Rabbinic Reflections

Rabbi James Mirel: 50 Years of Joys and Sorrow Serving the Jewish Community

On July 28, 2006, a deranged antisemitic man with a gun entered the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and murdered my congregant and dear friend Pamela Waechter. She was one of a handful of American Jews who have been murdered for being Jewish.  

The Islamic terrorist was found to be sane by the jury and sentenced to life in prison. Pam‘s life was over in a bloody barrage of gunfire. 
At her funeral, our temple was filled with fellow Jews and many government officials and others, well over a thousand people who were still in shock. That was most traumatic and yet most important day in my life as a rabbi, when it fell to my shoulders to bring comfort to her family and to the community. Pam’s memory will stay with me forever. She truly died al kiddush HaShem—for the sanctification of the God and the Jewish people.  
When she converted many years prior, I am sure her rabbi reminded her that historically being a Jew can be a source of personal danger and persecution (as is required in the Talmud), but no one could have imagined that it could lead to her being gunned down in cold blood just for being a Jew or working in a Jewish setting. 
Fifty years of thousands of funerals, weddings, bet mitzvah, and other life cycle events. All meaningful at that moment, most of them forgotten in the details. 
But every once in a while, having served in the same community all fifty years—and I pray more to come—someone will see me on the street and say something like, “Rabbi, you really made a big difference in my life.” 
These are the moments in which I know I made the right decision fifty-five years ago when I entered HUC-JIR in Los Angeles with a college degree in philosophy and a hundred dollars in my checking account. What a journey. I have been blessed in so many ways.  

Baruch HaShem.

This year at the CCAR Convention 2024 in Philadelphia, we celebrated all of the CCAR rabbis celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate. We are honored to include Rabbi James Mirel in this year’s 50-year rabbis and ordination class of 1974.

One reply on “Rabbi James Mirel: 50 Years of Joys and Sorrow Serving the Jewish Community”

My old HUC roommate and friend is one of the most consequential people in my life. I would add that I have been fortunate to meet his congregants, Reed College classmates, HUC colleagues, bandmates, relatives and each of them would say the same. I still quote his chapel sermon for Shabbat Zachor. I manage to work his point into my life. “Blot out the memory” & “Don’t forget” a f necessity to find balance especially in face of trauma. Jim Mirel’s teaching and his example has been part of the joy of my rabbinate and in the face of sorrow a reminder to find balance. Yashir Koach to my Chaver. ( the internet claims July 28, 2006 as the date of the terrible event.)

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