in grants. By January 2022, Jackson was officially installed as the church’s 19th – and first Black – rector in its 325-year history.
After being trained at the Catholic Theological Union, Bishop Pat Bumgardner struggled to find a church that would ordain a woman – until MCCNY ordained her in 1986. Bumgardner’s Manhattan church has since become a spiritual headquarters for the LGBTQ community in New York City while tackling homelessness and hunger, especially among queer youth. Bumgarner also drives international social justice work through her church’s global justice initiatives. This year, she called out New York City Mayor Eric Adams for making anti-gay appointments to his administration.
Maury Litwack is an influential behind-the-scenes political player in the Orthodox Jewish community with connections at the state Capitol and at City Hall. At the Orthodox Union, an international educational, outreach and social services organization, Litwack heads up its nonpartisan public policy arm – which helped secure $5.5 billion in COVID-19 relief for nonpublic schools and $180 million for security at yeshivas and synagogues last year. Litwack also founded and leads OU’s Teach Coalition, which advocates for government funding for yeshivas and day schools.
After battling with city schools and the New York City Police Department in the Bloomberg era, and later serving in former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Faith-Based Sector Advisory Council, Debbie Almontaser has received a warm welcome from the Adams administration on public safety, education and small business development issues. The educator, Muslim community advocate and interfaith leader has raised awareness about a surge of robberies at bodegas this year and the murders of Muslim men out of state. Almontaser isn’t done fighting with police brass either, arguing that the city’s Muslim community remains traumatized by NYPD surveillance after 9/11.
As head of the largest interdenominational rabbinic body in the world, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik frequently rubs shoulders with the city’s political leaders to promote religious freedom, including working with Gov. Kathy Hochul on a Holocaust education bill and standing with her when she denounced antisemitic attacks. In March, he joined interfaith leaders to pray for the safety of Ukrainians and decry Russian leaders for starting the war. This fall, he attended a Sukkot celebration with dignitaries and even blessed the Fox News Channel’s Christmas Tree.
This year, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America is celebrating the centennial of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which counts 1.5 million among its faithful. The Istanbul-born prelate has used his pulpit as an emissary for foreign dignitaries, welcoming Jordan’s King Abdullah II to New York, meeting with a UNESCO leader over the reconversion of a church to a mosque in October and hosting Greece’s Secretary General of the Interior in November. He also made headlines when he baptized the child of a gay family in Athens in July.
The roots of UJA-Federation of New York go back more than a century, when efforts were launched to fund Jewish hospitals, orphanages and social services organizations. Today, under the leadership of Eric S. Goldstein, the organization, which calls itself “the world’s largest local philanthropy,” remains steadfast in serving Jewish New Yorkers. Goldstein, a former partner at Paul Weiss, has raised a quarter billion dollars over the past year while distributing millions of dollars for COVID-19 response and vaccination and to Ukraine while also battling rising antisemitism.
Catholic Charities took in roughly 1,500 immigrants over the summer after Texas officials listed the nonprofit as their home address. Monsignor Kevin Sullivan worked with New York City and the Biden administration to provide resources and shelter to the asylum seekers, and called on Congress to deal with the country’s immigration crisis so that communities don’t have to manage flare-ups on their own. This Thanksgiving, Sullivan helped Catholic Charities spent $6,000 on rice, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes and distributed 1,100 turkeys to people in need amid rising costs.
As superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York, Michael J. Deegan oversees Catholic schools that educate over 67,000 students across the state. When Cardinal Timothy Dolan appointed the then-deputy superintendent to the lead role in 2019, Deegan expressed his commitment to the mission of a high-quality Catholic education in the face of declining enrollment. Deegan, who touted strong student test scores at Catholic schools during the coronavirus pandemic, has questioned state regulations requiring religious schools to offer instruction that is “substantially equivalent” with public schools.
Jennifer Jones Austin’s anti-poverty advocacy network of over 170 member non-religious agencies and faith-based institutions – FPWA was formerly named the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies – celebrated a significant win this past election season with the passage of three racial justice ballot proposals. Jones Austin chaired the Racial Justice Commission that was empaneled by then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to develop and draft the ballot questions, including one creating an office of racial equity in New York City.
The former council member has leaned on his political acumen to benefit hundreds of thousands of people living in poverty. David Greenfield was one of the few Orthodox Jewish leaders enthusiastically backing Kathy Hochul for re-election, ensuring his Met Council isn’t stiffed during budget season. And Greenfield’s annual Somos shabbos shindig has become one of the must-attend events of the conference. This year, the Met Council’s kosher food bank fed 135,000 people for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Rev. Alfred Cockfield II has been intentional about courting top politicos in the city and state. Recent moves include his hosting Andrew Cuomo for his first in-person remarks after resigning as governor amid sexual misconduct accusations and creating a political action committee that raised $1 million for Eric Adams’ successful New York City mayoral campaign. Cockfield, who has spent much of his career starting and supporting charter schools for the underserved, also serves on the board of the Long Island Power Authority.
The Rev. Herbert Daughtry mentored Eric Adams for decades, including encouraging him to join the police force and lending his credibility to Adams’ mayoral campaign. He similarly inspired the likes of New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Council Member Charles Barron. Daughtry, who serves as national presiding minister emeritus of The House of the Lord Churches in Brooklyn, has united ministers to work for peace in Iraq and participated in a delegation to South Africa, where he met Nelson and Winnie Mandela.
After retiring in 2015, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein gained late-career fame for his overseeing Ivanka Trump’s conversion and backing out of an appearance to speak at the Republican National Convention in 2016. The Modern Orthodox rabbi has since condemned the Trump administration’s response to antisemitic violence in Charlottesville. His successor, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, led a rabbinical mission to Ukraine in March and regularly contributes essays on faith and politics for the Jewish Journal.
The head of the Islamic Schools Association and principal of Al-Ishan Academy in South Ozone Park has been working to advance Muslim educational and cultural life in New York City for decades. Rafeek Mohamed was part of a campaign for the city to add Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha to the public school calendar, as well as one to add NYPD school guards in private schools. He recently hosted a visit with New York City Mayor Eric Adams in his first year in office.
The Rev. Serene Jones’s 2019 memoir got people talking when she questioned the resurrection of Jesus and called the virgin birth a “bizarre claim.” Since then, the former New York City Clergy Advisory Council member has been a regular cable news contributor on issues of religion and politics. She urged faith leaders to defend women’s reproductive rights before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and said on MSNBC that abortion was not a biblical topic. Jones also called Florida Gov. Ron Desantis a white supremacist for advancing Christian nationalist ideas.
Before Al Taylor was known around Upper Manhattan as a state Assembly member, he was renowned for his walking ministry as a pastor at Infinity Mennonite Church in Harlem. In 2008, Taylor helped create the walking ministry known as “Man Up In Harlem” to gather the community in the wake of gun violence. The pastor told Mennonite Church USA Communications that violence in the local community was reduced through the prayer walks, not by telling people to put guns away, “but by the power of prayer.” Taylor recently announced a Democratic primary challenge against socialist New York City Council Member Kristin Richardson Jordan.
Since 1962, Rabbi Arthur Schneier has cultivated his Upper East Side synagogue into one of the country’s top centers for Modern Orthodox Jewish life, even hosting Pope Benedict XVI. But a bitter succession battle came into public view when the nonagenarian abruptly fired Assistant Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt last October in an internecine conflict that split the congregation. Goldschmidt has since started a new congregation nearby, while Park East announced in March it was seeking a new rabbi to work with Schneier and eventually succeed him.
Today’s urban ministry looks different and has different needs than it has in the past. Timothy Keller, former pastor and founder of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, knows that firsthand: Since 2017, the popular pastor and author has served as chair and co-founder of Redeemer City to City, training others to plant churches in New York and cities around the globe and giving faith leaders the resources to build networks among them – a need felt all the more acutely as the world’s population continues shifting toward cities.
In early May, Armenian religious leaders chose the Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan over two other rivals to head the Eastern Diocese of America, which oversees 60 churches between the northeast and Texas. The Armenia-born minister was officially confirmed primate of the diocese in June at a ceremony at the St. Vartan Cathedral in Manhattan, though a severe car accident he suffered the following month in upstate New York has delayed some of his plans for the church. Fortunately, Parsamyan initially recovered from the crash at Albany Medical Center and, since September, has continued to rehabilitate in New York City.
Anisha Singh and the Sikh Coalition go way back. The civil rights leader once volunteered as a teenager with the organization that she was chosen to head after a nationwide search in May. Singh immediately got to work lobbying Congress to authorize domestic terrorism offices within the FBI and strengthen enforcement of hate crime laws in the aftermath of an attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin a decade ago. She also shared her support of abortion rights in May and condemned an Islamic State attack on an Sikh site in Kabul in June.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church has a shortage of at least 600 priests nationally due to a wave of retirements since the start of the pandemic. That has led Bishop Paul Egensteiner, who was elected to lead the radically inclusive LGBTQ-friendly branch of the church in 2019, to make some tough decisions. Last year, the Lutheran governing body pulled funding from Greenpoint’s Park Church Co-op and closed it in June despite pushback from the community. The Synod is also challenging the sale of a pair of five-story Upper East Side apartment buildings that Immanuel Lutheran Church owns.
The United Methodist Church has long been a big-tent denomination for Protestants, but has undergone a painful schism since traditionalists narrowly passed a ban on ordaining LGBTQ clergy or officiating same-sex marriages in 2019. When Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, who has led UMC’s New York branch for six years, was chosen as president of the Council of Bishops in April, he acknowledged a breakup was near. Bickerton has called out breakaway conservative factions, criticized the overturning of Roe v. Wade and vowed that Methodists would fight racism and the effects of colonialism.
After making the move from leading Immanuel Lutheran Church in Niskayuna in 2015 to run the Lutheran Church’s Atlantic Division, the Rev. Derek Lecakes has sought to stabilize the synod amid declining membership afflicting many denominations. Lecakes oversaw the closure of Christ Lutheran Church in 2019 and the sale of Concordia College New York’s Bronxville campus to Iona College in 2021. In August, the bishop was easily reelected to his third term as president on the first ballot and in September led a discussion on LGBTQ issues among the synod’s council of presidents.
The longtime Episcopal bishop was instrumental in getting his diocese to secure $1.1 million from its endowment for a “Year of Reparation” in 2019 for its direct role in perpetuating slavery in America. That work will continue well past Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche’s tenure. The bishop, whose ecumenical work was singled out for praise by Pope Francis, announced in November 2021 he would retire following the installation of a successor in 2023. An election for a coadjutor at Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine will occur in December.
By the time the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson was 19, he was the full-time pastor of two churches in Richmond. His lifelong commitment to faith and service is evidenced by his roles as chair of the Conference of National Black Churches and chair of the National Action Network, where he works alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton to tackle criminal justice issues, police brutality and voting rights. Richardson recently vocalized his support for reproductive rights, especially for Black women, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.
The Rev. Chloe Breyer, the Episcopal priest and daughter of a former Supreme Court justice, wrote a much-heralded memoir that explored her journey to make a positive impact on the world. Breyer’s decades-long experience ministering in jails gave her the authority to demand New York City Mayor Eric Adams follow through on a plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex by 2027. Breyer also helped the Adams administration create an office of faith-based partnerships and participated in a roundtable discussion about faith-based organizations with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in March.
Gilford Monrose’s proven ability to bring voices of faith into conversations addressing urban challenges led then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to make him director of the office’s faith-based and clergy initiatives. This year, Mayor Adams tapped Monrose to lead his Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. In this role, Monrose, the pastor of Brooklyn’s historic Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day, engages congregations across the city to help asylum-seeking migrants in New York.
With $470 million in grants to nonprofits serving underserved communities, the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation has been a pillar in serving the health needs of New Yorkers. At the helm of the organization is its first CEO, Monsignor Gregory Mustaciuolo, who brings experience leading operations at the Archdiocese of New York, where he served the pastoral and financial needs of over 2.6 million Catholics and 600 employees across various parishes and charities.
Bishop Waylyn Hobbs Jr. has been leading the congregation at Coney Island Cathedral for 28 years, binding together elected officials and grassroots leaders to bring retail development and overall revival to the area. The pastor last year was elected mayor of the village of Hempstead, which Hobbs suggested recently could be upgraded to a city – and thus secure more state funds. Hobbs’ footprint also extends internationally. As presiding bishop of the Restoration Fellowship, he’s working to uplift pastors and foster unity between church leaders and affiliate congregations.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints made history in November backing federal same-sex marriage legislation, as long as it didn’t infringe on the groups’ right to worship. The move gave cover for Mormon lawmakers to pass the bill and provided some good publicity for the Mormon Church. Now, its New York PR guru Ryan Koch is overseeing a Giving Machine outside its Lincoln Center temple to provide gifts for children during the holidays. Koch also coordinated the Wilbur awards program recognizing religion coverage in the news.
With New York’s Haredi communities facing multiple crises, Rabbi Yeruchim Silber has been a busy man. Silber pushed the state to provide $43 million for nonprofits to improve their facilities’ security in light of rising antisemitic attacks. His organization led a COVID-19 vaccination drive in Hasidic communities while pushing back on city vaccination mandates for private school teachers. He also forcefully opposed state regulations into Hasidic schools after a bombshell investigation found many yeshivas failed to provide a basic secular education despite taking public subsidies.
The Rev. Jacques A. DeGraff’s social justice pedigree traces back to Martin Luther King Jr. through his pastor – and King’s former chief of staff – the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker. DeGraff serves Harlem’s Canaan Baptist Church while advocating for equity for the African American community on various boards. DeGraff, who leads COVID-19 and vaccine outreach to churches through his role on the National Black Clergy Health Leadership Council, is a longtime supporter of efforts to increase business contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses.
The Rev. Peter Cook, who represents 7,000 congregations across the state, has pushed Gov. Kathy Hochul to transfer incarcerated people out of Rikers and rallied with home care workers to boost their wages in the state budget. Cook rose to national prominence by using his platform to drive a wedge between gun ownership and Christianity after a gunman killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket in May. Cook argued for stricter gun control legislation, including an assault weapons ban and a national red flag law.
The Brooklyn College professor has been a clarion voice for peace and unity since he began leading the Buddhist Council nearly five years ago. James Lynch condemned the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border and pushed for Diwali to be made a public school holiday, as well as the recognition of Buddha Day. In August, Lynch joined interfaith leaders to call on nations to end the proliferation of nuclear weapons and disarm existing stocks of warheads.
The celebrity-friendly Hamptons rabbi, son of a Park East scion and New York Post fixture, has increasingly turned his attention to foreign affairs in the Biden era. Reporters were surprised to see Rabbi Marc Schneier mediating a confab between the Israeli and Turkish presidents in March. He also led an interfaith congress in Kazakhstan, advised the King of Bahrain, and helped Qatar accommodate Jewish visitors during the World Cup (by providing kosher bagels). But Schneier hasn’t abandoned the Hamptons. He frequently hosted New York City Mayor Eric Adams at his Westhampton shul over the summer.
Rabbi Rachel Timoner became increasingly worried that New York City Mayor Eric Adams was only hearing from conservative Orthodox Jewish leaders. So the progressive Park Slope rabbi invited 55 women clergy for a meeting with the mayor. Timoner is no stranger to organizing campaigns. She and 18 other rabbis flew to Poland to distribute medical supplies to Ukrainian refugees in March. And she has spoken out against Benjamin Netanyahu and the direction far-right leaders have taken Israel. This fall, Timoner appears in the heart-wrenching documentary “Last Flight Home,” about her father’s assisted suicide, that her sister directed.
Uma Mysorekar had a gynecology and obstetrics practice in Queens for three decades, but a powerful calling to meet the spiritual needs of her community beckoned. After getting involved with the Hindu Temple Society in the 1980s, Mysorekar began serving as its president in 1994 and expanded its facilities and youth and senior programming. Queens leaders joined Mysorekar to celebrate the unveiling of a street renaming honoring the temple in April and her longtime advocacy for making Diwali a school holiday came to fruition six months later.
The Orthodox school administrator used his business acumen to transform Darchei Torah into the flagship Yeshiva in Queens. The campus also became a crucial campaign stop as Rabbi Baruch Rothman courted then-Senate Leader John Flanagan, state legislative candidates, and then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams when he ran for mayor last year. Rothman was one of the few Orthodox leaders to endorse Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul for reelection over Republican Lee Zeldin, which should pay dividends down the line as the state Board of Regents increases scrutiny on yeshivas to over secular academic standards.
Though the Rev. Brian J. Shanley was elected to lead St. John’s University in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, his 15 years as Providence College’s longest-serving president prepared him well. Beloved by many in the Providence community, Shanley is credited with strengthening the college’s religious mission and athletics program, as well as raising its national profile. Now at St. John’s, he’s focused on boosting enrollment and diversifying the university’s faculty. Shanley has taught philosophy at various institutions and his work is published in several academic journals.
As president of the largest Jewish-sponsored educational institution in the country, Dr. Alan Kadish is a cardiologist, teacher and researcher, bringing decades of experience in administrative education and scientific research. Kadish held tenure for nearly 20 years at Northwestern University before becoming Touro’s senior provost and chief operating officer in 2009. One year later, he assumed the role of president, in which he currently leads the institution’s expansion across states, recently adding podiatric medicine to its existing medical and health science schools and programs.
Brooklyn pastor, Spanish-language radio founder and former mayoral candidate the Rev. Erick Salgado developed a close relationship with New York City Mayor Eric Adams while Adams was borough president, so it was no surprise when Adams tapped Salgado for a top role in the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. Salgado’s past views on marriage equality roiled LGBTQ and immigration leaders – and even rank-and-file city employees – who all questioned the hiring. Salgado said his views have “evolved” over time.
The Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., a former state senator and Bronx council member, officially retired from politics in 2020 after his failed congressional bid – but he didn’t leave the political scene for long. He opposed Democratic bail reform laws in an op-ed and hosted Andrew Cuomo at a Hispanic clergy meeting in March when the former governor teased a comeback. This fall, Diaz campaigned in the South Bronx multiple times with gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, urging his neighbors to support the Republican hopeful in November.
For the past decade, Ya’akov Trump has helped the Five Towns Orthodox Jewish community thrive on the western edge of Long Island. Trump (no relation to the former president) helped open the community’s only kosher rehab facility in 2018 and coordinated Narcan training at the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC as the opioid epidemic spread. Since then, Trump has contributed to an All Daf Torah app created by Orthodox Union, celebrated the dedication of a new Sefer Torah, and hosted former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Much of Bishop Mitchell G. Taylor’s work is influenced by his life growing up in and around NYCHA’s Queensbridge Houses. Taylor founded the Center of Hope International, a church located nearby the housing complex. Serving as senior pastor, Taylor provides a safe haven for children seeking after school activities and nourishment for local families through its Bread of Life pantry. In 2004, Bishop Taylor also co-founded Urban Upbound, connecting Queens public housing residents with financial opportunities that promote economic growth.
Following the World Trade Center Attacks, Bishop Fernando Rodriguez received “a calling from God” to create the Latin/African American Chaplains Association. Under Rodriguez’s leadership, the association strives to provide peace through faith in times of crisis, providing several chaplains to help first responders cope with the trauma of the September 11 attacks. Rodriguez’s more recent activities through LACA include endorsements to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s gubernatorial campaign and fundraising for Ukraininians in need. He also runs the nondenominational Fellowship of Christian Churches, a 42-church association.
Abyssinian Baptist Church congregants were struggling with their grief at the first Sunday service after their longtime pastor Calvin O. Butts III died in October. The Rev. Raschaad Hoggard, who led the funeral and provided comfort to his fellowship, is poised to continue the legacy of the Harlem pillar and near-mayoral candidate whose nonprofit development corporation invested $1 billion into neighborhood schools, affordable housing and social services. Hoggard is also a recent graduate of the Fordham Graduate School of Education and celebrated its Baccalaureate Mass with the president of Fordham University in June.
Appointed the first Muslim chaplain at both New York University and Princeton, Imam Khalid Latif committed to NYU’s Islamic Center 15 years ago, leading it to become the first established Muslim student center at a higher education institution in the U.S. Empowering the voices of young Muslims, Latif is the board chair and co-founder of Pillars of Peace, which advocates for rights of survivors of gender-based violence. He also co-founded Honest Chops, a charity venture and the first all-natural halal butcher in the city.
Abraham J. Jules is the regional leader for the 60,000-member Northeastern Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists, a Christian denomination known for marking the Sabbath on Saturday, not Sunday. In November, Northeastern Conference leaders met with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Jules has also joined with other faith leaders to call for the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex and to condemn gun violence, such as the mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store that left 10 dead earlier this year.
The Rev. David K. Brawley’s pastoral work encompasses the community of East New York
where he has marshaled philanthropic dollars for urban development, worked to build affordable housing, founded an all-boys charter school and advocated for public school reforms. He writes regularly for the Daily News about addressing challenges in his community and has been working closely with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and local law enforcement to get guns off the street and help reduce crime.
The Rev. Lisa Jenkins Brown is dedicated to creating spaces where diversity and inclusion are cherished. She is the first woman – and was the first single mother – to pastor her nearly century-old church, a position in which she has overseen free COVID-19 testing and flu shots, criminal justice reform workshops and free meals for hundreds of New Yorkers. As the CEO of LDJ Global Connection, she is also a sought-after presenter and public speaker in corporate, academic and faith-based settings. Her recent marriage to Vincent Brown, who works in mental health, was featured in The New York Times.
Navigating coronavirus surges over the past three years of the pandemic has been challenging for most educators, but the Riverdale yeshiva leader made tough decisions for the safety of his community. Bini Krauss’ school was likely the first Jewish school in the country to close in March 2020 and pivot to remote learning after some students caught COVID-19. During the last school year, SAR Academy stayed open for in-person instruction thanks to mask requirements and social distancing. But the school took a wait-and-see approach as omicron cases spiked last December.
The Rev. Clinton Miller once wanted to be a lawyer, but instead has led the historic Clinton Hill church for two decades. His mostly Black 1,200-member congregation has welcomed multiple candidates for office during its well-attended Sunday services – such as his longtime friend, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries – although Miller and other clergy have been careful about making endorsements. This year, Miller backed fellow minister Conrad Tillard’s unsuccessful bid for state Senate. He also mourned the passing of his mentor the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III.
Michael Miller built up a reputation as New York’s “Jewish peacemaker” as divisions over Israel and domestic politics have fractured the community before announcing his retirement in June 2021. His successor, Gideon Taylor, has prioritized building relationships with the region’s young leaders and sponsoring trips to Israel for elected officials. The JCRC has also combatted antisemitism by providing safety training to Jewish institutions and monitoring social media for threats, which stymied a planned attack on a New York synagogue in November.
The Revs. Terry Troia and Karen Jackson work as president and CEO and director of community initiatives at Project Hospitality, a nonprofit addressing poverty and homelessness issues in Staten Island. They also both serve in executive leadership positions with the Staten Island Long Term Recovery Organization, which was formed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy to help with disaster recovery. Utilizing their vast network of partner organizations, these community leaders have consistently delivered critical services in the wake of COVID-19 and Hurricane Ida.
This past summer, Tania Tetlow became the first layperson and woman in the 181-year existence of Fordham University, a prominent Jesuit institution, to hold the presidential seat – and it’s not her first rodeo. Tetlow hails from Loyola University New Orleans, where she also broke the same series of “firsts” and accomplished a slew of feats, including overseeing the completion of Loyola’s most ambitious fundraising campaign. Before entering higher education, Tetlow was a federal prosecutor whose research as a law scholar helped the U.S. Department of Justice develop new anti-discrimination policies.
The Rev. Carl Washington has worked with clergy across Harlem to impact public policy in
the areas of health, community affairs and civil rights. His church is home to Assembly Member Inez Dickens and has been an anchor in the community for over 100 years. He has pastored there for over 20 years and leads the Empire Missionary Baptist Association, a support network for Baptist churches in New York state that was founded by African American clergymen in 1895.
Acharya Vijah Ramjattan, the head of this Queens-based Hindu organization, orchestrated New York City’s first Madrassi parade in Richmond Hill in 2017. Ramjattan has since mobilized the Indo-Caribbean community to speak out against anti-Muslim violence and lobby City Hall for a Diwali school holiday, which Mayor Eric Adams announced would be added to New York City’s public school calendar in 2023. Ramjattan was also on hand to celebrate the Adams administration’s creation of a new Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships.
Linda LeMura made history when she became the first female layperson to be named president of a higher education Jesuit institution in the U.S. With her contract extended through 2026, LeMura plans to continue leading the college through a period of record-breaking enrollment. LeMura oversaw the completion of the largest fundraising campaign in the college’s history, is committed to entwining the greater Syracuse community with the college and has advocated for increasing Pell Grants to address equity issues in higher education.
Following an 18-month deliberation by a specially crafted search committee, the Rev. Adriene Thorne was appointed the eighth senior minister of the Riverside Church and first African American woman to hold the position. Thorne had previously served the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn since 2016, spent eight years at Middle Collegiate Church and co-founded the award-winning Brooklyn Heights Community Fridge in 2021. She has served on several boards and task forces, and advocated for the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the Reformed Church in America.
University prepared him for a cross-country detour to become the first person of color and youngest named president of Canisius College. Also an attorney, Stoute has worked in corporate and securities law and brings higher education experience from Princeton University and the University of Southern California. Under Stoute, Canisius became the first Western New York college to formally remove standardized tests in evaluating college applications following an optional pandemic-implemented policy.
In 2017 Damyn Kelly began leading Lutheran Social Services of New York, an organization formed in 1886 when 11 Lutheran congregations teamed up to take care of orphans in New York City. Today, with a budget of over $60 million, the group provides support services to thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers daily. For his impactful work, Kelly was one of hundreds appointed to New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ transition team. His organization will soon begin providing immigrants’ rights workshops to help individuals, regardless of immigration status, navigate the resources available to them.
Rajan S. Mathews, a former telecommunications executive in India, took over as president of the Alliance Theological Seminary in the spring of 2021. The seminary, which is located in lower Manhattan, is affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a Christian denomination known for its emphasis on sending missionaries around the globe. Mathews is also the president of Alliance University, which this year changed its name from Nyack College. Assembly Member Al Taylor is a graduate of Alliance University.
The Rev. Charles O. Galbreath’s position as senior pastor at Clarendon Road Church is just one of many roles. Galbreath is a key figure within the Christian and Missionary Alliance, serving on the Christian denomination’s board of directors and as an associate dean at its Alliance Theological Seminary. He also serves on Brooklyn’s Community Board 17 and is the treasurer of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council. Galbreath was on hand for the rollout of New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ new Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnership in February, and the mayor paid a visit to Galbreath’s Brooklyn church in April 2021.
When a woman doused the front of Yeshiva of Flatbush in gasoline and set a fire in October 2021, Rabbi Joseph Beyda said the incident was a “teachable moment” for students about what kind of city they want in the future. Incidents of antisemitism have sadly been increasingly common in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and Beyda has encouraged his students to tackle hatred in creative ways including Purim spiels. He has since sought to add safeguards and criminal background checks for faculty after a former teacher was arrested for soliciting photos from students.
With a growing student body and increased technology and infrastructure demands, St. Francis College is expanding out of Brooklyn Heights, adding a new campus to Downtown Brooklyn. Serving as the college’s president since 2017, Miguel Martinez-Saenz recently penned an op-ed in the Brooklyn Paper about the role of colleges in the borough’s revitalization and recovery. The president of the Franciscan institution brings experience from his time as provost at Otterbein University, where he led internationalization efforts, including a three-year global arts initiative.
As the oldest Black church in New York state, Mother AME Zion Church stands as a pillar in the Harlem community and as a Freedom Church, having existed as a Black church prior to the abolition of slavery. At the helm of its mission and plan for revival is the Rev. Malcolm J. Byrd, a liberation theologian calling for a new renaissance for Harlem’s Black community. Byrd is active in the push for more affordable housing, historical preservation and overall political and economic support of the church’s surrounding community.
UJA-Federation of New York, a powerhouse Jewish philanthropy, counts President Amy Bressman, board Chair David L. Moore and CEO Eric S. Goldstein among the public faces leading the organization. But a key behind-the-scenes player at the organization is Hindy Poupko, who has strengthened connections with other ethnic and faith leaders while taking on antisemitism. Poupko was previously a managing director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, where she built support for Israel. She also has testified before the New York City Council against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
For over three decades, Richard Witt has helmed The Rural & Migrant Ministry, standing firm behind state legislation, such as the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act of 2019. The ordained Episcopal priest recently threw his support behind New York’s first farm-worker union, Local 338, as its negotiations stalled with the Long Island winery, Pindar Vineyards. Witt acknowledged influence among farmworkers, telling WSHU Public Radio that there’s possible pressure on Pindar by the industry to not to settle a contract due to a fear of empowerment that could influence other farmworkers.
Since 2014, the ordained United Church of Christ minister has worked to unite faith and labor leaders in a statewide movement for racial and economic justice. The Rev. E. West McNeill has been on the forefront of a $15 minimum wage campaign, extending a pandemic-era moratorium on evictions, improving living conditions in corrections facilities and shielding undocumented immigrants from deportation. McNeill gave a sermon on social justice work at a Peace With Justice conference in June and stood with the Shinnecock Indian Nation on Indigenous Peoples Day.
New York City politicians covet the impact the Rev. Johnnie Melvin Green Jr. has in the village of Harlem. Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Mount Neboh to shore up her base when her campaign was struggling and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo was vaccinated against COVID-19 there, flanked by press and local Black leaders. Green shepherded his congregation through a tough COVID-19 outbreak among its members and continues to advocate for minority voices through his work with the Rev. Al Sharpton and as CEO of a faith-based community advocacy group.
An unfair punishment in a second grade classroom and outspoken parents put the Rev. Myra Brown on the path to pastoral work – and her current position guiding the flock at Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester. Brown made local headlines when she stood face-to-face against a force of police officers that besieged protesters amid tensions surrounding the controversial police killing of Daniel Prude in 2020. Brown’s church then served as a safe haven for demonstrators during the ensuing protests over the death and a coverup. She also founded the church’s racial justice ministry.
Last year, Antioch Baptist Church in Brooklyn celebrated its centennial with the theme of 100 Years of Rising, Restoring, Reaching, Rejoicing. The Rev. Robert Waterman’s service to Antioch champions this theme with over two decades of service as a pastor, as the church has flourished through renewed youth programs and the restoration of its aging infrastructure. Under Waterman’s leadership, the church stayed afloat during COVID-19 while many others suffered. Waterman, who also founded the African American Clergy & Elected Officials Association, mounted an unsuccessful New York City Council bid last year.
The former Assembly member from Brooklyn and head of the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services helped the state administer thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses and was considered in 2021 to lead the state Cannabis Control Board. But since Camara left public service in June, that office has received criticism for being ineffective under both the Cuomo and Hochul administrations. This past summer, Camara helped Crown Heights’ First Baptist Church celebrate its 69th anniversary and mourned the passing of Brooklyn political heavyweight Al Vann.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs is part of a growing community of progressive leaders scrutinizing mainstream Jewish organizations for refusing to condemn the rise of far-right Zionism. Her organization T’ruah, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, has grown to boast 2,300 members and a $2 million budget. In September, Jacobs launched a think tank to fund research and publish essays countering conservative journals and institutes funded by right-wing billionaires. In the meantime, she has mobilized thousands of voters and pressed the Biden administration to help asylum-seekers by ending Title 42.
The Rev. Stephen Pogue has worn many hats throughout his time at AME Zion Church. During his tenure at Greater Centennial AME Zion Church in Harlem, Pogue started the hip-hop church whose services have been featured on major news networks. He currently serves as the pastor of Greater Centennial, bringing experience from Harlem and Oakland, California, to lead the congregation. He also serves as president of the United Black Clergy of Westchester, a coalition dedicated to community involvement and social justice.
The Flushing Buddhist leader has co-sponsored interfaith events celebrating the rich diversity of cultures in Queens. Along the way, Venerable Youwang Shih developed close relationships with New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who chose him to serve on his clergy transition committee in December 2021. Shih helped City Hall establish its first Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, which he praised for fostering coexistence. He also gave an invocation at Adams’ 100 Days address in April, noting that his government can “sow the seeds for the illness or health” of the city.
In the 212-year history of Park Avenue Christian Church, the congregation never saw a female pastor until the Rev. Kaji Spellman Douša came along. The Yale graduate also serves on the editorial board for the United Church of Christ’s Still Speaking Writers’ Group. Much of her faith-based work is highlighted with New Sanctuary Coalition, an organization that provides a safety net for immigrants at risk of deportation and detention. Douša directed prayers and offered counseling for migrants, and was in fact a target of a U.S. border surveillance program.
Rev. Lawrence Aker IIISenior PastorCornerstone Baptist ChurchThe Rev. Lawrence Aker III has served Cornerstone Baptist Church since 1998 and became the 102-year-old church’s eighth pastor in 2003. In 2019, former President Bill Clinton visited the Brooklyn church, which was nominated to the state and national registers of historic places, to see energy-efficient upgrades installed with help from his nonprofit. Aker served on the Justice 2020 committee convened by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez to reform the borough’s justice system and reduce incarceration rates.
This year, when political and faith leaders across the city celebrated the convergence of Passover, Ramadan and Easter, Imam Tahir Kukaj’s Albanian Islamic Cultural Center hosted the event. Kukaj regularly represents the Islamic faith at interfaith convenings both in his home borough of Staten Island and across New York City. He also serves as a chaplain for the New York City Police Department and was selected by Mayor Eric Adams to sit on the clergy committee of his transition team.
The Rev. Demetrius S. Carolina Sr. serves Staten Islanders as senior pastor of First Central Baptist Church and as executive director of Central Family Life Center, a social services nonprofit. Last year, he was appointed by then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board. He also helped to lead the formation of the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Staten Island and to introduce the Cure Violence model to the borough.
It took 30 years and several sacrifices for Pastor Samuel Wong and his wife Katty to own and operate their dream church, which they say was a gift for God, and not for them. Wong founded the Chinese Promise Baptist Church in 1983, renting space from an existing church and eventually purchasing his own for a whopping $2 million in 2013. Now wielding ownership of his own religious space, Wong extends his courtesy by opening the several other floors to other churches to conduct services.
Bishop Victor Brown’s preaching prowess lifted him to the position of international bishop and liaison to the United Nations with the Worldwide Fellowship of Independent Christian Churches, an organization that helps global churches that don’t belong to a single denomination. On a local level, his impact as a New York City pastor is still significant within his community thanks to his leadership in addressing local concerns such as crime and health access.
Imam Mohammed Sherzad came to America with his family at 22 looking to cultivate a permanent space for the Afghan community. Over 30 years later, he remains the longtime imam of the Masjid Hazrat Abu-Bakr Siddique mosque in Flushing, Queens. Imam Sherzad was also a subject in a recent Time magazine article highlighting the Dar Al Taqwa Islamic Center – a refuge spot for Afghan teens where he and others work to support refugees as they start new lives in the United States.
Leading the Upper West Side synagogue that held the first bat mitzvah in the country has been a privilege for Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Hermann, who created an event commemorating how the centennial anniversary helped advance Jewish women. But she is looking toward the future and has sought to alter the language and spirit of the boundary-breaking ritual to become more gender-neutral. She has also called on New York City leaders to end solitary confinement in jails and made the New York Post for canceling a Republican club’s October event featuring consultant Dick Morris.
Father Juan Luxama and his brother Porez co-founded Life of Hope – an East Flatbush-based nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering youth and immigrant families similar to their own. The organization provides community members access to myriad after school service programs, adult literacy and English as a second language classes, and spiritual support forums and events. The Haitian-born Father Luxama was also appointed to New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ 62-member clergy committee as part of the mayor’s 2021 transition team.