While I am not a prophet nor a son of a prophet, at this fiftieth anniversary of my ordination by HUC-JIR, I think of Isaiah. When God sought to recruit Isaiah, and Isaiah demurred, the Eternal One touched his lips with a glowing coal from the Temple altar. It is the metaphor of touch that I use to review five decades in the rabbinate.
I have been touched by several individuals who moved me in the direction of the rabbinate, and whose personal examples guided me:
—My parents, Herb and Harriet Citrin, were raised in non-observant, unaffiliated homes. When I was in first grade, they joined a Reform synagogue. They became active, and transmitted to me the joy and fulfillment of being part of a community characterized by caring and celebration.
—Metuka Miliken Benjamin, my first Hebrew school teacher who, just a few years ago, was awarded by the State of Israel, recognition as the outstanding diaspora educator. Metuka touched me with a passion for Hebrew language and Zionism which continues to this day.
—Rabbi William Cutter, my teacher and thesis advisor, who touched me with his listening skills, his penetrating questions, and his unfailing kindness.
—Rabbi Isaiah “Shy” Zeldin, my rabbi and a father figure. He touched me with his creative vision, his outreach to people in need, and his skill as a builder and motivator.
—Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn touched me from the time he invited me to become his assistant, and after three years, his associate. He modeled for me integrity, diplomacy, and unwavering dedication to activism for social justice
As I review half a century of my rabbinate, I hope I have touched and inspired people in my congregational communities:
—Michael Brown, z”l, was heavily burdened with cerebral palsy, yet determined to become a bar mitzvah. With tremendous effort, Michael learned to recite the Torah blessings. On that Shabbat he was glowing.
—Hundreds of confirmation students continued pursuing Torah study with me to explore matters of theology and concerns about Israel. I continue to receive communications from former students who are now parents themselves.
—Listening to those who need to be heard, being supportive, and guiding them to find strength in our tradition.
The focus of my rabbinate has been congregational life. My passions are education, interfaith dialogue, Israel, and social justice. I cofounded the Jewish-Catholic Dialogue of Albuquerque which, over the years, has expanded to include Protestants and Muslims. I served on the board of the Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Council, which provided college scholarships to minority students. I served as the president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, and as a board member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. During my active rabbinate, I served six congregations, and helped lead two congregations to build new synagogue facilities.
This is a list of books I have authored over the years:
- Joseph’s Wardrobe (UAHC, 1987). A children’s novel about values and identity.
- Gates of Repentance for Young People (CCAR, 2002), co-authored with Judith Z. Abrams, z”l.
- Ten Sheaves, a collection of sermons, addresses and articles (Amazon, 2014).
- Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions (CCAR, 2014). Volume conceived and edited by P. Citrin.
- I Am My Prayer (Resource Publications, 2021).
- Unpublished Master’s thesis, the Arab in Hebrew Literature since 1948, shelved in the Klau Library at HUC-JIR.
I am blessed and touched by my family: my wife of forty-one years, Susan Morrison Citrin, our four children, and eight grandchildren. We are retired in Albuquerque where I continue to teach adults. Hiking, biking, travel, and writing continue to touch my life.
Rabbi Paul Citrin 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.