Looking Back on 50 years in the Rabbinate

As the 50th anniversary of my ordination at HUC-JIR approaches, I’d like to share three of the most rewarding aspects of my thirty-six year rabbinate at Temple Beth David of Westwood, Massachusetts.

Like many Reform congregations, we have a Sabbath morning minyan in the library led by congregants, followed by refreshments and an hour of studying the parasha hashavuah. On the Sabbath mornings when I was not conducting a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the sanctuary, I was able to attend this Shabbat Morning Chevreh, but I never took it over. It was always lay led.  I think it was successful, because it empowered Temple members to become leaders in worship and teachers of Torah. On Erev Shabbat, because I felt that it was tremendously important for congregants to see, hear, and study the actual Torah, I would read Torah from the scroll and engage the congregation in a brief discussion of the text. I think the result of these weekly rituals was that the congregation gained a genuine appreciation of the Torah scroll as a “tree of life to those who hold fast to it.”

A second significant pillar of my rabbinate was the founding and sustaining of chavurot. Our congregation in southwest suburban Boston is comprised of Jews from many different neighboring communities in which the Jewish population is no more than two per cent. By joining a Temple chavurah of five or six couples, Temple members immediately acquired a new Jewish family that was there for them in times of celebration and in times of grief. I found that the most successful way of establishing a chavurah was to match people who were at the same stage in their lives. I required each chavurah to commit to the study of a Jewish book or text which would be the focus of discussion at a monthly meeting. Without this commitment to Jewish study, I felt there was a danger that a chavurah might develop into nothing more than a schmoozing club. Chavurot also engaged in many other kinds of Jewish activities such as gathering together for Sabbath and festival home celebrations or finding ways to contribute to Temple life by participating in a social action program, by leading a worship service, or by volunteering for a Temple project. Some chavurot have lasted for thirty years and are still going strong, while others have had a shorter life span, but even when a chavurah lasted for only two or three years, chavurah members were able to develop deep and abiding Jewish friendships and as a result of their experience, felt more connected to the Temple and Jewish life.

I also devoted a great deal of my active rabbinate to participating in the founding of several new Jewish institutions in the Boston Jewish community.  My most notable contribution was my role as the Founding Chair of the Rashi School, the Boston Area Reform Jewish Day School. Today, thirty years after we opened the doors, the Rashi School is host to over three hundred children in a beautiful school building in Dedham, MA that shares a campus with a cutting edge Hebrew Senior Life residential facility that has made possible a wonderful intergenerational program. The Rashi School concentrates on making its core values of  limood, tzedek, kehilah, kavod and ruach Elohim come alive in every aspect of school life. I was also blessed to serve on the founding boards of the Gann Academy, the excellent pluralistic Jewish high school located in Waltham, Massachusetts and Mayyim Hayyim the Living Waters Boston Community Mikveh and Education Center.

Looking back on my rabbinate at this fifty year anniversary, I take a great deal of satisfaction from the three aforementioned activities: the encouragement of the study of Torah at Temple Beth David, the establishment of Temple Beth David chavurot which brought lasting friendship to many congregants while strengthening their connection to the Temple, and my contribution to the enrichment of Jewish life in Boston by joining with others in the founding of the Rashi School, the Gann Academy, and Mayyim Hayyim.

I also have a deep sense of gratitude to my wife Barbara for supporting me and aiding me throughout my rabbinic career.

Rabbi Henry A. Zoob is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate.



The Road Not Taken

I grew up in a loving Orthodox family in Boston.  When I was 9 years old, my world changed.  I was playing in the streets with an African-American friend at my grandparents’ home in Roxbury.  Someone came running down the street, shouting racial slurs in filthy language against my friend.   Scared, I ran into my grandparents’s house.  My father took off after the person.

At 9, I knew something was wrong in the world.  I didn’t discern it all.  I went to my Rabbi.  After I left him, I decided I wanted to become a Rabbi and do something with my life to overcome hatred and prejudice.

At 13, I tried with a lifeguard to save a 9-year old from drowning in Maine.  After he was rushed to the hospital, he was pronounced dead.  One of the doctors said to me, “Don’t worry, God wanted another young person up there.”  Right then, I stopped believing in God.  In time, I came to believe in Godliness is how we treat one another.  The only option for me was to become a Reform Liberal Rabbi, the best decision of my life.

In the 1960s, I was drawn to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reverend Jesse Jackson.  I opposed the Vietnam War and marched with them.  I was drawn to suffering and those who had virtually no voice.  I went to Moscow to meet, assist, and sponsor Soviet Jews.

When I served in Miami as an assistant Rabbi, I met with gay individuals and preached a sermon in 1968, ” The Jewish Community and the Homosexual ”  It opened a door, though there were many threats against the sermon.  I have never stopped passionately supporting the LGBT community.

When Saigon fell, I traveled to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and met with refugees.  Rabbi Erwin Herman and I traveled with Vice President Walter Mondale to Geneva to assist with Vietnamese refugee resettlement.  The Boat People became our people.  Our own Boat People were on the St. Louis.  We went to Camp Pendleton, where I took in a family to my home.  We resettled 13 families at Temple Judea in Tarzana.  Rabbi Herman and I, with the support of Rabbi Alex Schindler and the UHAC, traveled the country to meet with our colleagues and assist them in resettling Vietnamese refugees in our Reform Congregation.

I traveled with Reverend Jesse Jackson, joining him in his quest for greater involvement in civil rights and human rights.  I joined him to speak at the 25th memorial service in Philadelphia, Mississippi in memory of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney.  I traveled throughout the Middle East with Rev. Jackson, meeting with Yasser Arafat, Bashar al-Assad, and leaders of Israel and Lebanon supporting peace efforts.  Our interfaith group went to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, to meet with Slobodan Milosevic to free the 3 American POWs.  We brought them home.  Our interfaith work continues, more important today than ever as Muslims, Sikhs, and other communities are the target of hatred in America.

The road not taken.  Being ordained a Rabbi 50 years ago has opened my world as a passionate, liberal Jew to make a difference.  I am blessed to have been a dreamer and realized those dreams as a Rabbi.  Never could I have imagined a life that has so fulfilled me.  No other profession could have prepared me to travel on the Road Not Taken.  The journey continues.

Today, I pursue my civil rights and human rights work with my wife, California State Controller Betty Yee, in pursuit of economic equality for all.

I thank the Hebrew Union College, Temple Israel of Greater Miami, Temple Judea in Tarzana, Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, and my teachers, students, and colleagues.

Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs is celebrating 50 years in the reform rabbinate.


Reflections on 50 years in the Rabbinate

I was born in Bombay, India (now called Mumbai). I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from St. Xavier’s College which is affiliated with the University of Bombay. Rabbi Hugo Gyrn, the first full time Rabbi in Mumbai, encouraged me to study at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

As an undergraduate student I took an active leadership role in the Social Service League. We spent Saturday afternoons mixing milk powder with water and distributing this milk to children who lived with their families in ramshackle huts on the outskirts of a large cotton factory. In the summer we spent a week in a small village building a dirt road that would eventually connect the village to the nearest town. It was at this Jesuit College I was able to translate the values and ideals of Judaism into concrete action.

These experiences had a profound effect on my future rabbinic career. I was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1966 with a Master’s Degree in Hebrew Letters. I was awarded the honorary Degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1991 for 25 years of rabbinic service.

My first pulpit was the Glasgow Reform Synagogue, the only Reform congregation in Scotland. Despite attacks and opposition from the Orthodox establishment, the congregation has grown. After this unique rabbinic experience I served as rabbi at two congregations in Western Pennsylvania, Beth Zion Temple in Johnstown and Temple Israel in Uniontown.

It was after ten years in the active rabbinate in Glasgow and Johnstown that I decided to practice what I had been preaching in the pulpit. As rabbi of a small congregation in Uniontown I was able to pursue many other professional and volunteer paths. I was appointed Administrator of the Fayette Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program (now called The Behavioral Health Administration). As a volunteer on the board and as the board president I discovered that Fayette County did not have many of the mandated services for people with disabilities.

With a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Hebrew Letters I assumed the challenging position of County Administrator. I taught myself the complex mental health system, proposal writing and the development of budgets of twelve million dollars. This enabled me to greatly expand the county program by establishing all the mandated residential and non-residential clinical services.

I served at Temple Israel in Uniontown for 27 years as Rabbi and 11 years as Rabbi Emeritus after retirement. I was Chaplain at Western Center in Canonsburg, Somerset State Hospital, State Correctional Institutes at Somerset, Waynesburg, Laurel Highlands and Fayette. I also served as Director of UVW Hillel, Spiritual Counselor at Albert Gallatin Home Care and Hospice. I was one of the founders and first Executive Director of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers of Fayette which provides volunteer service to the frail elderly that enables them to stay in their homes rather than assisted living or nursing homes.

In Uniontown I was active in a number of social and civic organizations. I was President of Uniontown Area Clergy Association, Co-chair of the United Way of South Fayette, President of the Uniontown Rotary Club, Assistant Governor of Rotary District 7330, President of Executive Committee for Agency coordination, President of the MHMR Board, President of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers of Fayette, Vice President/Treasurer of the Uniontown Jewish Community Center and an active member of the Fayette Lodge of B’nai B’rith.

While in Cincinnati I married Helaine Mazin of Louisville, Kentucky. We will celebrate our 54th anniversary in September. Our children Lisa Kaye and Braham Mazin were born in Paisley, Scotland. Lisa is married to Mark Chertok. They have two children, Adam David and Tova Rose. Our son, Rabbi Braham Mazin David, is married to Naomi Blumberg. They have two children, Asha Nissin and Avinoam Pukar.

Helaine and I now live in Pittsburgh and have become members of Rodef Shalom Congregation where we celebrated the 50th anniversary of my ordination at a special Shabbat Morning Service on June 18, 2016.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       —

                                         Rabbi Sion David is celebrating 50 years in the Rabbinate.  He retired in 2014.