Psalm 90 includes one of my favorite lessons in all of Torah: Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
As a rabbi for fifty years, I have taught hundreds of souls from preschool to older adults. However, what I want to reflect upon is not what I have taught, but what I have learned.
I have learned from my students and congregants that Reform Judaism is a giant tent; embracing with utter respect, the unique diversity of our growing community. I have learned to honor the humanity of my congregants; sharing with them poignant moments of joy and sorrow. I have learned from my congregants how they understand God, Torah, and Israel; how they feel comfortable in Reform Judaism; and how they welcome souls from a diversity of backgrounds and beliefs.
What I have accomplished
My greatest achievement as a rabbi was not only to be a founder of Temple Judea, but to become an integral part of creating what our members call the “Miracle on Hood Road.” Our congregation began with one hundred and fifty families and struggled for many years in West Palm Beach. I located land and an empty building in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida owned by the Church of Latter-day Saints. With the help of our lay leadership, our congregation purchased the land and the building, and transformed it into a tribute to both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions. What is even more special to me is that my successor is not only a dear friend but a dynamic spiritual leader who has grown Temple Judea to close to seven hundred families with no mortgage and a healthy endowment fund.
What I continue to look forward to
One of the greatest gifts I have given my successor is moving 3,000 miles away to West Hollywood, California. Here, Susan and I can experience the unique feeling of being members of two congregations—Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Isaiah of Los Angeles—as well as a new organization for older adults, ChaiVillageLA. Since moving to West Hollywood, I have volunteered to be a spiritual counsellor at Beit T’Shuvah and a volunteer at the food pantry of the Karsh Center of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
As I reflect on my fifty years as a rabbi, I feel that as a teenager I made the right choice, a wonderful choice for my life’s work. Although I expected that fulfillment would come from teaching. Instead it has come from learning.
Rabbi Joel Levine is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis in 2023.