Rabbinic Reflections

Rabbi Allen Bennett: 50 Years of Joys and Rewards of Chaplaincy, Pulpit, and Interfaith Work

I graduated in the largest ordination class in HUC-JIR’s history.

I was one of the very few graduates that year, if not the only graduate, who intentionally chose not to seek work in a pulpit setting. I elected to enter a one-year residency program in Clinical Pastoral Education (hospital chaplaincy) in Rochester, Minnesota, after which I remained as the Jewish chaplain at the Mayo Clinic-affiliated hospitals for the next two years. Unbeknownst to me when I went to Rochester, I was also expected to serve as the rabbi of B’nai Israel Synagogue there, something no one thought to mention to me during the application process.

I loved my chaplaincy work and learned a great deal from the synagogue work. But when I had an opportunity to enter a doctoral program at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, I jumped at it and moved west. Realizing that I needed to support myself while a graduate student, I took jobs as the Director of Adult Programs at a Jewish Community Center in San Francisco, a clerk in a Jewish book store, a clerk in a Jewish-owned insurance brokerage, the rabbi at Sha’ar Zahav (San Francisco’s first LGBTQ+ synagogue), the Associate—and then Executive—Director at the San Francisco office of the American Jewish Congress, the Executive Director of the JCRC of the Greater East Bay and, finally, as the rabbi of Temple Israel of Alameda. I retired from Temple Israel in 2012.

Throughout my rabbinate, I was drawn to hospital chaplaincy. I became the (volunteer) chair of the Chaplaincy Advisory Board of Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, and served in that position for ten years. I now serve on the chaplaincy committee of Kaiser Hospital in San Leandro because I still enjoy the world of chaplaincy so much.

Relatively early on in my time in the San Francisco Bay Area, I got to know an Orthodox rabbi who was the unpaid President of the Board of Rabbis here. He was a wonderful character who was a role model in the way he tried to support and care for local rabbis regardless of their denominational affiliations. It was because of him that I became intimately involved with our Board of Rabbis, eventually serving at various times as both President and Executive Director, and even now in retirement, I continue my affiliation and strong support of the organization.

As far back as my earliest days in Minnesota, I became involved in interfaith work, initially with the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition of Minnesota, and then with the local interfaith councils. Once I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, my involvement in civic affairs has always been based in interfaith work. I was, and remain, involved in several interfaith and interreligious organizations in the area, working on immigrant rights, reproductive rights, homelessness issues, LGBTQ+ issues, and other social justice issues.

At this point in my life, my greatest joys involve volunteering in chaplaincy-related programs, supporting local rabbis, and interfaith social justice work.

Rabbi Allen Bennett is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and all of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.

Rabbinic Reflections

‘Walk Humbly with Your God’: Rabbi Ronald Gerson on 50 Years a Reform Rabbi

At the outset, I would like to express how grateful I am that God has brought me to this fiftieth anniversary of ordination. I am grateful to have lived this long. And, I am very saddened for those colleagues in our class who did not live to see this day. 

When I think of the verse that has meant the most to me—and guided me—these years, it would be the famous words of the prophet Micah: ”It has been told you what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justly, and to love mercy, AND TO WALK HUMBLY with your God” (Micah 6:8). 

HUMILITY. As the years have gone by, we have seen this quality diminish more and more around us. Sometimes in religion and sports; especially in the world of politics. Political debate has become less about policy and more about individual bragging. 

I have tried to, in my rabbinate, be humble in words; and to be an example of humility for three congregations. I have tried to follow Micah’s admonition. I hope that I have succeeded. 

Thank you, O God, for the rabbinate You have given us all. 

 Rabbi Ronald Gerson is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.

Rabbinic Reflections

Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg: A 50-Year Rabbinic Career Focused on Youth, Education, and Social Action

A native of Chicago, Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg graduated from Indiana University before attending Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where he was ordained in 1974. After serving as rabbi of Temple Sholom in Springfield, Ohio and Congregation Anshe Chesed in Beachwood, Ohio, he moved to Waterford, Connecticut, where he was rabbi at Temple Emanu-El from 1980 until his retirement in 2015. 

His rabbinate included a focus on youth, a passion for adult education, and a commitment to social action. Amongst his most cherished accomplishments are personalized and meaningful b’nei mitzvah experiences, being a camp rabbi at Eisner Camp, organizing state-wide shul-ins, being Jewish chaplain at Connecticut College for a quarter century, visiting refuseniks and relatives twice in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, leading five congregational trips to Israel, teaching numerous Jews by Choice and adult b’nei mitzvah, serving as a cruise rabbi, being president of Waterford Rotary Club and the Waterford Public Library Board, and being active in local clergy associations. 

“I learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most from my students.Talmud

A child at heart, I could empathize with children who need encouragement, be it when I was director of Camp Shalom Day Camp, on the rabbinic staff at Eisner Camp, teaching nervous b’nei mitzvah, challenging confirmands, or finding ways to make family services both meaningful and fun for people of all ages. Students from pre-kindergarten to college have given me more than I gave them.

Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you. That is the essence of the Torah.Hillel

I have had the pleasure of learning along with my adult students as we probed the text, explored deeper meanings, and discovered life’s lessons in Jewish values. I have been enriched by deep discussions on the full scope of Jewish topics from the Tanach, to rabbinic literature, to Jewish history, to Jewish current events. 

“Lo hamidrash ikar, ela hamaaseh, it is not what you say that matters, but what you do.” Rabbinic wisdom   

Abraham Joshua Heschel said that when he marched for civil rights, he felt like he was praying with his feet. Likewise, when I protested against war, advocated for civil rights, served meals at the community soup kitchen, and preached on topics like gun violence and climate control, I was doing God’s work.  

I was fortunate to be a part of Temple Emanu-El in Waterford, Connecticut, a congregation that prides itself on warmth, friendliness, and being heimish. We are a caring community blessed by a devoted Board of Trustees, talented religious school staff, active Sisterhood and Brotherhood, and a creative cantorial soloist, Sherry Barnes, a true inspiration. I am grateful for the opportunity to have touched so many lives, and to have each and every one of them in my life.

Everything you have received from me, we owe to her.” —Said by Rabbi Akiva about his wife 

I truly am blessed to be married to my soulmate, Karen Rosenberg, and to have three amazing sons, and four fantastic grandchildren. In my spare time I paint, kayak, struggle with golf, and take long walks with my personal trainer, my dog Mocha.   

Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and all of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.

Rabbinic Reflections

Rabbi Robert Kravitz on His 50-Year Rabbinic Career Spanning Fargo, Phoenix, Civil Rights, and Chaplaincy

I never planned to be a rabbi; it just sort of happened. One day I was a Connecticut-born college student studying radio, TV, and film at Syracuse, the next day I was driving to Cincinnati. I did conduct Hillel’s Shabbat services, studied voice as an elective in the conservatory, had a successful audition with the Hillel Choir, then a three-year cantorial position at a nearby Conservative synagogue.

Finally, I was on to HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, as a trial. I told Syracuse to hold my slot in their Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling for two years: if HUC-JIR didn’t work out, I’d be back.

Two years became three, and then halfway through my fourth year I’d had it with studying, lectures, tests, etc. As if by a miracle, a rabbi in Milwaukee was going on an Israeli sabbatical and needed a full-time fill-in. I was ready. For more than six months I became a “full-time rabbi” of a significant Reform congregation.

I learned more than I was able to teach. I even officiated a huge wedding ceremony that, were it not for a wonderful congregant who was a judge, would have been a disaster. I never knew of the ordination requirement with the state. The judge did. In the last days before the ceremony he arranged with the CCAR to provide “licensure” for that one day and that one ceremony. Wisconsin was satisfied that I was “ordained.”

Following my Plum Street Temple ordination, I joined a small New York Conservative shul that had interviewed in Cincinnati. During my three plus years there, I became the spokesperson for the Auburn Interfaith Ministries and with support from the CCAR Committee on Cults, kept Rev. Moon from opening his seminary.

My wife-to-be was a “gift” from a colleague. At the Cincinnati CCAR Convention, he slipped me a card with her name and phone number, and said, “Call her, I think you’ll like her.” We married in Syracuse and moved to Georgia, to a liberal Conservative shul. During that decade’s hostage crisis, I stood on the synagogue steps at noon weekly, sounding shofar as my colleagues rang their church bells. Our daughter was born in Macon. My wife and I alternated “shifts.” I was at the synagogue days (also at Mercer University) and my wife worked ICU-CCU at night.

Given the chance to develop a Reform congregation in suburban Atlanta, we relocated. It was very part-time, so I accepted the full-time position of assistant director for American Jewish Committee, Southeast. There I had the privilege of meeting President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and working with Andrew Young and others in national Black leadership. I also taught in Atlanta’s Hebrew High School.

When our son was born, we needed a more stable situation. I was told by the CCAR’s Director of Placement that having served smaller, solo congregations would preclude my ascent into larger ones. I was eager to accept a solid Reform pulpit in Fargo, North Dakota. Their leadership was a group of socially conscious, internationally involved, Reform Jews. They also instituted a monthly Shabbat visitation for me with the Grand Forks synagogue. I was appointed adjunct faculty at NDSU. Following my relationship with the USAF in Georgia, I continued as a chaplain to the Air Force at bases in Grand Forks and Minot.

In 1987, the American Jewish Committee invited me to leave the pulpit and open their Phoenix-Southwest office. Civil rights and community relations were my expertise. For twenty years, I elevated AJC to be the Jewish community’s voice. During the Gulf war, the local NBC TV station brought its remote truck to my home so we could do interpretative cutaways from the network.

Phoenix allowed me to stand with state leadership connecting the Jewish community to the Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights holiday effort, the formation of Sky Harbor Interfaith Airport Chaplaincy, and the creation of the FBI Citizens’ Academies. I was twice appointed as chairman of the Phoenix Human Relations Commission and developed the Arizona Interfaith Movement. Simultaneously, I officiated for a chavurah during High Holy Days and the chagim. Currently, I am employed part-time as coordinator of the twenty-seven hospital chaplaincy of Jewish Family & Children’s Service.

During my decades in Arizona, I have volunteered as a police chaplain with the City of Phoenix, the AZ DPS/Highway Patrol, and the City of Scottsdale. For fifteen years, I’ve written a community newspaper column and serve on the regional ADL board.

Plaques, trophies, and awards fill my home. My rabbinic adventure has encompassed several careers, positively effecting Jewish communities in at least four states.

Rabbi Robert Kravitz is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.

Rabbinic Reflections

Rabbi Gerald Serotta on 50 Years as a Reform Rabbi, Hillel Leader, Activist, and Bridge-Builder

I was born in Miami, Florida in 1946. Schools, lunch counters, and bathrooms at downtown department stores were as segregated as elsewhere in the South, with signs on the bathrooms (and drinking fountains) designating them as “White” and “Colored.” My family and my synagogue, Temple Israel of Greater Miami, co-founded by my grandparents in the mid 1920s, were deeply involved in the struggles for integration, social justice, and voting rights. Our TIFTY youth group did voter registration in the Liberty City Black ghetto in Miami, paralleling the efforts of the Mississippi summer volunteers in 1963. These issues and causes were discussed at the Seder table and at Shabbat services. We were also involved as a family and synagogue community in later struggles for justice and equality for women, for the LGBT community, farmworkers, and Haitian refugees, as well as in active opposition to the Vietnam War in particular, and militarism in general.   

These same values inspired me to become a rabbi and to continue to express my Jewish identity in the way I was taught and raised. At HUC-JIR, I led protests from day one—against an unfeeling attitude toward rabbinical students and required enrollment in the military chaplaincy—and in favor of curricular reform and the first year in Israel program. As an intern in the office of the Reform Movement’s Social Action Commission, I wrote curricula for camps and schools on the theme of Judaism and the Indo China War and Organizing Your Synagogue for Anti-war Activity. 

While living in Jerusalem between 1970 and 1972, part-time as a grad student and part-time working as a journalist, I became exposed to the issues of social justice there, both internal to Israeli society and between Israel and the Palestinians living in the recently occupied West Bank and Gaza. While there, I worked on preservation of the delicate environment and urban scale of Jerusalem. I was one of the key organizers of the Action Committee for a Beautiful Jerusalem (Vaad Peulah L’maan Yerushalaim Yafah), which prevented or altered many development plans in the area of West Jerusalem, preserving the open space that become Gan HaPaamon (Liberty Bell Park). 

From my work travels on the West Bank, it became clear to me that there were two peoples living in Eretz Yisrael and that self-determination for one required self-determination for the other. From that time to the present, I have organized in support of mutual recognition of the right to self-determination for both peoples (Jewish and Palestinian,) helping to initiate Breira, New Jewish Agenda, and Rabbis for Human Rights-NA (now T’ruah,) each of them advocating for human rights in both the US and Israel/Palestine. I served as the founding chair of the RHR-NA Board for eight years until 2010. I am now working to build support for the joint Israeli-Palestinian organization A Land for All (Eretz L’kulam). 

Most of my professional career (28 years) was spent in Hillel work on campus. While in Hillel, I led efforts to form a union to protect the rights of Hillel workers. I next served for eight years as an associate rabbi in Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Later I worked part-time as the spiritual leader of a small independent congregation, and simultaneously, worked as the executive director of a new non-profit, Clergy beyond Borders. Before retiring in 2020, I continued to do work in promoting interfaith harmony through six years as executive director of the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington. 

I continued to be as involved as I could with other progressive Jewish organizing efforts. I played a role in the early stages to create Jews United for Justice (in DC), and Jewish Fund for Justice (founded in DC and ultimately a national organization that became Bend the Arc), and Friends of Peace Now that later became Americans for Peace Now.    

I have essentially been doing what I was taught and raised to do by my family, especially my mother, who was a devoted activist her entire life, serving on the National Commission for Social Action. She supported every effort to aid the vulnerable and to liberate oppressed groups locally, nationally, and internationally. I was also influenced by many rabbis (including Temple Israel’s Rabbi Joseph Narot, z”l) and ministers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and William Sloane Coffin. I have never wavered that this is the core of my spiritual identity as a Jew as well as my calling as a rabbi. 

 Rabbi Gerald Serotta is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.

Rabbinic Reflections

Rabbi Eric Yoffie on Optimism, Life and Joy in Torah, and What His 50-Year Career Has Taught Him about Reform Judaism

After serving as a rabbi for 50 years, I would like to share a few thoughts about the Jewish condition, and in particular about the Reform rabbinate.

I believe in the power of leadership and that a people dies from the top.

And I believe that the role of religious leadership—and of the rabbi in particular—is fundamental and decisive.

In saying this I do not minimize the part that volunteer leaders play in Jewish life.   

Nonetheless, it is our klei kodesh who are central—the rabbis, cantors, and educators who do the holy work of serving the Jewish people and supporting them in their religious life.

After all, let us remember what we are: We are a liberal religious movement constructed on pillars of Torah study, piety, and spiritual integrity. And Torah study, piety, and spiritual integrity depend on teachers who believe and on those who serve as exemplars of religious living.

Every Jew I know who is religiously motivated and inspired learned from an inspiring teacher.

How do you teach Jews m’sirut, and anavah, and menschlichkeit? How do we teach them to be not only talmid chacham, but also yirei shamayim?  Such things are not done with books or with programs; they are done with people—with teachers. And it is the rabbis most often who are those teachers. And if they are not, our synagogues can devise a hundred programs, and it will make no difference.

I am sometimes asked if I am an optimist or a pessimist about Jewish life. The answer, I suppose, is that I am an optimist who worries a lot.

But when it comes to the rabbinate, I am optimistic to the core. I have travelled North America from one end to the other, and I can tell you that our rabbis are very, very good, and our younger colleagues are outstanding.

And who are those rabbis who find the most satisfaction in their work and who are best able to shape people’s lives?

It seems to me that there are five things that characterize them. 

First, they are optimists. They are spiritually alive, and they share their enthusiasm and their belief in the future. They avoid endless whining about survival and reject the language of victimhood with which we have become so obsessed. Above all, these rabbis project a message that there is life and joy in Torah.

Second, they learn. We may not have the time for serious scholarship, but I find that rabbis are reading and studying more than they ever have—whether alone or in chevruta, whether in person or online. And they refuse to fall victim to the trendy spirituality of ignorance and passion. They know the danger of soul without mind, and of spirituality that is mere feeling. 

Third, they value the spoken word: the sermon, the d’rashah, the d’var Torah. And they prepare their sermons carefully and thoughtfully. In some ways, preaching may seem less important now. There is a trend toward simple stories and the five-minute d’rash. Still, the best leaders understand that our Jews still care very much about sermons—Jews in Reform communities listen carefully, have high expectations, and search our words for honesty and meaning. With the vast flood of verbiage in this world, they still crave a life-giving word of Torah.

Fourth, they follow the admonition of the Baal Shem Tov, who said to go down to the people so that, by befriending them, they might be raised up.  Our best rabbis know that compassion and menschlichkeit come before all else; they know that our people want us to be with them in the joys and sorrows of their lives. Reform rabbis never forget that there is much our people will forgive us if we do these things, but they will never forgive us if we do not.

And finally, our most dedicated rabbis are people of prayer. It was not always so. Prior to my ordination in 1974, I interviewed in about a dozen congregations. In those dozen interviews, I did not get a single question about prayer, about davening, about spirituality, about God— not one. That would not happen today. We know today that we must be thoughtful about leading prayer and about our own personal prayer lives. Our congregations know, as do we, that the effectiveness of the t’filot at which we preside will be impacted by the fervor of our own prayer.   

There are many other things that effective religious leaders do, of course. But these five things are fundamental, I believe.

I am not naïve. Some rabbis are tired and need renewal, and we all have Torah to study and much to learn. But on the whole, the Reform rabbinate is strong, resilient, and infused with visionary power.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is the President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism. He is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating Rabbi Yoffie and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.

Rabbinic Reflections Women in the Rabbinate

Rabbi Sandy Sasso Reflects on Lessons in Grace During Her 50 Years as a Reform Rabbi

In 1969, when I began seminary, feminism was just being born and Jewish feminism was an oxymoron. Soren Kierkegaard taught that life must be lived forward but understood backward. So, looking back over 50 years, this what I have learned: 

You will do things you never thought possible. You will take a new path, start over, build a relationship; you will forgive someone; you will forgive yourself; you will forget what you can’t do and remember what you can.   

People and situations may come along to derail you and undermine your hopes. When I was working on a PhD while in seminary, I thought of writing my dissertation about women in Judaism. There was no real scholarship on the subject. My professors told me, “Don’t write about women. Write about something important.”  

You will have doubts and fears. You will fall down, make mistakes, and even fail. But none of that will matter. You will get up; you will take another step forward, because it will feel that what you are doing is the right and important thing to do. 

When women first became rabbis, many of us wore navy or black suits. It was as close to male rabbinic attire as you could get. And then we changed. We realized that we neither had to look like or sound like male rabbis. We not only changed our clothes; we changed Judaism. Our being women wasn’t the only point, but neither was it beside the point. We pulled up a seat to tradition’s table and rearranged the place settings. It made a revolution. It transformed prayer, community, Torah, history, and theology. In 50 years, it has transformed Judaism.   

Moving from the classroom to the pulpit, from texts to people, from year to year, changes you. Somehow you are less sure about life. How can you be so certain when you touch life’s fragile boundaries? How can you not become someone other than who you were when you witness spirit and courage in the face of overwhelming misfortune?   

Here is what I shall always carry in my heart—the terrible pain of losses that happened out of season; the ache of burying a friend; the resilience of those who grieved and still had the ability to get up, to go on and even to sing; the little girl whose mother had just died who asked me, “Who will brush my hair in the morning?” And the little boy whose mother was dying who said, “I would like to call God, Healer.”  

It was then that I fully understood chesed, “grace.” Christianity discovered grace in Judaism, and then Judaism seemed to forget about it. One of the things that gets you through life’s difficult moments is chesed. You can’t make it happen and it doesn’t happen all the time you need it; but it happens now and again, and whenever it does, from wherever it comes, we must simply accept it and be grateful.   

Here is what I have learned from people to whom life was not gracious, but who made their own grace, people who had every reason to give up on life, but didn’t, who had every right to be bitter and angry and who were kind. This is what matters—a good word, a warm embrace, presence.  

I have learned that opposites are best when matched: love and power, justice and compassion, faith and doubt, seriousness and play, religion and spirit. Love without power is sentimentality.  Justice without compassion is cruel. Faith without doubt is dishonest. Doubt without faith is cynicism. Seriousness without play is boring and unimaginative. Religion without spirit is dead. God is the “and” that brings those opposites into one harmonious whole.   

You never lose what you have fashioned, the people whose lives you have touched, and the ones who have touched yours. Social psychologist Daniel Gilbert reminds us, “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think that they are finished.” We age, but we begin again, working on who we will yet become.

Rabbi Sandy Sasso is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating Rabbi Sasso and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.

Rabbinic Reflections

‘A Blessed, Holy Reward’: Rabbi Steven Moss on 50 Years in the Reform Rabbinate

My journey as a rabbi started at the age of twelve when I wrote a letter to Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, at that time located on West 68th Street in NYC. I wrote to the college letting it know that I was ready to start my rabbinic studies. The school, of course, wrote back to me saying that I needed to apply after graduation from college. What was amazing was that at my interview, they took out that letter that I had written many years before.  

There were many influences in my life that led to my writing that letter. I always had spiritual interests. Prayer was a part of my personal life from my earliest years. I did go to Hebrew school for many years and was active in the choir and Temple life. Although my grandmother’s grandfather, Rabbi Wolf Zev Turbowitz, lived during the nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, I do believe that he had a spiritual influence on my life.

His picture hung on my grandmother’s Brooklyn apartment wall. As I would pass by, I could feel his presence not only in the room but in my life. Over the years, I have been able to obtain many of his books, as well as handwritten manuscripts. I even visited his grave in Kraziai, Lithuania, where he served as Av Beit Din. 

In many ways, the directions of my rabbinate were set during my seminary years at HUC-JIR. During my second year, I became chaplain at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan where I remained as chaplain until 2000. During my third year, I took a student pulpit in Oakdale, Long Island, serving B’nai Israel. I retired from B’nai Israel forty-seven years later. 

In 1975, my wife Judy and I moved to Long Island. I became very involved in community activities, including serving three times as president of the Suffolk County Board of Rabbis, and chair of the Suffolk County Jewish Community Coordinating Council.  

One of the most engaging parts of my rabbinate started in 1986 when I became chaplain to the Suffolk County Police Department. In 2019, I was named Chief Chaplain Emeritus and truly enjoyed serving the community in this capacity.  

I also served the Suffolk County community as chair of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission from 1991 to 2019, and chair and founder of the Suffolk County Anti-Bias Task Force. I also founded an important program called STOPBIAS which educated over 500 defendants, both juvenile and adult, who had committed bias or hate crimes. 

In 2019, I retired from B’nai Israel. Judy and I continued our life in Boynton Beach, Florida, in a home we had purchased many years before. During the next three years, which were those COVID years, I spent the time studying, teaching on Zoom, and publishing three books. In 2022, however, the opportunity came along to take a pulpit here in Florida, in Delray Beach. I applied to Temple Sinai for the position, and I recently signed a multi-year contract. I also serve as chaplain to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the Delray Beach Police Department. I guess I could say I got tired of retirement. 

Looking back over these past fifty years since ordination, I can say I have absolutely no regrets. Many times during my career, I could have left the congregational rabbinate and taken on a full-time position as chaplain, but I did not. There is truly something blessed, holy, and rewarding about being a pulpit rabbi. One has the incredible opportunity to become intimately involved in the lives of congregants during the most joyous, as well as most sad moments of life 

I have no doubt about the influences my parents had on my life, but none of this would have been possible without the support and love of my soulmate, my wife Judy. We met in high school, and it is she who has been my guiding star to help me on this journey for which I am blessed to have taken.  

I do believe the journey is not over. I am looking forward to whatever lies ahead. 

Rabbi Steven Moss is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis when we come together at CCAR Convention 2024.

Rabbinic Reflections

50 Years in the Reform Rabbinate: Rabbi Michael L. Kramer on Cherishing His Jewish Faith and Being a ‘Sh’liach L’goyim’

Fifty years in the rabbinate! It is a humbling experience watching the years pass by. I am reminded of the story where the rabbi sets out to change the world, and finds that it is beyond his scope. Then he tries unsuccessfully to change his community, then his family, and ultimately realizes he must focus on himself. The challenge of bringing change is great. I find rewards in the small things: a note from a former congregant responding to a sermon on coping with illness, exchanging shots of vodka with a Soviet Jewish immigrant I helped bring to America, the appreciation expressed by a bat mitzvah child, and the friendships that I have developed with congregants over the years.   

I see my life as a spiritual journey and challenge congregants to make a spiritual journey of their own. I have tried to be responsive to my congregants’ needs. I have listened to them at moments of sorrow, and brought words of comfort when they suffered pain. I have tried to uplift spirits with sermons, and on occasion, with a humorous remark. I held Jewish healing services for those in need of solace, and I took clinical pastoral education courses to improve my pastoral skills.

I have enjoyed working with children. My student pulpit was as a rabbi in a Jewish school/residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children where I served as rabbi and counselor. I took pleasure in speaking to children at assemblies, celebrating Shabbat with nursery school students, and preparing b’nei mitzvah. Answering the pensive queries of Jewish youngsters gave me satisfaction. The most important thing we can do is teach our children to be menschen.

Raising the knowledge of our members is an important task. We should foster an adult appreciation of Judaism. American Jews often know too little about their faith. I have offered courses in the synagogue and with colleagues in the community to increase Jewish learning. In Bowie, Maryland, I ran a well-attended lecture series for more than ten years, and in Massapequa, New York, I sought creative ways to enhance adult education. In both communities I’ve overseen a healthy number of adult b’nei mitzvah students. I also led several congregational trips to Israel. Jewish learning can take place in a variety of environments: in building sukkot, in celebrating a Shabbat dinner together, in a Tikkun Leil Shavuot the night before your child’s confirmation.

I have a strong belief in K’lal YisraelKol Yisrael aravim zeh bazeh,  All Israel is responsible for one another. I have always sought to work with my colleagues, joining together to teach an Introduction to Judaism course, writing a community seder, or other creative efforts. A rabbi is a sh’liach l’goyim, a representative to the community. We cannot insulate ourselves from civic activities. I have been active in local clergy associations in communities I’ve served. I joyfully accompanied a group of African American clergy from Prince George’s County to Israel, was involved in creating a Black-Jewish s’darim, and tried to forge better relations with the African American community.

In the Washington area, I served as rabbinic advisor to our active Washington chapter of ARZA. For many years, I was a member of the ARZA National Board and attended the World Zionist Congress as a delegate in December 1997. I encouraged synagogue members to vote in the Congress elections and my congregation had one of the highest participation levels in Reform congregations. I joined an ARZA rabbinic mission that met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky over the issue of the Conversion Law. I feel passionately that Reform Judaism should make a home for itself in Israel. I have also visited Reform communities in Morocco, Eastern Europe, and Brazil where there are overwhelming challenges facing the Jewish communities. My years in the rabbinate nurtured my love for the Jewish people and strengthened my passion for the teachings of the Torah. Our heritage is an incredible gift that our ancestors handed down to us. Our challenge is to teach our children to cherish our faith as past generations have. This is the responsibility that I have assumed as a rabbi and as one who cares deeply for the Jewish people.

Rabbi Michael L. Kramer is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis in 2023.

Rabbinic Reflections

50 Years in the Reform Rabbinate: Rabbi Joseph A. Edelheit (C ’73) on the Unique Experiences of His Rabbinic Engagement

When I thought about becoming a rabbi as an undergraduate at CAL Berkely in 1966, I could never have imagined the extraordinary experiences I would have. For fifty years, people have asked me to engage them, teach them, and sometimes lead and interpret a meaningful ritual in their life.

I have served three Reform congregations over thirty years in the Upper Midwest. where I learned what “windchill” meant.

From the outset, the reality of interfaith couples and families became a central focus of my rabbinate. “Intro to Judaism” education and congregational programming have always been a significant concern. Eventually regional and national rabbinic work about gerim/gerut provided me with an opportunity to be a leading advocate for Patrilineal Descent.

University teaching became important, especially Jewish-Christian dialogue, which led to an opportunity to do doctoral work at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.

HIV/AIDS emerged at a time when those who were among its first patients and deaths were alone and often rejected. I served this tragically unique community, which led to opportunities to lead in how Reform Judaism faced these challenges both in Chicago and nationally. Eventually my work was recognized, and I was asked to serve on President Bill Clinton’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, 1996–2000.

I retired from my congregational rabbinate in 2001 because of challenges to my health, and I finished my doctoral work (DMin) at the University of Chicago in 2001.

A state university that settled a class-action lawsuit over antisemitism asked for my help. As part of the settlement, I created a program of campus and community engagement about Jewish culture. Eventually, I became tenured faculty, and retired as Emeritus Professor of Religious and Jewish Studies. Though I tried to bracket my rabbinate at a state university, my pastoral role was called upon by students, faculty, and administration alike. My academic career required teaching about and interpreting Jews, Jewish life and texts, and Judaism to a campus and community of less than fifty Jews.

I helped to bring a unique symphony and choral Holocaust memorial program, “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” to the state university and a nearby Catholic university. We later took more than 250 students and faculty to France and Germany and performed it at Natzweiler-Struthof  concentration camp with survivors in the audience.

During this period, there was an opportunity in India to continue my HIV/AIDS work with multi-faith organizations who worked among infected children whose parents had died of AIDS. I participated in creating an international NGO that funded and provided service for sixty AIDS orphans in rural India who were all living with HIV/AIDS. Engaging people who had never met a Jew, but invited me to share a meal while sitting on the floor of their hut, added to my life commitment of pluralism.

My ongoing academic participation in the Society for Ricoeur Studies, is another unique experience of my rabbinate. I am the former student of Paul Ricoeur, who insists that philosophers and religious thinkers can and should engage in dialogue with a Jewish thinker.

My participation in conferences, took me to Rio de Janeiro in 2011 when I was invited to speak to a Reform congregation, ARI. Now eleven years later, that unexpected Shabbat invitation, led to exceptional personal love and another chapter of my rabbinic life, serving the World Union of Progressive Judaism. I volunteer for Brazilian communities who have no rabbi, and whenever asked, I teach at ARI where it all started.

During retirement I have written and edited two books with a third in preparation. The current crisis in antisemitism has added a new emphasis to my work in Jewish-Christian dialogue. I will co-teach a course at a Protestant seminary that deals with the challenges of preaching and teaching in response to antisemitism.

In 2021, the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, honored me as their alum of the year, the first time a rabbi has ever been awarded this recognition.

These fifty years were more meaningful because of the unconditional presence of my children. Still today, it is the love and respect of my family that I cherish the most.

Rabbi Joseph A. Edelheit is celebrating 50 years as a Reform rabbi. We look forward to celebrating him and more of the CCAR’s 50-year rabbis in 2023.