Knowing Before Whom I Stand
Bashert: I believe that my encounters in the Rabbinate were meant to be! My paternal grandmother was my first spiritual teacher. Her wisdom shaped my vision for a better world, healed of hate, bigotry, and oppression. Her affirmations taught me to seize life’s opportunities, to open sacred windows.
Family expectations sculpted my intention to become a concert pianist. My piano stood as a symbol of their plan for my future. My professors were sources of spiritual, religious, and musical wisdom, whose combined impact on my soul determined my destiny. Hartford’s “classical Reform dean,” Abraham J. Feldman, influenced my consideration of career alternatives. Pianist Rudolf Serkin’s brilliance and humility, the impact of my teacher, Madame Dayas, of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music, and the insight of Dean Pelletieri at the Hartt School of Music, taught me to be true to myself. HUC-JIR Professors, Werner Weinberg, survivor of the Holocaust, and Samuel Sandmel, innovative scholar in Christian-Jewish dialogue, ignited my commitment to Torah study and interfaith relationships, defining my rabbinic choices.
The marriage of religious thought and social justice sparked my passions. Professor Sheldon Blank inspired my zeal for Reform’s prophetic vision. My rabbinate embraced involvement in the 1960’s Civil Rights movement. A cherished association with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King’s successor, joined us in pursuit of “tikkun olam.”
The UAHC visionary and my congregant, Al Vorspan, taught me the merit of “chutzpah,” in molding better days. The discipline of piano practice nourished my ability to wrestle with God and humanity. The need to confront the imperfections of life awakened my spiritual pursuits. Our ordination, coincident with Israel’s Six Day War and the Vietnam conflict, and dramatic episodes in my Army chaplaincy, previewed my rabbinate.
While difficult, change insures the evolution of the “reform” attribute in Judaism. No one owns a monopoly on religious truth, and rabbinic leaders must blend idealism and realism to nurture communities that welcome the Divine. Though disappointments and failures intrude, the Eternal Light demands our refueling.
My greatest gifts grew from seeds sown in various gardens. Ft. Hamilton’s Army Chaplain School and my chaplaincy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center aroused concerns about theodicy. Counseling people from differing backgrounds required my creativity. My assistantship under the tutelage of Nathan Perilman, z”l, and Ronald Sobel at NYC’s Temple Emanu-El refined my rough edges. The congregation of Lawrence, Long Island’s Temple Sinai prepared me for what was yet to come. Cincinnati’s Rockdale Temple, K.K. Bene Israel, challenged me to move a classical Reform congregation into the 20th century, becoming their first Senior Rabbi permitted to wear a kippah. My struggle to position Israel’s flag on our bimah opened avenues for four congregational trips to Israel. Officiating at the funerals of a rabbinic mentor, Victor Reichert, and at that of my treasured professor, Werner Weinberg, became transcendent moments. My collegiality with the Rev. George Hill, Rector of Cincinnati’s St. Barnabas Church, ushered in unforeseen collaborations that became instructive for the community. When I retired, the Church framed documents declaring me as “Sometime Rabbi In Residence.” Failing retirement, I accepted a “part-time” position at St. Augustine’s Temple Bet Yam, becoming their first Rabbi, conducting services in a Unitarian Church for 55 congregants. Expanding to 125 families, we designed their first spiritual home, the façade of which proclaimed: “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All People.” Teaching at Flagler College in St. Augustine provided mentoring opportunities for a future Catholic and a future Episcopal priest.
My musical and spiritual beginnings nurtured the yearnings of my soul. The pathos of Beethoven and the precision of Mozart flowed into Judaism’s unrelenting wisdom. I learned to find fulfillment to dream impossible dreams. The Rabbinate was the right choice for me to compose new music for a rapidly changing world. God willing, I shall fulfill my personal challenge to return to the piano, complete my reflections on Bashert, while exploring the world and nature.
When I peer in to the precincts of my soul, I am grateful for the blessings of that Light I shall never truly comprehend. My favorite Torah personality Jacob wrestled with the Almighty to become himself. In my way, I tried too.
Rabbi Mark Goldman is celebrating fifty years in the rabbinate.