Rabbi Rises Up to Equal Rights

By Cory Olesen

Rabbi Steven Lebow has been the leader of Temple Kol Emeth in East Cobb for over 30 years. “It’s not common,” says Steven. “I expected it to be a three- to five-year position.” But as the congregation grew from 40 families to over 400, he and his family were able to stay and put down roots. After 34 years, Steven is set to retire this spring, leaving behind a legacy of community activism and social justice. “I was not the most popular man in town,” Steven reminisces, referring to his involvement with pro-gay rights during the early ’90s.

In the spring of 1993, Cobb County passed a resolution that condemned homosexuality, sparking national criticism. After an invitation to the Cobb Citizens Coalition, which was fighting the resolution, Steven realized “there were no other straight clergymen who would stand up for them [the gay community] and my wife said, ‘You’ve got to do something.’ So I organized the resistance.” In the summer of ’94, he organized a gay rights demonstration on Marietta Square attended by thousands.

Another cause Steven is passionate about is Leo Frank. “It’s the most famous unsolved mystery case in the history of Georgia,” recounts Steven. In 1913, 13-year-old Mary Phagan was murdered and Frank was convicted, despite evidence pointing to another man, Jim Conley. After his appeals went all the way up to the Supreme Court, Frank’s sentence was eventually commuted to life imprisonment. Outraged, a group of locals formed a lynch mob that abducted Frank from prison in Milledgeville and drove him 175 miles back to Marietta, where he was hanged. Frank was granted a posthumous pardon in 1986, but Steven is seeking exoneration. When asked why he took up this particular cause, Steven replied, “He has no family members … so it sort of fell to me to be Leo Frank’s rabbi.” He plans to continue to work on Frank’s case after he retires from Temple Kol Emeth. When the rabbi is not busy with services or bar and bat mitzvahs, he enjoys eating at Bagelicious and Frankie’s “on Roswell Road.”

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