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CCAR Convention Torah

A Career Dedicated to Teaching and Learning Torah: Rabbi Norman J. Cohen 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 Norman J. Cohen.

Though it has been fifty-three years since we were ordained by Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, z”l, at Central Synagogue, it seems like yesterday. But as I look back and remember the emotions of that day, which were heightened for me by my mother’s death only months before, little did I know that fifteen years later, Dr. Gottschalk would ask me to join the Administration of the College-Institute. And, as I stood on the bimah of Central Synagogue with Dr. Gottschalk, seated on the bimah was his ultimate successor, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, then a rabbi at Central. What an amazing snapshot! Three presidents of HUC-JIR on the bimah at one time. Who would have thought that I would also have the honor of serving for a brief time as Interim President of the College-Institute.

At that moment of Ordination, it surely would have been impossible to imagine how my life as a rabbi would play out. My goal then was simply to enter our graduate school in Cincinnati and immerse myself in rabbinic text study, hoping to gain a deeper understanding of its various genres. The years studying Midrash and Rabbinic Literature were such a blessing, and in great measure, it was due to the knowledge I gained and the passion I imbibed from wonderful mentors, chief among them, Drs. Eugene Mihaly, z”l, Ben Zion Wacholder, z”l, and Ellis Rivkin, z”l.

Little did I know then that my entire rabbinic career would be bound up with the College-Institute, as a faculty member who also spent twenty-three years working in the administration. And it began with my return to the New York School in 1975, due in large measure to the faith that Dr. Gottschalk had in me, as well as the efforts of Dr. Paul Steinberg, z”l, and Dr. Eugene B. Borowitz, z”l. For thirteen years I served as a full-time member of the Faculty, teaching and advising rabbinic and cantorial students; trying to impart to them not only the knowledge that I gained, but a sense of what it means to be a rabbi, a cantor, really a Teacher of Torah.

Serving as the Director of the Rabbinical School and then Dean of the New York School, and finally as Provost of our College-Institute was indeed a wonderful way for me to channel my rabbinic aspirations. Helping to shape the training and growth of future rabbis, cantors and educators provided me a tremendous opportunity to ensure that future Reform Jewish leaders would become the newest chuliot, links in the Shalshelet HaKabbalah, the chain of tradition and help ensure Jewish continuity. And in the process, I gained so much from so many of the students with whom I was truly privileged to study.

During the years I spent working in the administration, it meant a great deal to work with clergy, education and administrative staff, and faculty who embodied supreme dedication to shaping a seminary which could be a bastion of creativity and commitment to Jewish life. They, in turn, would train leaders who would make a significant difference in the lives of all those whom they were blessed to serve.

Yet, as I reflect upon almost five decades of work at our alma mater, it has been clear to me that the greatest joy and personal fulfillment I experience comes in the myriad of moments in which I share my love and passion for words of Torah. Studying with students and laypeople alike—opening ourselves to every element in the text, biblical and rabbinic, and having it teach us who we are and who we aspire to be as Jews and as human beings—has given me indescribable pleasure. Through my teaching at the College-Institute and in congregations, and the six books I have written, I’ve tried to demonstrate the power of words suffused with k’dushah, the holiness latent in every textual element, which have been transformational for me in my life. The most important insight I have ever gained about the importance of the teaching of Torah came from a comment by Franz Rosenzweig, who noted, “Teaching begins when the subject matter ceases to be subject matter and changes into inner power. We truly teach when we ourselves are drastically changed in the process. We truly learn when our autonomous self is pierced and we move beyond ourselves to the Other.”

And so we praise the power in the universe, in us, which is the source of mayim chayim, life-giving water, Torah:

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.


Rabbi Norman J. Cohen is celebrating 50 years in the Rabbinate. Rabbi Cohen serves as Professor Emeritus of Midrash at HUC-JIR New York.

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

Growing A Congregation and Watching It Bloom: Rabbi Mayer Perelmuter 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 Mayer Perelmuter.

Upon reflection, I am so grateful to have been in one congregation over the majority of these years. It enabled me to grow and develop a congregation and to see Temple Isaiah through some difficult financial crises, until it blossomed into the largest and most active Reform congregation in Queens, New York: The Reform Temple of Forest Hills.

Here are some of the accomplishments of which I am most proud:

  • I hired and trained numerous rabbinic interns who are currently religious leaders throughout the country.
  • I instituted a temple covenant with our board of directors and committee leaders, developing a humane, sensitive, way to agree and disagree as we worked together. 
  • I expanded the temple covenant with our lay and professional educational leadership, to be part of the religious school classrooms; this covenant continues to be the opening lesson in our religious school to this day. 
  • Our Mitzvah Day committee started out as a “senior group,” but with my advocacy and encouragement, it became an intergenerational event that included and partnered with the Religious School Parents’ Association. To this day, Mitzvah Day is our most celebrated intergenerational event in the congregation and is known throughout Queens.
  • Prior to the High Holy Days in 1994, Temple Isaiah’s roof was leaking, and the sanctuary was unusable. In partnership with our board, we made the decision to build an ark and move the services to a local college. The lesson that the congregation learned continues to this day: “We celebrate together as a congregational family, not as a building.” This was the rationale that enabled me, in partnership with our board leadership, to convince Temple Isaiah congregants to merge with three other struggling Queens congregations to become the Reform Temple of Forest Hills in 1995.
  • I loved establishing a men’s study group to complement the active women’s groups in our congregation. This weekly men’s study group, which drew diverse ages and very curious intelligent men, was provocative, challenging and exciting for me, and continues to exist today.  
  • I learned so much from my congregational leaders, from my rabbinic interns, cantors, and most important, from my congregants. My involvement, pastorally with them was among the most meaningful aspects of my rabbinate. I treasure the relationships that developed through the numerous life cycle events, sometimes over three generations; the joys and sorrows that I was privileged to share with these people have influenced my life and have enabled me to cope with my own challenges in life as I grow older.  

Rabbi Mayer Perelmuter is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate. He is Rabbi Emeritus of The Reform Temple of Forest Hills in New York.

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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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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The Aha Moments: Rabbi Jeffrey Lazar on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

There is almost something preposterous about trying to sum up 50 years in the rabbinate. The relationships and friendships formed are at the core of the past half century. Lives that have touched me and vice versa. 

Experience and the presence of good people have guided me over the years to what I would describe as memorable and gratifying moments.

Like December 19, 1977, when Robbie Werney, a child with Down’s Syndrome, read eight verses from Torah on the occasion of his becoming a bar mitzvah. His mother had helped us establish a special needs program within the religious school. Robbie revealed the spark of God that existed in him and made believers out of those who doubted that something like this could be done.

Or sharing a morning with a group of sixth grade parents on writing an ethical will, what to say to their children as they became the newest links in the chain of our people’s tradition.

Or speaking to a group of teachers on how to ask thoughtful questions to their students, engaging them in the arduous task of thinking through the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Asking Questions.

What each of these memories has in common is the “aha moment,” the personal connection, the belief in others. To help others see possibilities, to achieve something they didn’t think possible, isn’t that what a rabbi, a teacher does? How grateful I am for those.


“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
                            – Leo Buscaglia


On the occasion of 50 years in the rabbinate, I toast my classmates and colleagues with “L’chayim!”


Rabbi Jeffrey Lazar is celebrating fifty 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

The Road Taken

My classmates and I walked out of Isaac Mayer Wise Temple on Plum Street in Cincinnati 50 years ago with smiles on our faces and the ink barely dry on the S’michah each of us had just been awarded. While I occasionally muse on the roads not taken (law, medicine, teaching), for me, the rabbinate was the road taken.

We were the last class required to volunteer for the military chaplaincy, and some of us were headed to those assignments. Others were headed to assistantships or solo positions in small congregations. Some were headed to Hillel or Ph.D. programs. We were one of the last three classes to be comprised of all males. Sally Priesand would be ordained three years later. Some of us began our studies at the Appian Way campus in Los Angeles. The opening of the Skirball Campus near USC was some two years away, and ordination in L.A. was years away. L.A. students finished their studies in Cincinnati. And we hardly knew our New York counterparts, who studied on W. 68th St. The Brookdale Center campus on W. 4th St. would open 10 years later. Some of us had taken a year’s leave of absence along the way to study in Israel, so we were not ordained with our original entering class. The First Year in Israel for all students was still more than a year away from reality.

I was among those headed for an assistantship in a large congregation with a seasoned senior rabbi as mentor. In my new congregation – as in the majority of Reform congregations – the rabbis wore black pulpit gowns (white on the High Holy Days) and led services from the Union Prayer Book in rather formal (and often magnificent) sanctuaries. Hebrew was minimal. A formal sermon was de rigueur. The organ accompanied a professional choir. Cantors were rare.

The movement was emerging gradually from its Classical Reform era, and, little by little, there were experiments with innovations in worship. So-called “creative” services were offered, often sparked by the congregation’s youth, for whom that was standard practice at regional NFTY conclaves. Such services were composed on typewriters and reproduced on Ditto or Mimeograph machines, until photocopiers began to become more ubiquitous. These services were often intended for one-time use. Recycling became a concern.

So-called multi-media services emerged, using slide projectors (often with dissolve capability) and even movie projectors. While organ accompaniment was fairly standard, guitars and occasional keyboards began to appear on some pulpits. Again, with a hat tip to youth, for whom the guitar had been the standard accompaniment during services at conclaves and camp.

All of the above were part of the impetus and also the forerunners of the efforts by the CCAR to develop a new prayer book, which resulted in the emergence of Gates of Prayer a few years into my early rabbinate during my tenure in my first solo pulpit following my assistantship, followed by Gates of Repentance. I was among those rabbis who introduced both of these in that first solo pulpit and in a subsequent congregation a few years later.

I began my rabbinate in a congregation where neither the rabbis nor the congregants wore a kipah or a tallit and little Hebrew was heard. By the time I retired and became an emeritus, most rabbis and many congregants had been wearing both kipah and tallit for quite some time, and hardly any rabbis were wearing a black pulpit robe. The “Gates” series of prayer books have given way to “Mishkan,” more prayer is offered in Hebrew, and Cantors share the pulpit.

My rabbinate has spanned an era of enormous change in our movement. I was part of some of it, but not all of it. And, in reflecting on the past 50 years as a rabbi, I understand even more the truth behind the title of a UAHC program I participated in and was trained to lead earlier in my career. It was called “Reform is a Verb.” It most certainly is.

Rabbi Bruce S. Block is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention. 

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Fifty Year Reflections

In many ways, the Reform movement is quite different today than it was when I was ordained. The Union Prayer Book was used in our synagogues universally most of the service was conducted in English. The introduction of Gates of Prayer, Gates of Repentance, and most recently, Mishkan T’fillah and Mishkan HaNefesh brought with it a more traditional feel while adding optional readings that fill the worship with meaning. Gender inclusive language makes all feel a part of the worship.

As students at HUC-JIR, we could not wear a Tallit when conducting services and students who desired kosher food needed the permission of the president to live off campus. My first contract in Akron specified that I could not wear a kippah on the bimah. Now kippot and talliot are made available to the congregation and the Tallit has replaced the robe that was standard attire for rabbis in the pulpit.

Our movement is no longer “classical reform.” More and more, our congregants and our younger colleagues pushed our movement to embrace traditions that had been discarded. We embraced Zionism and Israel became part of our rabbinic training and central in our congregations. I, too, embrace these changes. What’s lacking is the notion that the synagogue is central to Jewish life. Today there is much that competes and Friday night is no longer “Temple night.” We talk of spirituality without including the synagogue experience as an essential component of our relationship with God. I now hear people tell me that they are spiritual, but not religious. We can be both and I hope the worship service will once again rise up as part of our search for God in our lives.

In 1969, there were no women yet ordained by the College-Institute. There had not yet been ordained an openly LGTBQ rabbi. Women rabbis have become part of the norm, as have LGBTQ rabbis. The inclusion of both in our rabbinic leadership has changed us for the better.

In the early 1990’s, those of us with LGBT children and our colleagues who identified as gay or lesbian (mostly in the closet) were not permitted to post a meeting in a colleague’s room. Today most of our members are comfortable with officiating at same sex weddings. Our movement has become more welcoming of a diverse population making many more comfortable in our synagogues. I was happy to be a part of that change. I recall the controversy that arose when I officiated at the first same sex Jewish wedding in Ohio.   We have led the way and for that we should be proud.

Every generation makes its contribution to the growth of Reform Judaism. I look back on my career with a sense of satisfaction. It is good to know that I have made a difference in the lives of many people. It is good to know that, both in my congregation and as national president of PFLAG, I have made LGBTQ people feel safe, helped their families embrace them, and helped make them feel a part of Jewish religious life.  It is good to know that I have been able to teach both Jews and non-Jews the lessons that come from our Jewish tradition and its literature. It is good to continue to be a part of the general community and continue to present to Christian and Muslim groups. It is good now to be a member of my congregation. I now learn from my rabbi, and for that I am grateful.

Rabbi David M Horowitz is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention. 

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Convention

The First Time I Was a Rabbi

The first time I was a rabbi happened in a small town in West Virginia. It was not what I had expected. I’m pretty sure it was 1965 but I am certain it was Yom Kippur because Jan Peerce, the great operatic tenor, sang Kol Nidre.

I had just found out I was going to be the rabbi there only a few days earlier.

At the time, I was in my second-year of rabbinic school (age 22) and didn’t even rate a High Holyday student pulpit. That year there were only a few but I had missed the cut-off in the student-pulpit lottery.

Then, just two days before Yom Kippur, the student who had been assigned to conduct High Holyday services in Logan, West Virginia was taken ill and confined to bed. Since I was next on the list, within only a few hours, I found myself standing in the hallway outside a sick classmate’s bedroom taking notes:

You take the Norfolk & Western to Huntington. Then you rent a car and drive through the mountains to Logan. There will be a room reserved for you at the hotel. When you get in, phone a mister so-and-so and tell him you’re the replacement rabbi. He’ll tell you where the synagogue is. Services begin at 7.

He gave me his prayer book, marked with all the cues for the organist and the choir, and explained that, when it came time for the chanting of the Kol Nidre prayer, I should reach under the lectern where, hopefully, there would be a phonograph ready to play a recording of Jan Peerce (nee: Jacob Pincus Perelmuth) singing Kol Nidre.

“Have you decided what you’re preaching on yet?” my classmate asked.

Preaching? It hadn’t yet even dawned on me that I was supposed to give a sermon!

Nervous would be an understatement. I was terrified.

Within two days, on the holiest day of the year, I found myself standing up on the bima leading a congregation in prayer. Everything went pretty much according to plan until we got to the shema. (I am not making this up.)

Before I could invite the congregation to rise—as per the dramaturgical instructions written in my prayer book—I felt a slight rumbling in the floor of the building and heard a distant roaring sound. Then the chandeliers began slowly swinging back and forth. At first, I thought it might be an earthquake. But the rumbling and the roar steadily increased. Soon, the whole building shook. The noise was deafening. Maybe I was having a mystical experience. I can only imagine what the expression on my face must have looked like.

But—and this is the crazy part—no one else in the congregation seemed to take any notice at all. Some began casually whispering to one another. Others simply closed their eyes and seemed to be meditating. Excuse me but does anyone else hear this loud roar? Pardon me, but are we concerned that the building is violently shaking? Perhaps I had slipped into an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story and a village whose inhabitants had become inured to the earth shaking and the heavens roaring whenever they declared God’s unity.

Thankfully, a member of the congregation, recognizing my dismay, came up onto the stage with a whispered explanation: A few feet behind the back wall of the synagogue—he inconspicuously gestured, right behind the five-member choir—was the main line of the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad’s coal division and, as it happened, every now and then, a two hundred car-long coal train passed by.

Fifteen minutes later, when the rumble and roar faded off into the distance, we continued our worship: Hear, O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

That winter, in my Hebrew Bible class, we read I Kings 19:12. “And after the roar there was the thin, barely audible sound of almost breathing.”

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention. 

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50 Blessed Years in the Rabbinate

“Love is Blue” was playing on the radio as I drove home from HUC on Clifton Avenue after the lottery was over and my number guaranteed that I would “volunteer” for the U.S. Army. Chaplaincy school was now on the horizon, and Fort Belvoir, Arlington National Cemetery, and Vietnam were in my future. Of course I didn’t know all that as I opened the door of our apartment in Clifton Village, I just felt sorry and angry for Eileen, our newborn son and me – a lamb on its way to slaughter.

But life has a way of imparting its own truths and healing is a presence too often recognized retrospectively. If I lived in a different time or were a different person then, I would be talking about God here. Maybe I still am. Because a Lieutenant from Mississippi, a Private from Brooklyn, a Captain from Minnesota and countless others taught me what it can mean to be called “Rabbi”, present in the jungles of their confusion and fear, connecting us all to each other, to whatever the word God or Jewish meant to us in that seductively lush and dangerous setting.

The Placement Commission of the CCAR gave me a bonus when I came home from Vietnam. I was eligible to apply for a “B” congregation even though I was only two years out. Eileen gave me even a better one when our two-year-old looked up from his crib that first morning and said: “That’s my Daddy”. I guess even in an age of reel-to-reel tapes sent back and forth from Nha Trang to New Jersey we found our way to each other.

My first pulpit was in Springfield, New Jersey. Temple Sha’arey Shalom was looking for someone to follow a powerful, socially active, controversial and adored Rabbi. Do we ever know what we are walking into? They taught me to love and listen. There was no “incoming” to dodge but plenty of battles to navigate as divergent visions of what the past meant for their future collided. The Army served me well. “KISSKeep It Simple Stupid. Be there as consistently as you can; stand tall and true to yourself and your understanding of the Jewish continuum. But don’t be afraid to cry together, laugh together and dream even as you “never let them see you sweat.” We lived there almost twelve years; our family and our congregation growing and maturing, nurturing each other in times of strength and weakness.

I was in the middle of working towards an MSW in Pastoral Counseling from Wurzweiler School of Social Work when Temple Israel of West Palm Beach called to ask if I would consider interviewing for their congregation. Sometimes things are just meant to be and since I was conducting a wedding in Del Ray Beach two weeks later, I said – yes – if you can make it happen within that time frame. The interview took place in the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach over breakfast with 30 people. Talk about first impressions! A 28-year-bumpy, frustrating, exhilarating, challenging journey began that day. It was filled with new opportunities for growth some of my choosing some chosen for me. The position propelled me into community activism both in our Jewish Federation and the Interfaith Arena. In the meanwhile I was invited to serve on the Reform Pension Board where I am now Vice-Chair. An unexpected blessing, my years on the RPB have linked me with lay and professional people who care deeply and religiously for the professionals and congregations of our Reform movement. It taught me how the sacred flows into the secular; how a shared vision and commitment can become God’s work.

I retired in 2008 to a new chapter. I spent two years learning to become a Jewish Spiritual Director. The Hasidic and Mussar masters informed my heart as my Judaism evolved finding a new home in my soul. With a friend and colleague from the Episcopal tradition we became lecturers at Florida Atlantic University’s Life Long Learning Centers as well as the Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews. In my Jewish communal life, I serve as a consultant to the Synagogue Institute of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, working in synagogue transformation and leadership initiatives.

I have been very lucky. My Episcopal friend corrects me when I use the word “lucky”: “Blessed, Howard – blessed.” My life is full; my cup overflows.

Rabbi Howard Shapiro is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate at the upcoming 2018 CCAR Convention in Orange County, CA.

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CCAR Convention Rabbis spirituality

50 Years a Rabbi: A Path Less Traveled

Martin Buber’s philosophy and Hasidic spiritual revival, along with my attraction to intensive small group experiences, brought me to rabbinical school. Five years later, as a senior at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, I had my life mapped out: I accepted a Fellowship to the Social Psychology Department at the University of Michigan, along with an appointment to the part-time congregation there. But Richard Levy, an upper-class mentor at HUC, urged me to meet with his senior rabbi, Leonard Beerman, z”l, even though I insisted I was not available to be his next assistant.

Nevertheless, Leonard offered me the job, and then brought me to Los Angeles to meet some members of Leo Baeck Temple, a congregation famous for its social activism and non-theological teachings. Just before I was to return to Cincinnati, having once again declined his offer, Leonard said something like, “When I was beginning my career, I wish I had been able to be with someone who could help me with things like weddings and funerals.” Suddenly feeling how very unprepared I was, I said, “Okay. I’m coming.”

Not everyone was happy with my sudden change of direction, but, months later, when I met with a father and three children who brought with them the suicide note of their 41-year-old wife and mother, I gratefully marched into my senior rabbi’s office and laid out the situation. “What do I do?” I asked. He thought for a moment, then said, “I have no idea. Let me know what you do.”

It took me a long time to get past my sense of betrayal and realize what a gift Leonard had given me. In many ways, that moment pushed me onto my own path, needing to trust my own instincts and access a deeper Wisdom.

Pursuing my interest in small-group process, I became a Sensitivity Group leader. In the context of that intense training, some of the shells around my heart broke open, and things began to change both personally and professionally. Returning from a week at Esalen Institute in December 1969, a rockslide on Highway One shattered my basic sense of reality with what I later learned was called an OOBE, an out-of-body experience. Although it was some time before I would share that with others, I awakened to an identity beyond the limits of my physical self. Because of the profound clarity of that realization, I began learning and practicing meditation, hoping to revisit that sacred space less dramatically. I was no longer the same person who had been hired by Leo Baeck Temple a year and a half earlier, and I declined an offer of a third year.

This time, I followed Richard Levy into the Hillel environment, and at Cal State University, Northridge, I worked with Rabbi Michael Roth, a yeshiva classmate of Shlomo Carlebach, who would become my primary teacher, mentor, and friend, until his death in early 2017.

Because spirituality and meditation had become primary for me, but were not core agendas of synagogue life, I entered a graduate program at the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles, where I could more openly pursue my spiritual and psychological interests. Away from the professional rabbinate, I found a surprisingly natural way of being rabbi, counseling and officiating at life-cycle moments for faculty and fellow students. Since that time, I have focused on sharing the spiritual authenticity at the heart of Jewish tradition, developing a psycho-spiritual approach to Torah. My work has included the founding of two meditative synagogues (Makom Ohr Shalom in Los Angeles in 1978, and Bet Alef in Seattle in 1993); practicing as a therapist and spiritual counselor; becoming, along with Pastor Don Mackenzie and Imam Jamal Rahman, an Interfaith Amigo; and authoring or co-authoring a number of books.

While I retired from congregational life at the end of 2009, I continue to write, do counseling, travel with my Amigos, and work as an independent teacher of a universal spirituality based in Jewish text and tradition, seeking universal teachings from other great spiritual paths in order to support the healing of person and planet that needs to be. I am deeply grateful for the road less traveled on which I have found myself.

Rabbi Ted Falcon is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2018 CCAR Convention. 

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Rabbis

Knowing Before Whom I Stand

Bashert: I believe that my encounters in the Rabbinate were meant to be! My paternal grandmother was my first spiritual teacher. Her wisdom shaped my vision for a better world, healed of hate, bigotry, and oppression. Her affirmations taught me to seize life’s opportunities, to open sacred windows.

Family expectations sculpted my intention to become a concert pianist.  My piano stood as a symbol of their plan for my future. My professors were sources of spiritual, religious, and musical wisdom, whose combined impact on my soul determined my destiny.  Hartford’s “classical Reform dean,” Abraham J. Feldman, influenced my consideration of career alternatives. Pianist Rudolf Serkin’s brilliance and humility, the impact of my teacher, Madame Dayas, of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music, and the insight of Dean Pelletieri at the Hartt School of Music, taught me to be true to myself. HUC-JIR Professors, Werner Weinberg, survivor of the Holocaust, and Samuel Sandmel, innovative scholar in Christian-Jewish dialogue, ignited my commitment to Torah study and interfaith relationships, defining my rabbinic choices.

The marriage of religious thought and social justice sparked my passions. Professor Sheldon Blank inspired my zeal for Reform’s prophetic vision. My rabbinate embraced involvement in the 1960’s Civil Rights movement. A cherished association with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King’s successor, joined us in pursuit of “tikkun olam.”

The UAHC visionary and my congregant, Al Vorspan, taught me the merit of “chutzpah,” in molding better days. The discipline of piano practice nourished my ability to wrestle with God and humanity. The need to confront the imperfections of life awakened my spiritual pursuits. Our ordination, coincident with Israel’s Six Day War and the Vietnam conflict, and dramatic episodes in my Army chaplaincy, previewed my rabbinate.

While difficult, change insures the evolution of the “reform” attribute in Judaism.  No one owns a monopoly on religious truth, and rabbinic leaders must blend idealism and realism to nurture communities that welcome the Divine. Though disappointments and failures intrude, the Eternal Light demands our refueling.

My greatest gifts grew from seeds sown in various gardens. Ft. Hamilton’s Army Chaplain School and my chaplaincy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center aroused concerns about theodicy. Counseling people from differing backgrounds required my creativity. My assistantship under the tutelage of Nathan Perilman, z”l, and Ronald Sobel at NYC’s Temple Emanu-El refined my rough edges.  The congregation of Lawrence, Long Island’s Temple Sinai prepared me for what was yet to come. Cincinnati’s Rockdale Temple, K.K. Bene Israel, challenged me to move a classical Reform congregation into the 20th century, becoming their first Senior Rabbi permitted to wear a kippah.  My struggle to position Israel’s flag on our bimah opened avenues for four congregational trips to Israel.  Officiating at the funerals of a rabbinic mentor, Victor Reichert, and at that of my treasured professor, Werner Weinberg, became transcendent moments. My collegiality with the Rev. George Hill, Rector of Cincinnati’s St. Barnabas Church, ushered in unforeseen collaborations that became instructive for the community. When I retired, the Church framed documents declaring me as “Sometime Rabbi In Residence.” Failing retirement, I accepted a “part-time” position at St. Augustine’s Temple Bet Yam, becoming their first Rabbi, conducting services in a Unitarian Church for 55 congregants.  Expanding to 125 families, we designed their first spiritual home, the façade of which proclaimed: “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All People.” Teaching at Flagler College in St. Augustine provided mentoring opportunities for a future Catholic and a future Episcopal priest.

My musical and spiritual beginnings nurtured the yearnings of my soul. The pathos of Beethoven and the precision of Mozart flowed into Judaism’s unrelenting wisdom. I learned to find fulfillment to dream impossible dreams. The Rabbinate was the right choice for me to compose new music for a rapidly changing world.  God willing, I shall fulfill my personal challenge to return to the piano, complete my reflections on Bashert, while exploring the world and nature.

When I peer in to the precincts of my soul, I am grateful for the blessings of that Light I shall never truly comprehend. My favorite Torah personality Jacob wrestled with the Almighty to become himself. In my way, I tried too.

Rabbi Mark Goldman is celebrating fifty years in the rabbinate.