Celebrating the Class of 1964: “The Rabbinate: An Act of Faith”

Mar 4, 2014 by

Celebrating the Class of 1964: “The Rabbinate: An Act of Faith”

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.

Shortly after coming to Toronto from Chicago in the late 1960’s, I asked a friend to help organize a collection of food and clothing for the Vietnam War draft resisters living in the downtown area of City. “No problem,” he replied, and in little more than a day a caravan of cars was streaming down Bayview Avenue loaded with coats and jackets, scarves, socks, and a variety of pastries schnorred from local bakeries before they closed on Christmas eve. The hundred or so forlorn men and their families huddled in their center on Huron Street were predictably grateful for this gesture of largesse from the passel of Jews who had descended on them from somewhere in the great frozen wilderness north of Bloor Street.

If they were appreciative, I was overwhelmed by the quick response to the new rabbi’s appeal, especially at a time when many Canadians were unsure whether these people were refugees or deserters from a war supposed to save the southeast Asian nations from falling like dominos into the lap of the Soviet Union and China. Years later, I was recounting this story to one of the Temple members who had participated in the event. He expressed great puzzlement at my interpretation and responded, “Oh, no, Rabbi. You have it all wrong. We thought you were a bit of a wacko! But you were the new American rabbi, and we Canadians were too chagrined to tell you so!”

Forty years later, I find myself wondering whether they or I have changed appreciably. If the past is prologue, then, perhaps, many of our good deeds are the unmeant outcomes of our earlier patterns of thought and behavior. The greatest consequences of our efforts frequently defy our intentions, or bend them toward purposes little imagined in their infancy. Ask any parent, or any husband or wife to reflect honestly on what they anticipated and what they achieved in their marriage. Ask any rabbi what he or she intended for their congregation and what they accomplished. The rabbinate, like the family, is an act of faith. Our vision may be faulty, our motives obscure even to ourselves; but if, in the end, a student or child blesses us for giving them hope in a time of doubt or a spark of inspiration at a crossroads in their lives, then dayenu – it is enough. Whatever we intended has been redeemed, and we can pray with some conviction:  

Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech Haolam, she’chechiyanu v’kiyamnau, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai Elohenu, Sovereign of the Universe, for giving us life, and sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this day.

5 Comments

  1. Paul Kipnes

    Sweet

  2. Thank you for the attempt made in faith, and the example that you have provided. Kol hakavod on 50 years.

  3. Donald Berlin

    Thank you, Arthur, for this wonderful blog! We loved sharing your 50th at NAORRR and the Conference will “kvell” over you and your class at its forthcoming convention. CCAR – take note! This 1964 class boasts major leaders, provocative thinkers, beloved and caring teachers and a group of the finest “menschen” anywhere! Chazak, chazak!!

  4. Eliot Baskin

    Yasher koach on continuing to be an inspiration to fulfill the call for tikkun olam! I’ll never forget your faithful acts of reaching out to the marginalized that taught me what it meant to be a rabbi. Mazel tov on your Jubilee!

  5. abielfeld

    My goodness! To think you would all take the time to comment on my response to the CCAR’s blog request is humbling. Don, Elly, at least we know each other. You have had to put up with my mishugasim at one time or another during our long careers. Joel and Paul: what a pleasant way to meet you for the first time (I believe).
    Enjoy every moment of the Chicago reunion with our colleagues. Believe it or not, I’m holed up in the trenches of Toronto (note the alliteration) trying to save a wonderful Roma family from being deported unfairly from Canada. They have been living in Sanctuary in one room of a church basement for two years after having been victimized by a shyster refugee lawyer who took their papers and money and disappeared The Government knows the circumstances. Even the Law Society of Upper Canada has tried to intervene on their behalf because they never had a chance to present their case with elemental fairness before the Refugee Board. Their little daughter, Lulu, age 6, has never been able to go to school or go out and play because of the threat of deportation. We are launching a national freelulu.ca website to enlist the voices of children and adults across Canada to urge the Canadian government to issue a Temporary Residence Permit until the courts can hear their case. The site is going up tonight or tomorrow. Please take a look at it, and if you, or any of your colleagues, congregants, school kids, or friends, would like to join the campaign and send an email to our Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, there is a petition on the site to do this. Just read the Family’s letter and then Lulu’s story. By the way, Lulu’s parents had three strikes against them when the fascist hoodlums beat them up, threatened to kill them, and forced them to flee Hungary. They were human rights workers, Roma, and Jews. Joseph, Lulu’s father, is half Jewish. Her mother is Christian. It occurs to me as I am writing this: do you think there is any possibility the CCAR might become involved? The Cardinal of the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, the Anglican Archbishop, the Moderator of the United Church, the President of the Toronto Board of Rabbis (Baruch Frydman-Kohl) have joined Dow Marmur and myself in appealing directly to the Minister. So far, Pharaoh has only hardened his heart. But., if anyone is interested, I can document everything I have said. Just email me or call me at 416-222-4225. Don, perhaps some of our classmates might be particularly interested. Also, look at jran.ca That site is definitely working. Anyway, I’m off on a rant. Elly, your alte rebbe sends his love.
    Hugs to you all.
    Fondly,
    Arthur

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