My journey as a rabbi started at the age of twelve when I wrote a letter to Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, at that time located on West 68th Street in NYC. I wrote to the college letting it know that I was ready to start my rabbinic studies. The school, of course, wrote back to me saying that I needed to apply after graduation from college. What was amazing was that at my interview, they took out that letter that I had written many years before.
There were many influences in my life that led to my writing that letter. I always had spiritual interests. Prayer was a part of my personal life from my earliest years. I did go to Hebrew school for many years and was active in the choir and Temple life. Although my grandmother’s grandfather, Rabbi Wolf Zev Turbowitz, lived during the nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, I do believe that he had a spiritual influence on my life.
His picture hung on my grandmother’s Brooklyn apartment wall. As I would pass by, I could feel his presence not only in the room but in my life. Over the years, I have been able to obtain many of his books, as well as handwritten manuscripts. I even visited his grave in Kraziai, Lithuania, where he served as Av Beit Din.
In many ways, the directions of my rabbinate were set during my seminary years at HUC-JIR. During my second year, I became chaplain at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan where I remained as chaplain until 2000. During my third year, I took a student pulpit in Oakdale, Long Island, serving B’nai Israel. I retired from B’nai Israel forty-seven years later.
In 1975, my wife Judy and I moved to Long Island. I became very involved in community activities, including serving three times as president of the Suffolk County Board of Rabbis, and chair of the Suffolk County Jewish Community Coordinating Council.
One of the most engaging parts of my rabbinate started in 1986 when I became chaplain to the Suffolk County Police Department. In 2019, I was named Chief Chaplain Emeritus and truly enjoyed serving the community in this capacity.
I also served the Suffolk County community as chair of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission from 1991 to 2019, and chair and founder of the Suffolk County Anti-Bias Task Force. I also founded an important program called STOPBIAS which educated over 500 defendants, both juvenile and adult, who had committed bias or hate crimes.
In 2019, I retired from B’nai Israel. Judy and I continued our life in Boynton Beach, Florida, in a home we had purchased many years before. During the next three years, which were those COVID years, I spent the time studying, teaching on Zoom, and publishing three books. In 2022, however, the opportunity came along to take a pulpit here in Florida, in Delray Beach. I applied to Temple Sinai for the position, and I recently signed a multi-year contract. I also serve as chaplain to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the Delray Beach Police Department. I guess I could say I got tired of retirement.
Looking back over these past fifty years since ordination, I can say I have absolutely no regrets. Many times during my career, I could have left the congregational rabbinate and taken on a full-time position as chaplain, but I did not. There is truly something blessed, holy, and rewarding about being a pulpit rabbi. One has the incredible opportunity to become intimately involved in the lives of congregants during the most joyous, as well as most sad moments of life
I have no doubt about the influences my parents had on my life, but none of this would have been possible without the support and love of my soulmate, my wife Judy. We met in high school, and it is she who has been my guiding star to help me on this journey for which I am blessed to have taken.
I do believe the journey is not over. I am looking forward to whatever lies ahead.
Rabbi Steven Moss is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.