Celebrating the Class of 1964: “The Rabbi of Roundball”

Mar 10, 2014 by

Celebrating the Class of 1964: “The Rabbi of Roundball”

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.

In retrospect, my life 50 years since HUC-JIR ordination can be characterized as expressing the adage, “you can take the boy out of Brooklyn not Brooklyn out of the boy.” Wherever I have served, in the U.S. military as Senior Staff Chaplain at the NIH, in the Israeli Army reserves, as rabbi of congregations for 50+ years and in seven decades, the street smarts and my Yeshiva education and Brooklyn, New York upbringing have formed and informed my professional work, personal development and way of life. Never have I forsaken my earliest religious indoctrination known as competitive basketball.

I was raised with an older sister, now deceased, and a younger sister. I am the father of three daughters raised through the Israeli school system and the Israeli Army. They are bi-cultural, bilingual, advanced degreed – law, PhD in the states – and they are raising their own Israeli children, my eight grandchildren, in a similar manner – speaking Hebrew and English at home in Israel. Some colleagues know Noga Brenner Samia who lectures at Bina and is HUC-JIR Jerusalem educated. I’m in love with my kids and theirs.

My grandfather snatched my young cousins from the furnaces of the Holocaust and brought them to America. They played a significant part of my childhood shaping later sensibilities. I can truthfully say that WWII and the Holocaust have impacted profoundly on my own life. My “American Jewry & the Rise of Nazism” [YIVO Prize] and my book The Faith & Doubt of Holocaust Survivors [NJB Award Finalist], reflect that reality. I have written and lectured extensively on catastrophe survivors and abductees. To alleviate the heaviness of these subjects, I published humor, including a book called “The Jewish Riddle Collection,” which is now being enlarged and republished. Humor has been an important part of my ministry, whether in the NIH Clinical Center among patients or in congregational life. My children’s book, Escape in Eight Days, scores as an adventure story at the time of the Shoah.

My father was a pious orthodox Jewish man; my mother was a typical Jewish mother, proud, loud and aggressive. My name, Reeve, means contentious, argumentative, contrarian accounting for and justifying the adage teaching k’shem hu. Likely, that is why I and no one else of my Yeshiva crowd departed orthodoxy for Reform. I was Yeshiva raised, traversed non-orthodox religious denominations, and found my spiritual home as a Reform klal yisrael rabbi. For all its deficiencies, I love and am grateful for the Reform religious home – without which – who knows?

I have written extensively: poetry, articles in our CCAR Journal, books and essays on the sociology of religion and the sociology of recreation, as well as research essays on the works of the “discredited” Immanuel Velikovsky, now published in my newest book on the natural catastrophes in the ancient world. I think the poetry I have written about my family discloses the me-est me. I am editor of Jerusalem Poetry of the 20th Century. My most recent book, While the Skies were Falling: The Exodus and the Cosmos, addresses the global reach of the biblical catastrophes and brings forth scientific and forensic technical evidence for their reality.

In my early years of rabbinical seminary, with several classmates, (Sandy Lowe among them whom I cared for deeply) I began a serious course of psychotherapy. I’d recommend it for our Jewish professionals. My hobbies from childhood on include raising turtles of threatened species and releasing them in the wild in their geographical region. Why would a turtle become my totem? Because a turtle makes progress only when it sticks its neck out. I’m also proud of having been credited in the zoological literature for providing the name for the third biblical vulture, “The Israel Desert Condor.”

Over the years I invented a number of inclusionary and wheelchair accessible, non-aggressive ball-playing sports. For example, Bankshot Basketball, is now being played in 300+ cities in the USA and around the world, in hospitals, camps, schools, parks. Ber Sheva, Hod Hasharon and Herzlia feature the sport. In an article about Bankshot, Sports Illustrated, bestowed upon me the title, “The Rabbi of Roundball”, about which I continue to be playfully reminded. That distinction such as it is, like my movie role in The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, provoke kibitzing by family in every Seder or simcha gathering.

The sport Bankshot has been introduced and now is played in Kuwait. I often wonder what the good folks in Kuwait playing the sport might be thinking when they go to the internet and learn that Bankshot was created by a rabbi. The website, bankshot.com, displays many courts as well as photographs of my Bankboard pieces called SportStructures hanging in the Boston Children’s Museum, MOMA, and other museums exhibiting the pieces as interactive participatory sculpture. The Spirit of the ADA Award is one among a number of such recognitions with which I have been honored for Inclusion of people with disabilities. I’m proud of my work with and for disabled people.

In 1966, I became the first rabbi to teach at St. Vincent College and Seminary in Latrobe, PA offering courses in Introductory Judaism and Jewish Religious Thought. Moving my family to Israel, I lived there for some 12 years. I presently serve as rabbi for Bet Chesed Congregation in Bethesda MD. My article, an alternative methodology to CPE, entitled: “Nons, Nunyas, Appreciative Inquiry and the Aged,” – based essentially on AI theory – in The Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging came about as an outgrowth of my NIH hospital chaplain experiences and responsibilities. My book, Jewish, Christian, Chewish or Eschewish: Interfaith Marriage Pathways for the New Millennium, is an outgrowth of my work with interfaith couples and families. It has meant a great deal to a goodly number of readers in the greater Washington area and elsewhere. The book is offered without cost at reevebrenner.com and is intended to be read before an intro to Judaism.

Rutgers University Transaction Press is scheduled to re-publish The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors, previously published by Macmillan Free Press and Aronson, with a new introduction I wrote presenting Holocaust survivors’ considered views of the philosophy of our post-Holocaust philosophers, essentially their “repudiation” of the theology of mainstream Jewish thinkers concerning the Holocaust.

In sum, I think of myself as a project-oriented kind of funny guy and rabbi and find myself energized by self-imposed projects as challenges to take on and to enjoy the process.

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