January 30, 1951 - August 23, 2021
On Monday, August 23, 2021, Kerry Baker, longtime Austin rabbi and father of three, passed away at age 70. Rabbi Baker was born on January 30, 1951, in New Rochelle, NY. After graduating from Colgate University and attending Hebrew Union College (HUC), he received rabbinic ordination in 1977 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from HUC in 2002 for his dedicated service as a rabbi. He served pulpits in Plattsburgh, NY and Seattle, WA, directed the Santa Barbara Hillel, and was the founding director of the Jewish Education Association in Portland, OR, which later merged with Hillel Academy to become Portland Jewish Academy. He came to Austin in 1987 to serve as the executive director of the Texas Hillel Foundation at UT-Austin and after 10 years founded Congregation Kol Halev, Austin’s post-denominational congregation for progressive worship. In 2009, drawn to share Judaism with a wider audience, he created a website, everybodyneedsarabbi.com, to help all spiritual seekers gain access to and learn from Judaism as a global wisdom tradition. Rabbi Baker was known for his commitments to social justice and interfaith work, and for his affection for Jewish humor. He performed the first state-sanctioned same-sex marriage in the state of Texas in 2015 and participated in Austin’s Abraham Walk, an interfaith dialogue initiative. He devoted a significant part of his career to making Judaism accessible to all as a frequent guest speaker in many faith communities and through his website. In addition to his other leadership roles, he was the “official” rabbi of the Kerrville Folk Festival for many years. Two mainstays of his time in Austin were “Coffee and Conversations at Casa de Baker,” a monthly open house at his home for encouraging connection and community, and the Torah study class that he led every week, covering a few verses in depth at each meeting: the class began with Genesis about 30 years ago, and had recently begun wading into Leviticus. Kerry was preceded in death by his father, William Baker, his mother, Estelle (Wintman) Boxer, and his stepfather, Herman "Hy" Boxer. He is survived by daughter Ilana Hamilton, granddaughter Rowan Hamilton, grandson Lark Hamilton, son Benjamin Baker, daughter-in-law Elisa McCool, Gail Sherman (mother of Ilana and Ben), daughter Emily Baker, Lynda Baker (mother of Emily), sister Bess Singer, and niece Billie Singer. A private funeral service was held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 23, 2021, at Eloise Woods, with Rabbi Steve Folberg and Cantorial Soloist Sarah Avner officiating. A recording of the ceremony is available in the video portion of this tribute page. Virtual shiva minyan services were conducted by Congregation Beth Israel, where Rabbi Baker was a member, with Rabbi Kelly Levy and Cantorial Soloist Sarah Avner officiating; by Congregation Kol Halev, which Rabbi Baker founded, with Rabbi Cantor Robbi Sherwin and the Rev. Dr. Sid Hall officiating; and by Kol Tzedek West Philadelphia Synagogue, where his son Ben and his daughter-in-law Elisa are members, with Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari and Rabbi Monica Gomery officiating. Contributions in honor of Rabbi Baker's memory may be made to the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, or the Democratic Party, which are organizations that he supported, or to any organization that supports social justice or interfaith dialogue.
On Monday, August 23, 2021, Kerry Baker, longtime Austin rabbi and father of three, passed away at age 70. Rabbi Baker was born on January 30, 1951, in New Rochelle, NY. After graduating from Colgate University and attending Hebrew Union College... View Obituary & Service Information
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