General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism

Celebrating the Class of 1964: “On Winning the Lottery”

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.

As we were preparing for ordination, I “won” the only lottery I have ever won. I drew number one in the chaplaincy lottery, which was mandatory in those days. As a result, I spent the first two years of my rabbinate as an Air Force Chaplain. In some ways, it was the easiest and most difficult position I ever held.

Following those first years on my own, I became the Assistant Rabbi at Temple Emanu El in Houston. The great Robert I. Kahn was my senior and mentor. It was during my four years in Houston that I really learned to be a rabbi. Bob was a great preacher and a great teacher. He allowed me to actively oppose the Vietnam War even though he was not so sure. He also allowed me to speak from my heart and mind even when we disagreed.

Faced with finding a job and supporting a family, we found ourselves in Davenport, Iowa. During my three years there I established some lasting friendships, as I have, fortunately, in every congregation I have served. I became very much involved in the community there and served as Chair of the Davenport Human Relations Commission at a very interesting time in its history. For my work on this commission I received a Distinguished Service Award from the city.

Wanting to be in a larger Jewish setting, I became the first full-time rabbi at Temple Chai in Buffalo Grove (now in Long Grove), Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. We had no building. The office was in our home. But we built and grew a young and inexperienced congregation in the 8 years I served there.

After 8 years in Illinois, I became the rabbi of the historic Har Sinai Congregation in Baltimore – the first congregation in the United States founded as a Reform congregation. Baltimore has been our home these last 32 years and I have been very much involved in the life of the Jewish and general community. I have helped transform Har Sinai from a Classical Reform synagogue to a mainstream congregation. The changes that have taken place in the congregation over the years of my service have been many and remarkable. One of my last projects at Har Sinai was to build a new building in a suburban location. It was a challenging task but was also very rewarding. I became Rabbi Emeritus in 2003.

I have served on many local boards and am the only rabbi to have served as president of Jewish Family Services in Baltimore. I have been involved in non-profits, which develop low and moderate-income housing in Baltimore. I was the Chautauqua lecturer at Loyola University in Maryland for more than 20 years and continue to teach in adult programs at a number of local universities.

I am fortunate to have been involved in the work of the CCAR and the URJ. I have enjoyed serving on the Executive Board of the CCAR and the Board of Trustees of the URJ. I was on the Committee on Rabbinic Growth from its inception and served as its chair. I believe our development of programs on “The Rabbi’s Personal Religion” helped change the face of Reform Judaism. Those experiences led to my participation in the Commission on Religious Living of the Union and also its Commission on Jewish Education. Not only did they change the movement, but they also changed me.

I was also elected Chair of the CCAR Nominating Committee and as a member of its Ethics Committee. The latter was a difficult but important job. I have loved my involvement with my colleagues locally, regionally and nationally.

In my retirement I have served part time in congregations in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Pinehurst, North Carolina. Now, among other activities, I am a part-time tour guide at our great baseball park, Oriole Park at Camden Yard.

As I look back, I find that my rabbinate has been very fulfilling. I have had many and varied experiences and opportunities and I continue to seek new challenges and new rewards. None of this would have been possible without the love and support of my wife, Barbara, my children, my many congregational friends and my colleagues. I thank them all.