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CCAR Convention Convention

A Scholarly Rabbinic Career: Rabbi Roy Furman on His 50-Years in the Rabbinate

During my years at HUC-JIR, my expectations of a future rabbinate were vague, at best. What 50 years after ordination actually held were beyond what I could then have imagined. It would certainly prove to be a multifaceted rabbinate, one which extended the boundaries of how I would be a rabbi and what sort of congregation I would serve. It has been an interesting journey to say the least. 

That journey first took me to Los Angeles where I served as Hillel director on the campus of the University of Southern California. There I immersed myself in the creative challenges and rewards of working with students developing a vibrant campus Jewish community. Four years later, I decided to enhance my counseling skills by studying for and obtaining an MSW, followed by another four years practicing clinical social work at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. 

By the ten-year mark after HUC-JIR, I sought congregational work for the first time, moving with my wife to Portland, Oregon to work with a small, participatory, egalitarian, and very spiritual chavurah. The five years with that community were my idea of rabbinic heaven. I would still be there, I imagine, if my wife did not need to relocate to pursue her academic aspirations.

If Chicago did not readily yield to my rabbinic needs and aspirations, it did provide me with the opportunity to work with a gay and lesbian community, with a suburban congregation in an assistant rabbinical position, and another two years as interim rabbi for a large Reconstructionist shul.

Through the years, I took great pleasure in doing scholarly work, including PhD studies in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. Having served as a rabbi on a college campus, at Jewish family service, with a chavurah, and with three Chicago-based Jewish communities, I now entered the academic part of my rabbinic journey. Some twenty-three years after ordination, I began teaching comparative religions and Jewish studies at DePaul University, an adjunct position I held for twenty years, along with part-time work as campus rabbi. 

At the forty-sixth year post ordination mark, I entered a year-long training program in clinical pastoral education and continued working as a chaplain in an acute hospital setting until the Spring of 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And through all of these years, my rabbinate has been expanded and enriched through interactions with Jews in congregations, both old and newly emerging, in Russia, Germany, Poland, Spain, France, Chile, and Morocco.

From the time I left HUC-JIR until the present, I have been active as a leader, facilitator, and member of chavurot and minyanim. That aspect of my journey reflects much of what has come to be important and meaningful for me as a rabbi and as a Jew, as I have met, taught, counseled, comforted, andlearned from many, many wonderful people along the way. I continue to write divrei Torah for my minyan, study Hasidic and Mussar literature with Rabbi Richard Hirsh, my long-time chevruta and dear brother-in-law, and to be challenged by the likes of Maimonides, Heschel, Buber,  Hartman, and the Baal Shem Tov.


Rabbi Roy Furman is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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Convention

Building Congregations and Communities: Rabbi Stephen Einstein’s 50-Year Career

At HUC-JIR, we thought that the road to a successful rabbinate began with an assistantship. During the placement period before ordination, I interviewed for several assistantships, but in each case was a runner-up. So, my first position was as the solo rabbi in a New Jersey “A” congregation. I didn’t have an experienced rabbi from whom to learn, nor a Temple administrator to guide me in dealing with a staff.  In fact, I had no staff or even an office. For a while, my study was half of the dining room of our small rented apartment until the congregation completed construction on its building. 

I recently received an email from one of my confirmands in that congregation with whom there had been no contact in the intervening years. Now a 60-something leader of the shul, she expressed what an impact I had had upon her as a fifteen-year-old girl. This is probably the greatest joy every rabbi has—the knowledge that rabbis touch people deeply, often without even being aware of the extent of our influence.

We might well have remained in that congregation had we not faced housing difficulties. We lived in three places in three years and were facing a fourth move when we learned of an opening in California. Robin—who has been my mainstay throughout—and I both grew up in Southern California and wanted to be near our family. So, we returned.

I learned a valuable lesson: geography is not a very good reason for a rabbi to choose a congregation. This was a troubled group. I was there to celebrate the temple’s bar mitzvah year—and I was rabbi number seven! They had already spun off two other congregations before I arrived! At the conclusion of my two-year contract, I suffered what too many of our colleagues have experienced—a professional dislocation.

At that point, we rented out our house, moved in with my in-laws together with our three children (number four came along later), Robin got a job, and I enrolled in law school. However, a lovely group of people decided to form a new congregation and asked me to serve as their rabbi. From September 1 to Simchat Torah, the membership grew from 31 to 99 households. I realized I could have a decisive role in giving shape and substance to this synagogue. So, I left law school and devoted myself to Congregation B’nai Tzedek for the next thirty-six years.

While I was synagogue-based, my involvements extended far beyond the walls of our shul. The first that I would mention is Interfaith Activities. I was a founder and past president of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council. I was an elected member of the Fountain Valley School Board, and following that served on the School District’s Personnel Commission for twenty-seven years. I was on our local hospital board, which I also chaired. I served on committees of the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, and PBS.

In the Jewish community, I was a founder and past-president of the Bureau of Jewish Education and board member of Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Service, American Jewish Committee, and ADL.

A focus of my rabbinate has been outreach. I taught our community-wide Introduction to Judaism class for forty-one years and co-edited the curriculum that was used throughout North America. For over two decades, I was the rabbinic cochair of the Commission on Outreach, Membership, and Sacred Community. I am currently cochair of the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California.

For twelve years, I served on the CCAR Ethics Committee—six of those years as chair. I’ve been on the CCAR Board for two terms, including one as VP of Member Services. I am currently on the Ethics Process Review Committee.

In retirement, I remain active. I continue to mentor rabbinical students. I am doing a lot of Social Justice work, primarily through CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice).

Through all this, the person-to-person connections remain most meaningful.


Rabbi Stephen Einstein is Founding Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley, California. He is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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CCAR Convention Convention

Great Privilege and Joy: Rabbi Steven Chester on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

My desire to become a rabbi after graduating from UCLA led me to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, Israel, and Cincinnati, and reached fruition when I was ordained in 1971. My love for Judaism in all its many aspects made me realize that the only way I could live and teach the values of our tradition, as well as become fully immersed in Jewish life, was by becoming a rabbi.

Where has it led?

I had the privilege of serving four congregations in my career: Temple Beth Israel in Jackson, Michigan; chaplain for the Jewish inmates of the state prison system of Michigan; Temple Israel in Stockton, California; and Temple Sinai in Oakland, California. In addition, after retirement in 2011, I became interim rabbi in three other congregations: Temple Beth Ora in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Temple Israel in Alameda California; and Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, California. All the congregations I served gave me a positive rabbinic experience, and I feel so fortunate to have served each of them. Each, in its own way, has helped form the rabbi I am today.

Some thoughts after fifty years in the rabbinate: to be a rabbi has been my privilege and joy. I feel privileged that I have become an intimate part of so many lives. I have become part of my congregants’ lives through joyous occasions: a B’rit Milah, a naming, a bar/bat mitzvah, or a wedding. I have become part of their lives at sad times: a serious illness or the death of a loved one. To be with my congregants at these times—to rejoice when they rejoiced, to offer comfort when they suffered—has been an awesome responsibility, an awesome privilege and a blessing for me. It was especially meaningful for me to train and officiate at b’nei mitzvah for those who had either severe physical or learning challenges.

I have had the privilege to have wonderful colleagues. The rabbis and cantors with whom I served in my forty years of congregational life made my rabbinate rich and fulfilling. Sharing with them, learning from them, studying with them, and sharing the bimah with them enhanced my life.

My fifty years has been full of many diverse experiences. I have served on various boards of both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. I helped found an in-home hospice in Stockton, served on the board for a number of years, and became the grief and mourning counselor for the hospice. I taught Bible at Spring Arbor College near Jackson. I was privileged to be appointed an adjunct professor of Jewish Studies at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, teaching two classes there. 

Leading congregational tours was an important part of my rabbinate. I led eight trips to Israel; two to Cuba; one each to Spain, Morocco, and Central Europe. In Oakland, I led a trip to the Gold Country of California where we visited cemeteries and other Jewish sites that were active during the Gold Rush.

The most important thing I learned in my fifty years of the rabbinate is that the great majority of people are basically good. They care about others, want to live a good life, and wish for a world of peace and justice. I also learned that the board of directors of a congregation are partners with me and not adversaries. We are both working for the same thing: to make a vibrant and vital congregation.

As I think about the future, I look forward to the time when we again can meet in person. I am now living in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic where all of our synagogue activities are virtual. I long for physical contact, for being together at Temple as a live community. I will continue to do life cycle events. Also, I plan to study, teach and travel.

I hope to live long enough to see our ten-year-old granddaughter become a bat mitzvah. I hope to see our country become united instead of divided.

I end with the following: My life has been blessed because I am a Jew, because I am a Reform Jew, and because I am a Reform rabbi. If I had to do all over again, I would do it in the exactly the same way.  I feel so much gratitude for the fifty years I have served as a congregational rabbi.


Rabbi Steven Chester serves as Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sinai in Oakland, California. He is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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CCAR Convention Convention

Convention 2021: Enter with Intention

During a recent CCAR Board meeting, our colleague and board member Rabbi Mona Alfi selected a pasuk from Parashat T’rumah on which to d’rash: “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Included in her chosen source texts was a passage by Mordecai Kaplan, a segment of which follows:

“The presence of the multitude in public worship creates an atmosphere that profoundly influences the individual participant. It stirs up emotions of gratitude and confidence that one could not experience in isolation” (A Year with Mordecai Kaplan, p. 73).

The ensuing discussion invited an evaluation of Kaplan’s (and other commentators’) assertion amidst this continuing stretch of isolation when the concept of “presence” has taken on entirely new meaning. Can a “multitude” comprised of silent individuals, visible in small boxes filling our computer screens, still engender an atmosphere rich with emotion, gratitude, and confidence?  For many, the answer was a definitive “yes.” Even in their silent Zoom sanctuaries and classrooms, colleagues noted that the mere presence of engaged and participatory congregants and students effects greater spiritual meaning and enhances the level of joy for all involved…with one caveat. The present multitude to which Kaplan is alluding is achieved when, virtual or not, individuals actively engage and participate in the worship (or learning, or community-building, or meeting, or…), and not simply log in to check a box or listen passively while trying to work simultaneously on other tasks.

Admittedly, the learning focused my attention as much on events to come as it did on experiences during the past year, in particular, our approaching CCAR Convention. Contemplating the potential and hoped-for impact of our Convention, even as we gather from our respective homes and individual spaces, the aspirational qualities that Kaplan describes aptly named are a now-familiar longing for countless among us—an atmosphere that profoundly influences the individual participant, one that stirs up emotions of gratitude and confidence not experienced in isolation. That we happen to be gathering by virtual means is, in truth, an inconsequential variable. With the stellar leadership of our colleagues Rabbi Amanda Greene (Convention Chair) and Rabbi Peter Stein (Vice-Chair), this year’s Convention possesses the undeniable potential to make a genuinely needed, positive and enduring impact in each of our rabbinates. However, the remaining variable in the realization of a spiritually renewing, heartening, confidence-boosting, enriching, educational, and joyful gathering rests not in the hands of the Convention planning leadership, but in each of ours. It is our collective determination to be present that will enable the restorative atmosphere we seek.

This past Rosh HaShanah, our congregation’s first pre-recorded service began with an invitation to members to “enter with intention.” Appreciating that it would have been easy enough for people simply to watch passively, as if with popcorn in hand, we encouraged congregants not to allow the fact that the service was pre-recorded to dissuade them from engaging and participating fully and sincerely, as if they were sitting in the sanctuary.

Looking ahead to this year’s Convention, the sages remind us that our mutual commitment to presence, our decision to engage fully and participate actively—to enter the days with intention—will foster an atmosphere in which renewed gratitude, confidence, and joy can well up and flourish. So, if not done already, clear your calendars for the days of this year’s Convention. Treat the few days we have together as if we were sitting together in the grand ballroom of a Convention hotel. The commitment we make to be present—for ourselves and for one another—will ensure this year’s Convention with all of its virtual creativity, realizes its full potential as one of the best Conventions yet.


Rabbi Ron Segal is President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

CCAR Convention 2021 will take place online March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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CCAR Convention Convention

Gratitude & Lifelong Learning: Rabbi Philip Kranz on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

The rabbinate, as realized, was everything that I expected it to be and much more. What appealed to me, initially was the fact that the congregational rabbinate would allow me to serve Judaism through a number of different activities in a variety of different settings. That expectation turned into a reality which I celebrated every day of my active ministry. I championed, more than anything else, the importance of ongoing Jewish education, both for the rabbi and the congregants. I made adult education a hallmark of my rabbinate. I also continued to enrich myself as a student of Judaism, continuing my learning on a daily basis. I came to realize, early on, that my knowledge of Judaism was the most important thing that gave me authenticity as a rabbi.

The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion trained me well, but I did not draw deeply enough from that experience, and I committed myself to a lifelong program of Jewish learning. Teaching and learning makes my rabbinate significant until this day. There were so many outstanding rabbis who served as mentors and role models. Only now do I realize how much I owe to my own rabbis, growing up, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver and Rabbi Daniel Jeremy Silver, of blessed memory; to Rabbi Sidney Brooks, of blessed memory, who mentored me during the critical years of my student rabbi days; Rabbi Samuel Egal Karff, of blessed memory, whom I served as assistant and eventually succeeding as senior rabbi; and Ronald M. Segal who was my assistant for ten years and who succeeded me as senior rabbi and who now serves as president of our Conference. I was equally enriched by my teachers and my students. “My lines truly were fallen unto me in pleasant places.”


Rabbi Philip Kranz is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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CCAR Convention Convention

Convention 2021: The Blessing of Four Days to Connect

CCAR Convention 2021 is coming. It is difficult to believe that it was just about a year ago that the CCAR staff and the Convention Committee worked furiously to figure out what it might mean to have our beloved yearly Convention online.

Now here we are, a year later preparing for a second online CCAR Convention. Your CCAR Staff and Convention Committee took the lessons from last year’s CCAR Connect 2020, the countless lessons we learned as rabbis who are now primarily functioning online due to Covid-19, and dreamed even bigger so that we talented, tired, and weary rabbis can recharge.

Now it is up to us CCAR members. We need to block off the full days in our work calendars. We deserve it. Accept the blessing of four days to connect with colleagues, to engage in worship as a pray-er not a leader, to learn and laugh. While the schedule is full, with sensitivity to CCAR members throughout the world, you may find yourself with a few hours before or after programming begins. Please, don’t schedule that time with work. Care for yourself. Step away from the screen so that you are ready to engage when the program day begins and ends. CCAR Convention is always a time to remember that in a profession where isolation can reign, we are part of a community of colleagues, and while we might experience loneliness, we are not alone.   

CCAR Convention, like always, will be what you make of it. We will remember and honor the treasured colleagues who’ve died in the past year and we will miss them dearly. We will honor our rabbis celebrating 50 and 51 years in the rabbinate, and we will install a new slate of officers to lead us. I invite you to join me online this year so that we can learn, recharge, and connect anew together.


Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is a doctoral student at the University of Southern California and serves Temple Beth Shalom in Austin, Texas as Visiting Associate Rabbi. 

CCAR Convention 2021 will take place online March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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CCAR Convention Convention

Convention 2021: Gratitude and Our Kahal

Last week, my Hebrew school students led our congregation’s Kabbalat Shabbat services. “Hebrew School Shabbat,” as it’s affectionately called, provides an annual opportunity for parents, grandparents, and community members to witness our youth recite the prayers they’ve been learning in Hebrew school.

And yet, this year was very different. Each child led from their computer at home, and nearly all of the students led their prayer as a solo voice with the rest of the kahal on mute. While many of us rabbis have become accustomed to leading prayer services online, I didn’t take for granted that my students would readily be prepared to sing and pray so publicly on the screen. And yet, my doubts were quickly assuaged as each rose to the occasion with confidence and ease. Their boldness and pride made this annual congregational gathering sweeter than ever. And my community and I are the better for it.

This year at the CCAR Convention, our kahal will gather each from our own homes or synagogue offices. This year our daily t’filot, kavanot. and meditation leaders will lead us from places across the globe. And in this strange new, or perhaps not-so-new reality, we’ll raise our voices to sing with gratitude, reflect on our lives, breathe deeply, ask for healing, and even perhaps shed a tear. Despite our physical distance, we’ll gather with rabbinic colleagues in prayer and song, as only we can do at our annual convention.

As I am planning for our time together and looking at my calendar, I am also trying to be very practical about it: What will it take for me to feel present at Convention despite the many distractions around me? What practical steps can I take to carve out the time and space for Convention?

While most of us are exhausted from life online, I believe that we, like my students, can embrace this opportunity with joy and gratitude. I look forward to seeing you in March!


Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor serves Beth Israel Congregation in Bath, Maine.

CCAR Convention 2021 will take place online March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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Convention

Hard-Gained Wisdom: Rabbi Ed Treister on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor members of our organization who were ordained 50 years ago or more. In advance of CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, we share a blog from Rabbi Ed Treister.

They say a person will have seven totally unrelated jobs in their working life. Most of us will have but one—rabbi. We ordainees of 1971 have been rabbis for fifty years. That’s a long run, fifty years. Who knew when we left Temple Ema­nu-El or the Plum Street Temple that the run would be cross-country—literally and figuratively—and not a paved road marathon. But at the fifty-year mark, there is a sense of accomplishment for no other reason than for having crossed the finish line.

I’ve learned a lot in the past fifty years. Most of it the hard way, but then those are the lessons that stay with you. There were other classes I attended—and repeated!—and still others where I never got their message. But here at the fifty-year finish line are some things I’ve gathered. Some of them I took in and benefited from and some, to my chagrin, I ignored. As to those lessons repeated or missed, all I can say is—pay attention!

1. There is a difference between being a rabbi and being in the rabbinate. Rabbi is who you are; the rabbinate is where you work. You’ll always be a rabbi even if you aren’t in the rabbinate. Be always mindful of how you tie your shoes. 

2. Carve out time to study and make it fixed. Shammai said it better than I. There’s only so much in the tank, and while your mileage may vary, at a certain point, you know you’re running on fumes. Not good for you, and not good for your people.

3. What you say and how you say it are the tools of your trade. Avtalyon said to be careful with your words. That has to include preparing your words well: well-thought-out, well-phrased, well-presented. Preparation shows: it shows you care about what you are saying and to whom you are saying it. Lincoln could do it off the back of an envelope; few of us are Lincolns.

4. Spend a lot of time with the kids in religious school and youth group. It is with them that you may have the greatest influence. They’ll remember what you taught them, and it will shape their character to an inestimable degree.

5. The rabbinate offers the rabbi opportunities to touch a lot of people in a variety of venues every single day. I can think of no other field, with the possible exceptions of broadcasting and publishing, that has that kind of reach. Take advantage of those moments.

6. The rabbinate is one of the last places where you can speak before an assembly without fear of interruption or challenge. Maybe a good thing, and then again, maybe not. 

7. The rabbinate offers the possibility for you to focus your energies towards goals that you establish. You can shift your focus as you see the need in you or in your community with relative ease. That’s real flexibility and freedom.

8. The rabbinate is a job with all the storms and stresses of being an employee. Often you’re viewed as a middle manager who is under the direction of other managers. It is an unsustainable position and you will need to define yourself for them by what you say and what you do.

9. The smaller the institution the greater the likelihood of transitions. The larger the institution the greater the likelihood of stability. Sailboats are easier to maneuver (and tip over) than steamships and that goes both for the rabbi and for the institution. Hamaskil yavin.

10. By the time you are ordained you will have at least nine letters after your name. You may even acquire more. Bear in mind that wisdom is not measured by degrees but by demeanor. Ed Friedman said it differently: at all times strive to be a non-anxious presence. 

There’s my ten. There are lots more. The point is being a rabbi is an opportunity to help people live meaningful, Jewishly value-laden lives. But being in the rabbinate also means dealing with highly diverse agendas, some that can be supportive, but others that can be highly destructive. In this long run, that is the rabbi’s career in the rabbinate. I wish you Godspeed.


Rabbi Edward Treister is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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Convention

Fulfillment Beyond Measure: Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor CCAR members ordained 50 years ago or more. Here, Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman reflects on his life and learnings in the rabbinate.

If there is such a phenomenon as a spiritual journey, I cannot think of a better way to do just that than being a congregational rabbi. For not only have I experienced my own spiritual life, but I have tasted the spiritual lives of my members. As I have stood under the chuppah, enabling two people to make holy and sacred the bond of love that will join their two souls, I too was touched by the powerful magic of their romantic love. 

And again, I found myself in their presence as I participated in the naming ceremony for their tiny infant. To see the look in their eyes, to view the countenance of grandparents and at times even great-grandparents, all of whose faces radiated with a kind of ultimate joy, was a special privilege granted to me as a rabbi.

Then, before I knew it, I was standing at the door of our preschool and watching bewildered parents letting go, for the first time perhaps, of their little one as their toddler walked down the hall to his first preschool classroom. Then in the blink of an eye, I was handing each member of the kindergarten consecration class their own little Torah, which they accepted so tenderly, holding their Torah close to their hearts. Then in three blinks of an eye, I was standing next to a thirteen-year-old chanting from the Torah at his bar mitzvah.

Two or three years later, I was with this bar mitzvah boy and his classmates, participating with them in a stunningly, beautiful confirmation service they had created. Two years later, I was privileged to conduct an “off-to-college Shabbat,” praying and hoping that wherever these students went, their Judaism would live in them and that I had somehow instilled in them a desire to live a Jewish life.

The next time I might see one of my confirmands might be when they once again are standing in front of the congregation, but this time instead of reading a confirmation prayer, they are speaking about their late grandfather at his funeral, a grandfather who meant so much to them. The young man tells those gathered for the funeral how much it meant to him to hold his parents’ hands in a circle with me as together with his grandfather we repeated the Sh’ma, the last words his grandfather said before slipping into a coma and dying.

Sitting with families, listening to them speak about loved ones who have just died, about how they lived their lives, how they loved, how they struggled and sometimes failed, then strove again and succeeded, I’ve learned so much about how to live life, not just what I’ve read in books, but from sharing in my congregants’ lives.

The blessing I have received as a rabbi has brought me fulfillment beyond measure, but I am quick to note that whatever spiritual nourishment I have gained from my rabbinate would never have been possible without my life partner, Barbara, who has been by my side now for almost fifty-six years. Nor would it have been possible without the understanding and enlightened leadership of The Temple’s officers and board, as well as the deep support and understanding of our Temple family.

What I have described above, along with almost every imaginable type of counseling situation, became the heart and soul of my rabbinate.

I tried my best to keep not only the words of the prophets alive, but to turn those words into deeds, such as helping create a shelter for homeless couples and a shelter for  homeless newborns and their families. What wisdom did I learn? I learned when people are given a chance to allow the goodness of their hearts to bloom, they will do so. The night before we opened our shelter for homeless newborns and their families, we had an open house for our volunteers. The infant bathtubs were placed up high so mothers would not have to bend over to bathe their babies. On the side of each tub was a little yellow rubber duck that one of our volunteers had placed there. I smiled and I think God did too.

I pray that my rabbinate has been pleasing in God’s eyes….


Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman received his BBA from Emory University and was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1974 he was named senior rabbi at The Temple in Atlanta, Georgia. In December 1988, he received his PhD in Theological Studies from Emory University.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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Convention

Convention 2021: A Chance to Truly Be Present for One Another

I have two pieces of art that have hung on my study wall for many years. They’ve moved with me from place to place, and I often find my eyes wandering to them. Even though they are so familiar to me at this point, they continue to provide me with new inspiration.

The one piece is a black and white painting by Amos Amit with the words Da lifney mi ata omed, Know Before Whom You Stand. Amit is an Israeli artist, born in 1945 and raised in the Galilee.

The second is the famous picture by Norman Rockwell, with the verse “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The backdrop is filled with pictures of an array of faces, representing many different identities from around the globe.

Recently, I’ve been turning to these two teachings as I work with our extraordinary CCAR Convention chair, Rabbi Amanda Greene, the outstanding CCAR staff, and the dedicated members of the Convention committee.

The Talmud’s charge to remember God’s presence wherever we go has been at the center of our thinking about the upcoming convention. If it is a challenge to turn a hotel into a sacred space for T’filah and Talmud Torah, it is all the more so when we aren’t even together in a physical space. How do we ensure that there is kedusha in our online gatherings?

I am well aware that we’ve all been asking this question in our own communities in different ways over the last year, as the pandemic has restricted all of our gatherings. We will rely on the hard learned best practices of so many of you in many ways. One strategy in particular stands out for me. The March CCAR Convention won’t just be a series of webinars or a string of online programs. Rather, we have been looking very carefully at the concept of the “journey” of CCAR Convention 2021. How will we travel through each day and how will we travel through the entirety of the week?

Heschel has a beautiful framing of this teaching: that wherever we go we must cultivate the art of awareness of God. This is what we will do during our Convention.

This will be an impactful week. I look forward to truly being together, spiritually and emotionally. I plan to clear my calendar, set my out of office messages, and find a quiet space to sit undisturbed while I participate.

The second teaching on my wall, the so-called Golden Rule, is also very present in my thinking about convention. Simply put, the stress and strain of the last year has been exaggerated by not being with colleagues, classmates, and friends…those who have a unique understanding of rabbinic life and who have been a cherished presence in my life for 25 years.

Our online Convention will provide opportunities for us to share and connect…not just to catch up in the chat box while a presentation is happening, but to take time for real conversation. While we can’t actually share a meal or a cup of coffee, there will be built in opportunities, including some that use innovative technology, that create the experience of sitting together, chatting in the hall together, and opening up about our lives, our work, and our hopes and dreams. Our Convention will be a chance to truly be present for one another.

In the coming weeks, there will be more and more shared about the speakers, presenters, and program plans. For now, I urge you to give yourselves the gift of connection: register and carve out this time to be together as a Conference and as a family of colleagues.


Rabbi Peter W. Stein is the Senior Rabbi of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY and an adjunct faculty member at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He is the Vice Chair of the CCAR Convention Committee.

CCAR Convention 2021 will take place online March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.