Looking Back on 50 years in the Rabbinate
As the 50th anniversary of my ordination at HUC-JIR approaches, I’d like to share three of the most rewarding aspects of my thirty-six year rabbinate at Temple Beth David of Westwood, Massachusetts.
Like many Reform congregations, we have a Sabbath morning minyan in the library led by congregants, followed by refreshments and an hour of studying the parasha hashavuah. On the Sabbath mornings when I was not conducting a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the sanctuary, I was able to attend this Shabbat Morning Chevreh, but I never took it over. It was always lay led. I think it was successful, because it empowered Temple members to become leaders in worship and teachers of Torah. On Erev Shabbat, because I felt that it was tremendously important for congregants to see, hear, and study the actual Torah, I would read Torah from the scroll and engage the congregation in a brief discussion of the text. I think the result of these weekly rituals was that the congregation gained a genuine appreciation of the Torah scroll as a “tree of life to those who hold fast to it.”
A second significant pillar of my rabbinate was the founding and sustaining of chavurot. Our congregation in southwest suburban Boston is comprised of Jews from many different neighboring communities in which the Jewish population is no more than two per cent. By joining a Temple chavurah of five or six couples, Temple members immediately acquired a new Jewish family that was there for them in times of celebration and in times of grief. I found that the most successful way of establishing a chavurah was to match people who were at the same stage in their lives. I required each chavurah to commit to the study of a Jewish book or text which would be the focus of discussion at a monthly meeting. Without this commitment to Jewish study, I felt there was a danger that a chavurah might develop into nothing more than a schmoozing club. Chavurot also engaged in many other kinds of Jewish activities such as gathering together for Sabbath and festival home celebrations or finding ways to contribute to Temple life by participating in a social action program, by leading a worship service, or by volunteering for a Temple project. Some chavurot have lasted for thirty years and are still going strong, while others have had a shorter life span, but even when a chavurah lasted for only two or three years, chavurah members were able to develop deep and abiding Jewish friendships and as a result of their experience, felt more connected to the Temple and Jewish life.
I also devoted a great deal of my active rabbinate to participating in the founding of several new Jewish institutions in the Boston Jewish community. My most notable contribution was my role as the Founding Chair of the Rashi School, the Boston Area Reform Jewish Day School. Today, thirty years after we opened the doors, the Rashi School is host to over three hundred children in a beautiful school building in Dedham, MA that shares a campus with a cutting edge Hebrew Senior Life residential facility that has made possible a wonderful intergenerational program. The Rashi School concentrates on making its core values of limood, tzedek, kehilah, kavod and ruach Elohim come alive in every aspect of school life. I was also blessed to serve on the founding boards of the Gann Academy, the excellent pluralistic Jewish high school located in Waltham, Massachusetts and Mayyim Hayyim the Living Waters Boston Community Mikveh and Education Center.
Looking back on my rabbinate at this fifty year anniversary, I take a great deal of satisfaction from the three aforementioned activities: the encouragement of the study of Torah at Temple Beth David, the establishment of Temple Beth David chavurot which brought lasting friendship to many congregants while strengthening their connection to the Temple, and my contribution to the enrichment of Jewish life in Boston by joining with others in the founding of the Rashi School, the Gann Academy, and Mayyim Hayyim.
I also have a deep sense of gratitude to my wife Barbara for supporting me and aiding me throughout my rabbinic career.
Rabbi Henry A. Zoob is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate.