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.
Being on the Right Side of History I would begin this write-up by expressing personal satisfaction that, in my not so humble opinion, I have taken the side of the zeitgeist, the rational spirit guiding our times, in important issues of environment, church/state, and civil rights, GLBT rights, rights of the powerless and marginalized, elder care, mental health, and justice for juveniles.
One of my proudest moments was marching with Florida Governor Bob Graham to show support for the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) on Sunday, June 6, 1982. Following the march, I offered the invocation on the Capitol steps. I had the honor of sitting next to actress Elizabeth Rolle.
I come by my propensity for Feminism honestly. My mother, Louise Mayer Garfein, had her hair cut short, when short hair was not considered ”ladylike” for a young woman. Mother also refused to ride side saddle on her Appaloosa horse, “Circus,” though only side saddle was considered proper for a woman.
The greatest highlight under the category of church/state relations was my March 1994 ejection from a Florida Senate Education Committee hearing on the subject of prayer in the public schools. During the hearing, two senators were talking loudly to each other while a minister was testifying at the podium. A balustrade separated the senators from me. They were seated, while I was standing over them. I asked them to listen to what was being said at the podium. In a burst of anger they asked a Sergeant-at-Arms to tell me to leave, which I did. But reporters caught the whole scene, and the incident spread like wildfire throughout the Florida press. An editorial in the Pensacola newspaper quipped about the irony of the two senators arguing for freedom of religion, while trying to impose school prayers on the non-conforming public, and clamping down on a rabbi’s freedom of speech. The incident was a highlight in my rabbinate, because it alerted and aroused the liberal clergy and laity throughout the state as to what might be happening to conjoin church and state, rather than keeping them apart. The Friday night worship following my ejection occasioned the one and only time in my career that our congregation accorded me a standing ovation.
Interaction with Scholars and Friends Another highlight of my life was my study with Dr. Moshe Greenberg, z”/ . Dr. Greenberg was my premier professor at the University of Pennsylvania College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Greenberg had the gift of lecturing with great clarity and responsiveness to students’ inquiries. He became my adviser and mentor when I chose to major in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. I took every course he offered and wrote my senior thesis with him. For the first time I entered into a serious study of Biblical Hebrew. I gained insight into Biblical criticism and I came to understand why there might be duplications or contradictions within the same passage. I learned about differences between the approaches of Julius Wellhausen and Yehezkel Kaufmann. I grew in my conceptualization of God. I studied fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which at the time had recently been discovered.
Learning from Travel Experiences After completing my second year of rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College-JIR in Cincinnati, I spent ten months (1961-62) in Israel. Attending Ulpan Etzion, I became somewhat adept at conversational Hebrew. This enabled me to get by in Hebrew and travel by bus to all parts of Israel. Also, along with my classmate, Ron Goff, I benefited from private tutoring from Rabbi Dr. Yehoshua Amir. Dr. Amir provided us with many rich learning experiences at his quaint home in the “German Colony” of Jerusalem. They included a Passover Seder, during which, in the Dayenu, Holocaust survivors recounted how they had been rescued from annihilation, and were thankful for their deliverances.
Much of the time I was alone. Speaking with strangers, many of whom were happy to teach me a little Hebrew “on the run,” I had a variety of life experiences. Subsequently, during my rabbinical career, I have taken numerous trips/pilgrimages to Israel. From them I have garnered many anecdotes, one of which includes an awesome surface survey of the western Negev with Dr. Nelson Glueck.
Probably the most memorable of my trips was in 1976. Senator Richard Stone, Monsignor William Kerr, and I escorted forty Catholics, Protestants, and Jews to Israel and Rome. Almost as memorable was my tour in January 1994 to Israel, Sinai, and in Jordan, Mt. Nebo, Amman, and Petra. For this there were some thirty rabbis, who were members of ARZA (American Reform Zionist Association). The time was nigh for a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel.
In June, 1981, I participated in an archaeological dig in the City of David, the oldest section of the city of Jerusalem. This is south of the “Dung Gate” of the Old City. This area has been number one on my list of archaeological interests. Dr. Yigal Shiloh, z”/ was Project Director of the dig. In January of 1987 my travel-lust took me in a different direction. Rabbi Larry Halpern of Orlando and I volunteered with the movement for Soviet Jewry to go to Moscow and to what was then known as Leningrad. Our mission, along with that of many others, was to deliver medications, tennis shoes, blue jeans, cameras and other non-perishable commodities to Refusedniks, Jews who had applied to leave the Soviet Union. Not only had the regime refused to let them go, it forced them out of their existing jobs, so that they had no way to make a living. Rabbi Halpern and I, like many others, took suitcases replete with goods that the Refusedniks could use or sell, so as to tide them over through their limbo status. We had to memorize their addresses and phone numbers, so we could deliver these items without being detected by the authorities. To contact them we had to go to public pay telephones situated outdoors in 40 degree below freezing weather.
Genealogy – Israel and Galitzia From my travels I gained interest in my family history and genealogy, picking up bits and pieces of information from here and there. My Garfein relatives in Israel had come from Sambor, Galitzia, which is where my paternal grandfather, Harry Garfein, was born. Galitzia was a province in southern Poland, which was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1772. Harry Garfein was a young teenager, trained as a tailor, when he migrated to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1886. He married my “Granma,” Rosa Weil, who was a native of Louisville, born of Alsatian parents. My mother’s parents migrated to Louisville from western Germany in the late 1800s.
I have visited some of the cemeteries where my ancestors are buried. In 2003 I took a roots trip to central and eastern Europe, including Sambor, which is now in Ukraine. In Sambor I may have seen the house where the Garfeins once lived. Like so many other homes where Jews have lived in Europe, there is a hollowed out place on the right front entry doorpost, where a mezuzah had once been affixed.
While Rabbi at Temple Israel in Tallahassee, I helped build up our archives and became acquainted with the genealogies of its member families. I also helped acquire silver ritual artifacts for display at Temple Israel. When church groups asked for a tour of the temple, I presented them with a sight and sound visit and explanation of some of the basic beliefs and practices of Judaism. On several occasions I spoke from church pulpits. I also conducted demonstration seders. I received numerous notes of appreciation for such appearances and presentations.
Dissertation, Sermons, Picture Book One of my greatest highlights was my ability to create literarily. For my dissertation before Ordination I translated the esoteric passages of Maaseh B’raysheet (God’s Work of Creation in Genesis} and Maaseh HaMerkavah (God’s Chariot in Ezekiel}. These were commentaries written by Rabbi David Kimchi a.k.a. RaDaK, a student of Maimonides. RaDak, 1160-1235 lived in Narbonne in Provence. I could not have achieved this feat of translation without the help of my mentor, Rabbi Dr. Alvin Reines, who was an expert in the vocabulary of medieval Jewish theology and mysticism. It was not until 30 years after my Ordination that I came to realize that these esoteric passages were probably a foil, with Maimonidean theology opposing the definitions of Jewish mysticism, when it came to the usage of various vocabulary words.
I was fortunate to be able to turn out some sermons that did not just sit in a file cabinet. Two were published in So That Your Values Live on – Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them edited and annotated by Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer. They are: “Finish Your Final Business” (about preparing for ones own funeral) and “Organic Immortality” (about the mitzvah of donating ones organs after death).
I also wrote a picture book of children’s stories, Tales of the Temple Mice. These were stories written for religious schools, first at Temple Israel in St. Louis, and then at Temple Israel in Tallahassee. The stories are value oriented, and are somewhat autobiographical.
The Beauty of Holiness; The Appreciation of Hebrew I tried hard to promote beauty in holiness, as the Psalmist said, “Worship God in the beauty of holiness.” Aesthetics, of course, is a highly subjective matter. God is in the details, as is the devil. I tried to be on the side of God. I strove for the best in music for our congregation: professional vocalists and lovely liturgical music accompanied by organ, especially that of our Classical Reform tradition. I decorated both our home and our bema for the holidays with floral arrangements and plants.
For the Torah service at Temple I designed a Lucite lectern for reading the Torah. I chose this transparency for the lectern, so that congregants, especially children, could see what the unrolled Torah looks like. For the Torah scrolls, we designed vestments of different colors that were changed at the onset of each major liturgical season.
For bar and bat mitzvah services, I taught the youngsters to translate their Torah readings, not just to read mechanically without understanding.
Nachas fun Kinder; The Joy of Judaism and the Pleasure from Children
I have saved the best highlight ’til last, like the baked Alaska at an atrociously wondrous banquet.
I met Vivian at her sister Ellen’s Confirmation luncheon. After three dates we were engaged, and on January 23, 1966, we were married. When Vivian appeared in the portal to the sanctuary, she radiated a beautiful glow down the dimly lit aisle. She has remained an exquisitely lovely bride. Shortly thereafter we went to Tallahassee to be interviewed by the rabbi selection committee of Temple Israel. We were warmly received and almost immediately invited to become Rabbi and Rebbitzen of the congregation.
Florence Reichert Greenberg, daughter of a rabbi and sister of two rabbis, was a member of the selection committee. She assured us that the congregation would be engaging just the Rabbi, not the Rebbitzen. Vivian would be free to pursue her own paths. Nevertheless, Vivian did contribute to the religio-cultural functioning and well-being of the congregation and general community. She was a strong support to me and could serve as a conduit of communication from congregants to me. She enjoyed entertaining. For Shabbat dinners and Passover seders she set an elegant table, often inviting guests to be present.
It was not too long after we’d settled in Tallahassee that our children came into the picture. Rebecca was born before our Sabbath evening service. When I led the service at that special moment, the words of our prayerbook rose up off the page. Almost every word was full of meaning, evoking my choking and tears. The Temple members thought something terrible had happened. But the choking and the tears flowed from my innermost joy, not sorrow.
Susanna was born after our Sabbath evening service. When I walked out of the sanctuary our custodian, Allen Ransom, who’d just received the phone call, was anxiously awaiting me. “Rabbi,” he said, “you’d better get yourself to the (Tallahassee Memorial) hospital!”
I immediately drove from our Temple at Copeland and St. Augustine streets to the hospital. It seemed as though I had to stop for a red light at every corner. Finally, I got to the threshold of the delivery room. After a few moments, I heard the doctor say, “It’s a girl!”
Our home life as a family was quite within the parameters of Reform Judaism. There was consistency and regularity of ritual observances and prayer. We aimed at infusing joy, meaning, and beauty into our spirituality. Conferences and camps associated with our Federation of Temple Youth reinforced the values of our home life. I kept my vocational advice, hints, and direction to a minimum. What a pleasant surprise it was, therefore, that Susanna and Rebecca chose professional careers akin to my own. Rebecca is a cantor; Susanna is a professor of Biblical Hebrew and cognate languages and history.
Our daughters are married now, and they have their own families with children. It appears that they are keeping up the tradition in which they were brought up.
L’dor Va-dor– From Generation to Generation.