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Celebrating the Class of 1964: “An Alternative Universe ”

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1964, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years.  In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of the members of the class of 1964.

I wish I could claim some idealistic, high-minded reason that I entered HUC-JIR in Cincinnati.  I fear it was a combination of adolescent rebellion and idol worship.  I grew up in a scientific family and dutiful enrolled for a university course in chemical engineering; but I found the work devoid of emotional content.  I was excited about my electives in psychology, ethics, and economics.  As my undergraduate years drew to a close, I cast about for my next step in life.  I realized that the people I most admired were Reform rabbis: my childhood rabbi, Morris Lieberman, and the young rabbis I met through NFTY: Herb Bronstein, Hy Perlmutter, and Dick Sternberger.

It turned out that HUC-JIR was a good fit for me.  I loved learning the biblical texts and, even more, midrashim.  In retrospect, I now understand that the thought-world of Jewish religion provided me an alternative to the crassness and materialism in American life that distressed and repelled me.  The idealism of the pre-exilic prophets inspired me.  What satisfaction I took from arriving at Martin Luther King’s 1963 convocation in Washington and encountering a UAHC banner proclaiming: “Tzedek, Tzedek teer-dof.”  

Over the decades, the Bible and the Midrash have been my lodestones.  Jewish study and texts turned out to be my refuge, a source of solace and strength. 

Life has been exceptionally good to me.  I loved my contact with the Jews in the small bi-weekly congregations I served.  I felt good about my four years as an Army chaplain, mostly in Frankfurt, West Germany.  Roland Gittelsohn at Temple Israel of Boston was an outstanding mentor.  My thirty years in the pulpit of Temple Sinai of Brookline were profoundly gratifying.  Thanks to the cordiality of my successor, Andy Vogel, I still feel very much at home in that Sanctuary and at Temple programs.  In retirement, I also spent seven significant winters serving the members of Temple Beth Shalom of San Juan.  It could not have turned out so well without the love and support of my wife, Beth.  Her humor, insight, and people-sense have been invaluable.  She and the rabbinate have provided me with a deeply satisfying life.

3 replies on “Celebrating the Class of 1964: “An Alternative Universe ””

The Robbins family will always be grateful for your role as one of our rabbis and I feel especially blessed that Josh is still my friend. Truly a gift from generation to generation.

Your mentoring of younger colleagues like myself during my years in Massachusetts was such a blessing. Proud to be your colleague!

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