Rabbinic Reflections

Rabbi James Mirel: 50 Years of Joys and Sorrow Serving the Jewish Community

On July 28, 2006, a deranged antisemitic man with a gun entered the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and murdered my congregant and dear friend Pamela Waechter. She was one of a handful of American Jews who have been murdered for being Jewish.  

The Islamic terrorist was found to be sane by the jury and sentenced to life in prison. Pam‘s life was over in a bloody barrage of gunfire. 
At her funeral, our temple was filled with fellow Jews and many government officials and others, well over a thousand people who were still in shock. That was most traumatic and yet most important day in my life as a rabbi, when it fell to my shoulders to bring comfort to her family and to the community. Pam’s memory will stay with me forever. She truly died al kiddush HaShem—for the sanctification of the God and the Jewish people.  
When she converted many years prior, I am sure her rabbi reminded her that historically being a Jew can be a source of personal danger and persecution (as is required in the Talmud), but no one could have imagined that it could lead to her being gunned down in cold blood just for being a Jew or working in a Jewish setting. 
Fifty years of thousands of funerals, weddings, bet mitzvah, and other life cycle events. All meaningful at that moment, most of them forgotten in the details. 
But every once in a while, having served in the same community all fifty years—and I pray more to come—someone will see me on the street and say something like, “Rabbi, you really made a big difference in my life.” 
These are the moments in which I know I made the right decision fifty-five years ago when I entered HUC-JIR in Los Angeles with a college degree in philosophy and a hundred dollars in my checking account. What a journey. I have been blessed in so many ways.  

Baruch HaShem.

This year at the CCAR Convention 2024 in Philadelphia, we celebrated all of the CCAR rabbis celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate. We are honored to include Rabbi James Mirel in this year’s 50-year rabbis and ordination class of 1974.

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

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

‘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.