Rabbinic Reflections

‘Sh’leimut’ and These 50 Years: Rabbi Bruce Kahn Reflects on His Diverse Career as a Reform Rabbi

On page 14 of Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, Alan Morinis writes, “Achieving our potential for wholeness—sh’leimut—is not so much a reward as it is the fulfillment of the purpose of our lives.” I believe that is indeed the purpose of our lives, of religion, and of my rabbinate. Aiding others in the pursuit of sh’leimut unifies every good thing I attempted to do each day from ordination onward.  

While a great many of my teachers at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion had especially powerful influences on my rabbinate, Dr. Alvin Reines’s teachings impacted me most of all. He challenged us to go forward to assist individuals and communities to move toward wholeness as Jews or in accord with whatever were their beliefs. I tried to do so as a congregational rabbi, as a US Navy chaplain, as a civil rights agency executive director, leading philanthropic pursuits and much more. I have always seen myself as a servant and derived great satisfaction doing so. Let me add here how honored and proud I am to be a member of the class of 1974!  What great classmates!    

US Navy Chaplain Corps (twenty-eight years, mostly as a reservist): Twice, I attended Naval War College. I served briefly on many of types of ships and served at USNA and USCGA. I was three times a unit commanding officer, and I was Regional Command Chaplain. I led services the first time a Jewish worship pennant flew on a ship underway. I officiated at the burial of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, and I was at sea on the submarine Rickover when the producer and screenplay writer for The Hunt for Red October were on board in preparation for making the movie. I was activated on 9/11. On October 11, 2001, I was the only Jewish chaplain co-officiating in 9/11 memorial service at Pentagon. I retired in 2002, and was recalled in 2003 and sent to the Iraqi Theater during High Holy Days and Sukkot. In 2014, I was the only rabbi to testify before a congressional subcommittee on religious accommodation in the military. I have held commission for fifty-four years.  


  • Congregation Or Ami, Richmond, VA, 1976–1980: Congregation doubled in size. I served with denominational judicatory heads to advocate for social justice in Virginia legislature, where I got to meet Jacques Cousteau. And I began my decades-long involvement in fair housing. 
  • Temple Shalom, Chevy Chase, MD, 1980–present (solo rabbi, senior rabbi, rabbi emeritus): I separated tenth-grade graduation from confirmation service, making confirmation voluntary. 80 to 90 percent of b’nei mitzvah youngsters continued through tenth grade. 85 to 100 percent of confirmands continued in post confirmation. I established culture so that whatever a member’s need, help from within Shalom could be found. Many members went to HUC-JIR or other seminaries. I began a dozen cutting-edge programs. Shalom commissioned the writing of a sefer Torah in honor of my service there—I still don’t believe it. I was also presented with Shalom Lifetime Achievement Award. (Received two other lifetime achievement awards from other organizations.) My beloved wife Toby was given a Shalom award bestowed only twice before.

    In recent years, I am thrilled to be a member of Zoom Gali Gali, a group of over a dozen retired Reform colleagues living in the area. 

Soviet Jewry:  As a Washington Board of Rabbis leader in support of Soviet Jewry, I helped plan eight peaceful arrest demonstrations in front of Soviet Embassy. With four colleagues, I served twelve days in federal prison. The US Supreme Court later overturned the law used to convict us.    

Civil Rights:  I was a founder of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington and the Equal Rights Center. 2004–2008 served as ERC Executive Director. Among many other things, we brought actions that led to a nationwide end to the crisis in accessible housing for people with disabilities.     

Amcha for Tsedakah: In 1990, I founded a small tzedakah collective that over time raised two million dollars for especially worthy NGOs in Israel, America, and elsewhere.   

Camp Airy: I was involved there since 1957. In 2012, Airy dedicated a new Shabbat siddur “In loving honor of Rabbi Bruce E. Kahn, D.D.”  

Every year I am privileged to remain involved in a great many rabbinically connected volunteer efforts. One example: for the past eight years, I have raised essential funds for and worked almost daily with impoverished families; first one family in Baltimore, and then a family in DC.    

Most important to me, before and through these past 50 years, are my wife Toby and our family, my faith in God, and helping folks move towards sh’leimut.     

Bruce Kahn 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

‘Meet People Where They Are and Grow Together’: Rabbi Jerome David on 50 Years in the Reform Rabbinate

A true story: I was in the third grade, or maybe fourth, and I went to Shabbat services with my friend Gary at his Orthodox shul. We are both children of Holocaust survivors. While his family clung to tradition, mine tried to escape it. I was trying to follow the service, but to this day I remember that uncomfortable, sinking feeling of being totally lost and confused—being a stranger in a strange place. I also had this growing awareness that the older kids sitting near me were pointing at me, talking about me and laughing, or so it seemed.  Just then the gabai towered over me, grabbed my siddur, and turned it right-side up! “Here, try this,” he barked. 

I swore then I was not going to remain stupid in my own Judaism. My grandparents were killed because they were Jewish, and I didn’t know the first thing about it. I prevailed on my parents to join a synagogue—a Reform temple, where my rabbi served as a mentor and role model. At my bar mitzvah, the rabbi commented to the congregation, “We now know where our future rabbis are coming from.” A seed was planted. 

I’ve thought a lot about the trajectory of my own life, having recently returned from my high school reunion. 

I thought about how I could have predicted so little of it. If you would have told me when I was a fifteen-year-old kid at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, Ohio that I would be here with you, now, celebrating my fiftieth anniversary in the rabbinate, and fifty years at one congregation, I’m not sure what I would have said. 

Could I, arriving at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in the summer of 1974—my sideburns long, my Midwestern accent thick, my experience non-existent—could I have known that I would stay, not the two years prescribed by my initial contract, but fifty years in the end, through generations, through upheaval, through change, moving from Cooper River to the promised corner of Springdale and Kresson, unifying with M’kor Shalom and becoming Kol Ami?

In the words of our son, Rabbi Ben David, “We all have examples too. I know we do.” You didn’t think it would go this way. You weren’t expecting it either: the news, the sickness, the sadness, the surprises, the professional and personal transitions one after another. Who would ever have imagined? 

One unexpected consequence is how agreeing to pilot the Introduction to Judaism course in the winter of 1979 would turn into a lifelong passion. I’m still teaching the course and so many of my cherished graduates are members and leaders of our congregation. This journey remains a labor of love for me—not only have I instructed, I have learned volumes and have been truly inspired by my students.  

One might say that the prevailing philosophy of my rabbinate is to “meet people where they are and grow together.”  

I am still growing, reaching, climbing, and hoping. 

 Rabbi Jerome David 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

‘Sit Until You Are Called Forward’: Rabbi Harold Robinson Reflects on His 50-Year Career as a Reform Rabbi

It was my first ever Rosh HaShanah dinner as a rabbi, and I was trying to enjoy the meal, but instead was frantically reviewing my sermon and double-checking the cues, and generally full of opening night jitters. Then the phone rang: “Rabbi, what do we do if one of the family has just died at the dinner table? Did the rest of us go to service?” I frantically scrolled through memories of halachah while I extended my concern for the family and offered to come by either before or right after services. And asked for the identity of the caller so I would be able to connect. 

“Oh no, Rabbi, you misunderstood. We were just chatting around the table and wondered what would happen, hypothetically.” I asked myself; “Really? Is this why I became a rabbi?” 

Last month while attending a wonderful lecture at HUC-JIR, Cincinnati, in a room full of colleagues, my phone (on silent) signaled an incoming call. I texted, “Can I call you back in an hour?” All caps response, “NO, NOW!” I stepped out and called back. It was a woman whose father I had buried and at whose daughter’s wedding I was misader kiddushin. She was barely able to get out the words “talk to the police!” I have known the police lieutenant for forty-five years; he grew up across the street from us. The officer said, “Rabbi, her husband just died in a horrible accident.”  

Two days later I gathered with the bereft widow, the four young adult children and their significant others. The family was riven by issues; the children were still coming to terms with each other and their parents. Some had not spoken in several years. I mostly listened for three hours and even taught two texts.  

When I left, they were once again a family, tearfully embracing each other and me. This really IS why I became a rabbi! Silently, I thanked my days at HUC-JIR fifty years ago, my studies with Rabbis Mirsky and Katz, and especially conversations in the Bumming Room with you my fellow students that started me on the path that brought me and that family to that important moment.  

Most of all, I cherish the study of texts. At this moment I harken to the wisdom of Vayikra Rabbah 1:5: “Rabbi Joshua of Sichnin in the name of Rabbi Levi expounded the verse ‘For it is better it be said to you: Come up here, than you be humbled and sent down before the prince’ (Proverbs 25:7). Rabbi Akiba taught in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Azzai: ‘Take your seat two or three lower and sit until you are called forward: rather that than if you had placed yourself higher and be told to move back. Better that people call you up, come up, than say go back, go back.’” 

It was hard but worthwhile advice to follow when I thought I knew more than I knew, and still hard but worthwhile advice to follow when I actually know even more than I imagined I knew. In almost every circumstance it has been better to be asked for advice or an opinion than to gratuitously offer one. Though it is often a struggle.  

Still, I am learning from Miriam, my beloved wife, who teaches from P’sachim (99a): “Silence is fitting for the wise … ‘Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is considered wise; and he that shuts his lips is esteemed as a man of understanding’ (Proverbs 17:28).”  

Rabbi Harold Robinson 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 Harry D. Rothstein: Finding the Divine in a Hospital Room

Life is funny in some ways. I was born into a secular Jewish family in Brooklyn, went to New York City public schools, all the while playing hooky from afternoon Hebrew school. And here I am fifty years in the rabbinate. God has a sense of humor.

I graduated from Brooklyn College and was accepted by Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, receiving ordination in 1974. When I was accepted into the College–Institute, I was told that I would be prepared for the pulpit. Yet, my most profound and spiritual experiences have been as a hospital chaplain. Life can have its twists and turns.

While I initially served in pulpits in New York State, since 1987 my positions have been as a chaplain in psychiatric centers, prisons, hospice, a cancer hospital, and acute care hospitals, and as a volunteer for a suicide prevention hotline. During my chaplaincy I earned four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), my Board Certification through N’shamah, the Association of Jewish Chaplains, and received a Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Counseling from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.

While I have written about pastoral care in professional publications like the Journal of Palliative and Supportive Care and in Caring for the Human Spirit. I find the most meaningful experiences in pastoral care to be not writing, but being with patients. When a patient says that they could not have been discharged without my help, that is the day I know I have earned my salary. The experience of offering pastoral care has made me less judgmental and more compassionate, not only as a professional, but as a person.

My chaplain colleagues will sometimes report that from time to time when they engage with a hospital patient, not often but sometimes, all seems to fall away. For a moment it no longer matters that they are sitting in a hospital room. It no longer matters that they are a chaplain nor that they are conversing with a sick person. Their daily schedule, or any method of pastoral care, seem to fall away. Rather they are merely two human beings engaged in speaking with each other. This moment is divine—sometimes.

When I walk into a patient’s room, I believe that the Shechinah walks with me.

At that moment, I am just one human being speaking with another human being. For me, this is where God lives.  

I was raised in a family where we were taught that the greatest service was service to others. The rabbinate and chaplaincy have given me opportunities to live up to my upbringing.

Rabbi Harry D. Rothstein 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

Calling It a Career: Rabbi Stephen Fuchs on the Moments that Matter in His 50-Year Rabbinic Career

Ecclesiastes reminds us, “There is a time for every purpose under heaven (3:1).”

When I turned seventy-seven last year, it dawned on me with stark clarity that it was time to bring down the curtain on my tenure as spiritual leader of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, Florida, and retire.

I will always, of course, be a rabbi, and I will await in wonder to see what new plans the Eternal One has in store for me.

When I announced I would retire the first time in 2012 from my position as senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut, people asked, “What will you do now?” I honestly answered, “I am not sure. I’ll read more, write more, and beyond that, we’ll see.”

I could never have imagined the blessings the “we’ll see” had in store for me these past twelve years: serving as president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which enabled me to visit more than sixty-five communities on five continents teaching about and advocating for progressive Jewish values; serving as guest rabbi in Milan and Florence, Italy; spending significant parts of five years teaching and preaching in Germany; and then serving for six years as rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.

Among the highlights of our years in Germany have been the invitations to teach with Vickie about the Shoah in German schools, and to speak in the synagogue and in churches and at Kristallnacht commemorations in Leipzig, Germany, the city where my father, Leo Fuchs, of blessed memory, grew up and was arrested and imprisoned on November 9, 1938.

Our tradition teaches that King Solomon wrote three biblical books: Song of Songs, a book of love poetry when he was a young man; Proverbs, a book of wisdom in middle age; and Ecclesiastes, with its sober look at life as an older man.

Although I cannot claim Solomon’s wisdom, I have been blessed to find true love as a young man, and the loving marriage I have shared with Vickie for all fifty years of my career years, has sustained me through the many joys and the few disappointments of my career.

I have tried my best to share what wisdom I have gained in my sermons, lectures, and in the college and seminary teaching I have been invited to do over the years, and in the seven books I have written.

Upon ordination in 1974, I became the first full-time rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Columbia, Maryland, a synagogue launched by my beloved mentor, Rabbi Richard S. Sternberger, z”l, UAHC Mid-Atlantic Regional Director.

Beginning in 1986, I became senior rabbi at Congregation Ohabai Sholom, known as The Temple, in Nashville, Tennessee. I will always be grateful that the congregation funded my graduate studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School, which culminated when I earned a DMin in biblical interpretation in 1992.

In 1997, I became senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel until I became rabbi emeritus in 2012.

Now that I am older, I look back on my fifty-year rabbinical career and reach the important conclusion Ecclesiastes teaches: “Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity (1:2).” How true I find those words today.

What is truly important to me now is not recognition or material rewards. I do not deny that I have striven for and enjoyed a measure of those things, but the joy does not last that long, and looking back, they matter very little.

What I shall always cherish, and what will always matter, are the times when something I did, wrote, or said made a real difference in someone’s life. It was in those moments or when someone reminded me of them, that I truly felt God’s pleasure. Participating in our son Leo’s ordination in Los Angeles last May, is a wonderful retirement present and a memory I shall always cherish.

As they did back in 2012, people ask me, “What will you do now?”

For the time being I am proud to become Bat Yam’s rabbi emeritus.

In addition, I would add, “I’ll read more, write more, and beyond that, we’ll see.”

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs 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

Then You Remember: Rabbi Dennis Sasso Reflects on 50 Years as a Reform Rabbi

Some years ago, I wrote about stages of the rabbinate. I called the first stage “I want to change the world;” stage two: “I want to touch your soul;” stage three: “Wow! I can make a difference;” stage four: “What’s it all about?,” and stage five: “Integration.”

In the “I want to change the world” stage, I was ready to unpack and transmit everything I had learned in rabbinical seminary and make every congregant a maximalist Jew. I had so much to teach, so many good ideas, if people would only listen. As we mature, we realize that our presence is more important than our ideas, and our compassion more important than defending faith and tradition. 

The rabbi then discovers that there are issues in the lives of vulnerable human beings and begins to own the role of pastor, entering the stage of “I want to touch your soul.” We are not just enactors of rituals and ceremonials, preachers of theology and ethics, but spiritual counselors whose caring and appropriate words and gestures, whose loyal presence, can help to ease the burden and double the joys of our congregants.

“Rabbi” means teacher. As I was graduating college, I considered an academic career, but soon realized that it was being with people gathered for prayer, celebration, and memory, for the performance of acts of justice and kindness, that most compelled me. I cherished my involvement in academia and writing, but I preferred being a mentor, a guide, and fellow traveler with the Jews of today. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan reminded us, “The rabbi should not be a walking sarcophagus of dead ideas about religion, but an interpreter of the experiences… of religion that are understandable and relevant.”

With the passing of years, the rabbi becomes a leader who “can make a difference” in the broader community, sometimes drawing strong reactions. A mentor warned me, “Some people will love you without reason, and some will hate you without cause. Be yourself. You will know when you have done well.” Rabbi Israel Salanter warned, “A rabbi whose community can never agree with him cannot be their rabbi; but a rabbi who never disagrees with his community is not fit to be a rabbi.”

There will be times of doubt when a rabbi questions ideals and vocation. It’s the “what’s it all about?” stage. Then, you remember…

you remember the love in the faces of new parents holding a newborn and praying for health and joys;

you remember standing on the bimah with a nervous thirteen-year-old, offering blessings and assurance;

you remember moments under the chuppah, with a young couple with whose parents you also had stood under the wedding canopy, celebrating the ongoing chain of tradition and love;

you remember being at the hospital bedside of an elder chanting prayers he had cherished and sung, moments at the graveside of one who died too young, or of a senior taken by Covid, whom the family could not visit during the final days and hours.

you remember the open phone conversation with a grieving family standing near a beloved mother about to be taken off life support—the tears, the love, the last breath.

Carl Sandburg observed that “Life is like an onion. You peel it a layer at a time and sometimes you weep.” And so, you remember the layers, the joys, the tears, the grace, and the strength that sustained you as you sought to sustain others.

As the years flow, a rabbi enters a stage of “integration.” Soren Kierkegaard reminds us that some things are true when they are whispered, but not true when they are shouted. Mature religion is less about the exclamation sign and more about the question mark. With humble and grateful spirit, we enter the stage of “integration”—the feeling, the awareness, that our rabbinic self and persona are one. 

Being a “Rabbi in Israel,” even now in retirement, is not what I do, but who I am—a servant and teacher in love with Judaism and the Jewish people, our culture, our spiritual values, our memories, our moral imperatives, our answers, our questions, our gifts of hope and imagination to shape a better world. Let us imagine…

Rabbi Dennis Sasso 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

‘The High Places Along the Way’: Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn Reflects on His Jubilee Year in the Reform Rabbinate 

“Every rabbi has 3,000 years of intelligent ancestors. If you do not become increasingly more a learned rabbi, you betray the heritage of those who gave you birth… Count that day lost in which you have not opened a Jewish book. If you do not learn, you cannot lead…”

Such is but a sample of Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus’s sermon, “The Larger Task,” which he delivered at our ordination on June 1, 1974. I met Dr. Marcus in 1966 when I was registering for the pre-rabbinic program sponsored by the University of Cincinnati and the HUC-JIR. He was my beloved mentor, and I am proud to say that due to my personal intervention, Dr. Marcus decided to accept our class’s invitation to be the speaker on ordination day. Many times, throughout these past 50 years, I have reread the text of his inspiring charge to us. 

We were the largest and perhaps one of the most theologically disparate classes in the College’s history. I was one of the two “Classical Reformers,” though I grew up in a traditional Jewish household, located in, of all places, Glen Burnie, Maryland, where my father’s parents settled in 1914. I say “of all places” because the Cohns made up the entirety of Glen Burnie’s Jewish community. We were members of Temple Oheb Shalom on Baltimore’s Eutaw Place, about an hour’s drive away. 

According to my mother, as a child I only behaved when I was being fed and, remarkably, when we were at Temple. I vividly remember as a six-year-old being transfixed by the sound of the temple’s cantor and choir accompanied by the pipe organ. One of my major regrets is the current “exile” of the pipe organ and the replacement of the majestic and distinctive music of our Reform tradition in favor of sing-along camp music! I am very grateful that the majority of my rabbinate was happily spent with fabulous congregations which were welcoming and understanding of my left-of-center liturgical preferences! 

Taken as a whole, I believe that the overwhelming majority of our congregants from these historic temples I have been honored to serve in Atlanta, Macon, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and now as a biweekly in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, will remember me as a warm, intelligent, and approachable rabbi, an articulate preacher, a creative and impassioned teacher of both children and adults, one who enthusiastically endorsed the welcome of LGBTQ+, interfaith, and Jews by Choice, and who never hesitated to share his faith, his hopes for our Jewish people, and his dream of Prophetic justice for all of God’s children. There were surely instances when this audacious welcome was not appreciated by all our members, but I held firm. 

I was honored to publicly represent our faith at the local, state, and national level. I was privileged to be founder and chair of the New Orleans Human Rights Commission for many years, and I was selected by MSNBC as an ethics consultant and a panel member of the internationally televised show “The Ethical Edge.” My dream of creating a New Orleans Holocaust Memorial was in fact realized with the support of our congregation, Temple Sinai, the New Orleans Jewish Federation, and the Holocaust Survivors organization. Designed by the world-renowned artist, Yaacov Agam, the memorial in Goldring/Woldenburg Park is visited by 700,000 visitors a year. 

Well, these are those “high places along the way” as our colleague, Rabbi Alvin Fine put it in his wonderful poem “Life Is a Journey.” 

Surely the greatest accomplishment, which I cherish above all others, is 52 years of loving marriage to my best friend, without whom my dream of a worthy rabbinate would never have been possible—Andrea Levy Cohn. She has been my partner, my critic, and my strength all along the way since we met in Cincinnati as undergrads. Together, we can be proud of the family we have raised: daughters, Dr. Jennifer Cohn Kesselheim and Debra Lynn Kraar; their devoted husbands, Aaron and Eric; and our five loving grandchildren, Maxwell, Ryann, Sydney, Noah, and Leo.  

Fifty years in the rabbinate—truly a shehecheyanu moment! 

Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn 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

A Lifelong Sacred Calling: Rabbi Howard Berman’s Reflections on 50 Years as a Reform Rabbi

My path to HUC-JIR and the rabbinate began at the age of nine, when I wrote my first letter of application to the admissions department, asking what I needed to do to prepare for what was, even then, very clearly—and what remains—a sacred calling. I began in 1967, the last year of the old undergraduate program, immediately after high school, and when we were ordained in 1974, I was 24 years old, the youngest ordinee in the College’s history, aside from Nelson Glueck, who was 22. On that memorable day, following the magnificent ceremony at Plum Street Temple, my mentors Jake Marcus and Sam Sandmel called me aside and presented me with that handwritten letter, which had been kept in my file all those years!

Those of my Cincinnati classmates who remember my stubborn advocacy of Classical Reform during our student days, will at least see a thread of unwavering consistency in the path my rabbinate has taken since then. It began with my fourth-year student internship at Har Sinai in Baltimore, as the proud successor of David Einhorn, and then on through my first position at Temple Emanu-El in New York. Following, came my twenty years at Chicago Sinai Congregation, bearing the mantle of Emil G. Hirsch, and then over the past twenty years, my time as Founding Rabbinic Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism (SCRJ). The last chapter has been the subsequent organization of congregations in Boston, all embracing a contemporary vision of our Movement’s historic minhag and heritage. Through each of these milestones, I have devoted my career to the preservation and renewal of our shared spiritual tradition as a vital and viable option within the diversity of today’s Reform.

I have continued my work in interfaith dialogue, as well as the full pastoral support of interfaith families, which I embraced at the very beginning of my career. These, as well as my commitment to working for same-sex marriage equality, as the first rabbi to be married, legally and with federal recognition, in 2004, have all been natural extensions of this grounding understanding of the Prophetic tradition of Reform Judaism.

The opportunities that I have been most grateful for over the course of my career include the designing and guiding of the new home of Chicago Sinai in 1997. As a lifelong student of synagogue architecture, this was a unique chance to translate my ideals into a sanctuary that would symbolically embody and proclaim Classical Reform’s spiritual ideals. I have also been deeply gratified by my years of teaching at HUC-JIR’s campuses in Cincinnati and Jerusalem over the past decade, under the auspices of the SCRJ. This has been a deeply meaningful opportunity to share our Movement’s historic liberal principles and liturgy with a new generation of our colleagues. I am also proud of the publications I have written or edited: the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of Plaut’s Rise and Growth of Reform Judaism; co-editing the Union Prayer Book, Sinai Edition; and most importantly, The New Union Haggadah, a contemporary, inclusive-language revision of the beloved 1923 classic, published as one of its official liturgies by CCAR Press.

I am grateful to our loving God for the privilege of having been able to touch many lives, and hopefully, making a difference in Jewish life over the past fifty years. My greatest support has come from my beloved husband of twenty years, Steven Littlehale. His own deep Jewish faith and commitment, and his sharing of my spiritual vision, have made him the perfect “rebbetz-him.”

Rabbi Howard A. Berman 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

‘There Is Holiness All Around Us’: Rabbi Michael Zedek on 50 Years in the Reform Rabbinate

My first CCAR Convention included the celebration for that gathering’s 50th year class. And for the moment, that memory seems less than a blink of the eye ago. Tempus fugit.   

In that flight of time, I imagine that we in the class of 1974 have had significant moments of impact and meaning. And while we didn’t change the world, I have no doubt we managed a few moments of clarity, joy, comfort, change, and meaning in innumerable encounters. In fact, I’m confident many share the experience of someone suggesting, “Rabbi, do you remember when you said…? It changed my life.” 

Ironically, you may have no recollection of saying anything of the kind. But some bon mots attributed to me, even without a confident memory of ever having suggested, include: “There are only two movements in Judaism, toward God and away from God.” Or this one, “There is no place where God is not, and where God is, all is well.

My favorite involves philanthropy and a family who attribute their tzedakah efforts in part to me: Once, the Jewish Federation asked me to recruit said family’s husband to lead our campaign, after which he told many this anecdote, about which I have no recollection, save his telling. Two weeks later, he recalls we saw each other. “Rabbi, what have you done? My friends see me coming and run down the alley screaming, holding onto their wallets.” He claims my response: “Isn’t it tragic that the only way they think they have it is if they hold on to it.”   

And I would never have had that impact, or be part of our Jubilee, were it not for an older colleague. I had been a rabbi all of three years and was thinking of quitting. After all, it’s a crazy “job.” The congregants will never do all we hope. We’ll never get to do all we want. His response, “Michael, what makes you think you should be a better failure than Moses?

That wisdom was liberating, for it’s not about success or failure. Rather, it’s about being faithful to a vision, a calling. And 50 years insist that our perspectives embrace an honest appraisal. To paraphrase Rabbi Elimelech, when I die and stand before the heavenly court, they will ask: “Did you study enough?” I’ll have to be honest and answer, “No.” “Pray enough?” Again, true testimony: no. “Did you do enough for social justice?” Once more, my response is no.   

As metaphor perhaps, the court will determine at least you’re honest, for this you deserve admission to the heavenly realm. And such calls to mind a long-ago homiletics class in which one of our classmates—a shared anxiety on display— inquired, “Dr. Mihaly, how do you come up with a sermon every week?”  ”That’s not the problem. You really only have one or two sermons. The important thing is to know what it is.” And as I consider these 50 years, he was right. My sermon: there is holiness all around us; a sacred dimension in us; now get to work. Alas, we didn’t finish the work, but, thankfully and as you know, we were not obligated to finish it. However, forthrightly, fortunately, none of us is finished yet. As to the assignment, even in retirement, there no doubt is a plethora of ways to describe or define it. 

And such brings to mind an enduring image our tradition offers the world and implanted in us: Consider Jacob’s dream and the challenge of his Anochi/ his ‟I-ness”/ his ego getting in the way of the awareness (Genesis 28:16) that God is in this place. And surely our vulnerabilities and strengths, our Anochi’s may get in the way of realizing moments of the holy, of holiness. For this is nothing less than Beit Elohim/a house of God—this one and that one and the next and the next.   

Or, to suggest another of the vital images from our tradition, there are burning bushes scattered randomly, extensively through every day, and because of our work and what we have yet to do, others will, if only metaphorically, take off their shoes. And we occasionally may do so as well.

Rabbi Michael Zedek 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

Self-Differentiation, Service, and Success: Rabbi Bennett Miller Reflects on 50 Years as a Reform Rabbi

In rabbinical school I never heard the word self-differentiation. I wish I had! Ten years out from rabbinical school, and the term was mentioned in a lecture. For me, it was an “a-ha” moment. I was now able to describe what defined me as a rabbi, how I looked at my faith, my “calling,” my career, my vision.   

My mentors, my teachers, my counselors had always been strong and determined leaders: I think that is what attracted me to them and why I wanted to emulate their style. But when I discovered that their skills and style were all because they were self-differentiated, that is when I truly learned what it means to be a rabbi.   

I believe that a rabbi must be well self-differentiated in order to be successful. Success is measured not by how others see us, but by how we see ourselves, knowing what we want to be, and how we can become what we want to be. For me, that has been the success of my rabbinical career. I didn’t seek approval, nor love from others. I wanted their respect. I didn’t ask “What do you want me to do?” I asked myself, “What do you see, and what needs to be done?” From there, I created a vision for the future and sought to shape that vision into reality.   

My fifty years in the rabbinate were all based in one congregation, Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I “served there” as assistant rabbi, acting rabbi, young senior rabbi, leading senior rabbi, mentor senior rabbi, seasoned senior rabbi, “wise” senior rabbi, and now rabbi emeritus. I only had two official titles: assistant rabbi and senior rabbi. The first was to serve the youth and young families of the congregation; the second, was to create vision and develop leadership, teach, and preach, and motivate the congregation to see a bright future.   

As rabbi, I understood that my role was to bring the congregation and its people closer to Am Yisrael. I wanted to help lead them to understand that they (we) are part of the next chapter of the historic story of the Jewish People and its encounter with the Divine, going back in time to our ancestors and through their experience in each and every generation since Abraham responded to the call from God with the single word: Hineni! 

For me, I understood that being a rabbi meant serving a specific congregation, a community, the Jewish People, and all of humanity. I believe that is what makes the rabbinate such a unique calling, and such a challenging career. Mine was certainly filled with challenge, with reward, with fulfillment, and with touching so many lives.   

In addition to my service to congregation and community I was privileged to serve the larger Jewish community through my leadership in ARZA, in national leadership positions, in teaching at HUC-JIR. I was also privileged to help create a dynamic Department of Clinical Pastoral Care at RWJ Barnabas Hospital. How blessed I was to be able to do it all, and how fortunate I was to serve a congregation that understood and supported my determination to do all that I have done.   

My life in the rabbinate has been richly rewarding. I trust that I made a difference in the lives of many. I hope that my contribution to our people’s story adds to the meaning of our story and to the sacred mission that we carry out every day, here, in Israel, and throughout the world.   

I could not have done it all without learning the art of being well self-differentiated. I am grateful to my teachers who showed me the way, gave me the encouragement and strength to discover the me that I wanted to be, and to my students through whom I have seen the true measure of what I have accomplished.  My life as a rabbi—a blessing, an honor, a gift. I will be forever grateful!    

Rabbi Bennett Miller 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.