Knowing Before Whom I Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Mark Goldman is celebrating fifty years in the rabbinate.


Reflections on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Little did I know that when I was accepted to a new undergraduate-graduate program at HUC-JIR and the University of Cincinnati in 1958 that one day I would be sitting down to write about my experiences as a rabbi for the last 50 years. We were a handful of high school graduates then, participating in an experimental program, living at the HUC-JIR dorm while attending the University of Cincinnati. Most of us matriculated to the rabbinic program and eventually found ourselves, five years later, at Plum Street Temple in June of 1967 receiving our s’micha and blessing from Rabbi Dr. Nelson Glueck.

One of the folk songs of the day said, “The times, they are a changing,”  and that was surely the case. The Vietnam war was raging. The Jewish Welfare Board, in conjunction with the various rabbinical seminaries, concluded that 15 chaplains were needed from HUC-JIR’s class of 1967.  I was one of 15 who served as a Chaplain in the armed forces. The army and Ft. Lewis, Washington awaited its new Post Jewish chaplain, Capt. Robert Gan, fresh out of Chaplains school at Ft. Hamilton N.Y. With baited breath, Sheila and I and our very young son drove cross country and I reported for duty. We were determined to make the best of our new venture, not sure if I would eventually have to go to Vietnam.

Fortunately, I was able to remain at Ft. Lewis for my full two years of service. My boss there, Col. Estes, a Southern Baptist minister, wisely told me when I arrived that as the Jewish Chaplain I could run my program as I saw fit and to come to him if I had any questions. So, off I went, one of 30 chaplains at an Army Post of 60,000 including soldiers and dependents. I learned a lot, dealing with clergy of all stripes, as well as husbands and wives and young men facing the prospect of Vietnam. Times were tense and there were many challenging moments.  But there was also plenty of laughter and humor, especially given my imperfect military bearing. Thankfully, most everyone was quite forgiving. I also came to realize, during those two years, that I still had much more to learn about being a rabbi in the real world. The best side benefit was the birth of our daughter at Madigan General Hospital. The bill $7.50. What a bargain!

As a Bostonian, I had never been further west than Worcester, MA before coming to Cincinnati and thanks to the Army, we were now on the west coast in the beautiful State of Washington. I remember Dr. Jake Marcus saying there was no Jewish life west of the Mississippi but we were soon to find out, as we made our way to Los Angeles after my discharge, that there was a vibrant and wonderful community there and it welcomed its new young rabbi and his family.

Temple Isaiah would be our new home and I would become the associate to Rabbi Albert Lewis. We weren’t so sure about L.A. and we said to ourselves that we would give it a try for a couple of years. We could see that it was a warm and creative place with a founding rabbi immersed in issues of social justice. Right up my alley.

I had a mentor who shared all of his responsibilities with me. He was very insightful about congregational and community life, and he passed those insights on to me. He and the congregation were very patient with my “creative” services and programs and I always felt free to experiment.

Those first tentative years turned into a lifetime, from associate rabbi to co- rabbi to senior rabbi, and thirty-eight years later I retired. I had the joy of naming children whose Mother or Father I also named.  Lifecycle events always gave me the most pleasure and I came to know many wonderful families over their lifetime and mine.  I came to realize that congregational life was ultimately about relationships.  As I encounter congregants ten years after retirement it is still the case.

I had many excellent Assistant rabbis over the years and two wonderful cantors. I learned from my predecessor that sharing responsibilities equally is a good thing. It is good for one’s health and one’s rabbinic life. The concept of partnership between rabbis and cantor was especially important to me. So was laughter and not taking oneself too seriously.

After fifty years, I still have my hand in the rabbinate, though with slightly less pressure than when I was working.  For several years we  lived in Milan and then Florence, Italy where I was the progressive rabbi and we have been on several world cruises where I was part of the clergy staff. It has given me the opportunity to teach, to practice my very broken Italian, and to see incredible places around the world.  This new phase of my rabbinic life came to us quite accidentally, but it has been a real blessing. To be busy after retirement is a good thing.

New people and communities have enriched our lives. All of this was only possible because fifty years ago I went to Cincinnati with my dad to scout out HUC-JIR and decided to stay. The rabbinate has embodied so much of what I wanted to do.

For me, the practical congregational rabbinate has included a bi-weekly in Morgan City, Louisiana, a high holiday congregation in St Johnsbury, Vermont, eating lunch with the troops in the field with one of my congregants- Major Bernstein, officiating at B’nai Mitzvot in Milan, and conducting seders aboard the MS Amsterdam for as many as 200 Jews and Christians.

What a life it has been. I have treasured it all, my congregational rabbinate as well as all the new adventures that have come our way.  How was I to know that conjugating verbs on a surprise quiz in Dr. Tsvat’s Tanach class would lead to the challenging, meaningful and wonderful world of the rabbinate.  Fifty years, kayna hora!

Rabbi Robert Gan is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate.


Looking Back on 50 years in the Rabbinate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Road Not Taken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reflections from Rabbi Ferenc Raj

It has been my destiny to always serve congregations in cities and towns that start with the letter “B”:  Budapest, Hungary; Brooklyn, New York; Belmont, Massachusetts; and Berkeley, California.

In Budapest, under Communism I learned perseverance, and that it is our duty to always pursue justice even if there are personal risks. I came to realize that learning is a gift no one can take away from you and that we must always follow our dreams. And I learned by its absence, the great importance of freedom.

In Brooklyn I learned that even in a free society not all are treated equally and that it is incumbent upon us to stand up for the oppressed.  It was in Brooklyn that I began the journey of becoming an American Rabbi while still remaining true to myself and to my European heritage. I also learned that freedom of religion brings its own challenges; when asked: “What is your religion?” one can choose “none” as the answer.

While I was not free in Budapest, I was still able to enjoy freedom of spirit. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists could take away my spirit, my love of learning and teaching, my faith in God and in the future of the Jewish people.  In Brooklyn, I was able to teach, guide and inspire both young and old as we faced together the challenges of assimilation in America that still threaten the continuation of our religion.

In Belmont I found my own Rabbi, Earl Grollman, the Rabbi Emeritus of the congregation.  He became my close friend and confidant.  Earl lovingly taught me about crisis management, death and dying, and bereavement counseling.  How often, as I comforted my congregants and friends, Earl’s words have echoed in my mind: “Never say to a person who comes to you to share his or her burdens: ‘I know how you feel’, because you don’t.”

In Berkeley I was given the greatest gift: complete rabbinical freedom that allowed me to be myself.  The congregation supported me in my decision to complete my PhD dissertation and gave me the time to do it.  Nowhere else have I witnessed such hard working lay leaders and staff.  Nowhere else have I seen such deep commitment to social action. Nowhere else have I seen such dedication to study, to community, to our people and to our faith.

We rabbis are teachers whose ultimate task is to teach by example. These are the questions that each of us should ask ourselves: Do I only say the words or do I live by them?  Is my life truly guided by Torah?

In the Book of Isaiah, we read God’s words:  Anokhi, anokhi hu m’nachemchem…. I, I am the one who comforts you.  What can we learn from the repetition?  Scholars have interpreted it to indicate that we each possess a public “I” and a private “I.”  If we are sincere, these two personas are in unison.   It is our task to be able to bring our “two selves” into alignment with one another and with God’s hopes for us.  We must ask ourselves if what we say, in other words our public image, is in concert with what we do, our private self?  How often I talk about loving God, Torah and Israel and of living a life of mitzvot.  Anokhi, anokhi… Is my life imbued with reverence for the Blessed Holy One?  Do I perform the mitzvot or do I merely tell others to do so?  Are Rabbi Ferenc and the man Ferenc Raj one and the same?  In all my 4 “Bs” I have striven to be a role model and as I look forward, I hope God will give me the strength, wisdom and determination to continue on this path.

I am grateful to God who gave me the opportunity to teach in two continents and bring the Torah to our people.  I am grateful to God for my wonderful family, for my teachers, colleagues and students from whom I learned so many invaluable lessons.  I am grateful to God for all life’s experiences – both the bitter and the sweet – that have allowed me to “go from strength to strength.”

Rabbi Ferenc Raj, PhD is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate.


Fifty Years in the Reform Rabbinate

Let me begin this blog by saying that I grew up in Cincinnati, for many years the beating heart of Reform Judaism in America, attended religious high school classes at HUC, and had the Rosh Yeshivah of HUC-JIR in my family (Nelson Glueck, z’l, was my uncle. Despite all of that, I did not consider becoming a rabbi until my senior year in college. Even then, was not committed to becoming a Reform rabbi. Somehow or other, Bill Cutter, a fellow Eli, cherished friend and 3 years later an usher at my wedding, visited me and urged me to enroll at HUC-JIR. Meanwhile, I had applied to Columbia and Cornell to obtain an advanced degree in English literature in pursuit of a doctorate!

What prompted me to direct my attention to the Hebrew Union College and eventual ordination as a rabbi was my recognition that teaching was my specialty, and rather than teach an academic career, why not teach from the well-spring of my own tradition, about the people and faith I was raised in and thoroughly enjoyed. I considered applying to JTS, but was not willing to commit to the regimen of kashrut and Shabbat observance which had not been part of my upbringing. I briefly considered the Reconstructionist movement, but I knew very little about it, and didn’t particularly want to be studying in Philadelphia. In the end, I enrolled at HUC-JIR, and because I wanted to spend a year with the American Friends of the Hebrew University program in Jerusalem, my return to Cincinnati was delayed until the fall of 1962.

That said, let me address the primary assignment here: what have I learned in the course of my 50 years of service to Reform Judaism, which includes a year as a Chaplain resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital, six years as a prison chaplain to Jewish inmates, and nearly six years as the Spiritual Director of an Assisted Living and Memory Care facility?

I have learned what wonderful resources my colleagues are and how willing they are to respond to my inquiries. Even now, in retirement, I frequently communicate with colleagues when questions arise.

I have learned how many people, congregants and others, are willing to embrace a new rabbi who is ready to listen to what they have to say, and who doesn’t judge them in any way, or make them feel guilty.

I have learned how difficult it is in some settings to persuade a Temple Board to “do the right thing,” and how important it is to be cool-headed when others are upset.

I have learned that there are many satisfactions about being a rabbi in a large congregation, and at least as many satisfactions about being the rabbi of a small congregation.

I have learned how important it is to keep in touch with everyone in the community you serve, as much as is physically possible to do so, and attend to the needs of congregants facing medical or other issues.

I have learned that studying the weekly Torah portion with congregants can be an exalting experience, and that each year, the portion yields new insights.

What have I accomplished?

I have helped many, many people to become more serious about their Jewish beliefs and practices and more willing to make the synagogue an important part of their lives.

I have created meaningful liturgies for hatching, matching, and dispatching Jewish individuals and families.

I have made meaningful connections with other clergy in almost every community that I have served, especially in Long Beach and State College.
I led Passover Sedarim in Catholic and Protestant settings every year. I was also involved with the AIDS community in a city with several AIDS hospices, performing Bar Mitzvahs and conducting funerals for this beleaguered community, often rejected by their own families.

I helped to de-segregate the Long Beach school system by serving on a citywide committee specifically for that purpose. And while I was in Long Beach I was very active in interfaith work, and in addressing the challenge of teenage pregnancy. I also was closely connected with the local Hospice program, and involved with the conversion of scores of applicants.
During my “final” pulpit assignment in Winchester, Virginia, working with clergy, the pharmacy and nursing department of Shenandoah University as well as the American Cancer Society, I created a weeklong program to address the challenges of cancer in the community. It was a profound learning experience for me, the acme of my professional life beyond the pulpit.

I have helped people understand the difference between healing, which can be accomplished in almost any circumstance, and “curing,” which is a different matter entirely, and will not always be possible.

I have created a significant set of strategies to assist older people through the challenges of aging, and more strategies to help them acknowledge, and then celebrate the last chapter of their lives sand the journey that follows death.

I have learned to accept my own failings and missteps, and, though I can still do better, I have learned to stop judging other people’s behavior, because I don’t know that I would have acted any differently than they have done, given their situation.

What I am looking forward to:

The first thing I am looking forward to is spending more quality time with my four children, their spouses, and my grandchildren, who live in Alexandria, VA and Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Everything else is second to that. And I remain active in several clubs, local interfaith work, and doing a lot of reading of biographies of famous people. I also have a subscription with the Folger Shakespeare library to attend at least 3 plays a year in D.C., plus lots of musical events at our local University, and our really terrific Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

And now that I have become a retired Reform rabbi, I look forward to each day’s opportunities and challenges, and meeting annually with other NAORRR members where we can continue to address both personal and Reform Jewish priorities. I keep in touch, by phone or email, or both, with scores of people I’ve met along the way, always being exalted in the conversations. I look forward to making people laugh, because laughter is good for the soul and the body.

I have developed a series of strategies to deal with aging, and a year ago presented a shiur on “strategies to achieve a happy ending”. My approach now is as follows: when the malach ha-mavet knocks on my door, I will invite him/her in for schnapps!

Rabbi Jonathan Brown is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate. 



My Rabbinate at 50 years

The gift of being a Rabbi was not a conscious decision but rather a tender and loving commandment “This is what you will do!”  This “command” came from the unknown, yet illuminated depths of my soul.

My life was not to be in medicine, as I had previously thought, but to be a servant to my people, Israel.

The more I came to know myself,  the more compassion,empathy, honor and respect I had for those I was privileged to serve.  I chose to be an advocate for choice, acceptance and love; an enemy of rejection, authoritarianism and control.

My rabbinate was nurtured by my spiritual father, Ellis Rivkin who opened up worlds to me too numerous to mention; opening my soul to the supernal and material. His understanding of the dynamics of Jewish and human history as an ever changing balance between preservation, adaptation and mutation grounded in the Principle of Unity in Diversity was and remains the leitmotif of my career.

So, my rabbinate from ordination to now was to welcome the different,encourage diversity and encourage and embrace novelty. My commitment to Jewish tomorrows demanded of me to embrace what was repulsed and rejected for decades by our Jewish community.  Thankfully that is changing.

Serving Temple Sholom for 28 years was a gift filled with blessings and love.

But no blessing is greater than my wife, Ann.  Her love, nurture and support have sustained me to today. She is my life! Our children, grandchildren, and great grandsons keep our cup of life filled to the brim.

As I confront the ever present reality of mortality and discover other dimensions of my soul  now coming to light, I say with joy and gratitude my life has been a Shehecheyanu.

Rabbi Mayer Selekman serves as Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sholom in Broomall, PA.  He is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate.


Reflections on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Because my classmates and are celebrating our 50th year in the rabbinate, it’s not at all surprising that I find myself in a reflective mood.

After all, a half of a century seems to be a very long time in most of our lives; and, thinking about so much which has happened to us – individually and collectively – since Dr. Nelson Glueck declared that we were ready to serve as rabbis during our unforgettable Ordination Service at Cincinnati’s Plum Street Temple in 1967, it is only natural that most of us are experiencing a torrent of memories washing over us right now.

Ever since Dale Panoff advised all of us that the CCAR plans to honor us during its annual gathering this coming March in Atlanta, over and over again two related questions have surfaced from the depths of my very being:

“Have I used the rabbinate as a vocational vehicle to propel me from one opportunity to another in my determined desire to serve God, our unique Jewish people, and so many of God’s other wondrous peoples?”

“Or, did the rabbinate use me to play a number of extraordinary roles in a quest to enhance the totality of my own life while I have been engaged in trying to lift up adults and children whom I’ve encountered in those congregations I’ve led and in communities which have been allowed me to shine a light into some very dark places throughout this journey that has thus far spanned 50 years?

I may have thought that I was in total control of my career/vocation; however, when I carefully consider its constant twists and turns I am left with the realization that nothing has happened either solely under my direction or merely by happenstance.

Instead, the road which I’ve traveled was really not only of my own choosing but it has been influenced by a confluence of sacred and secular forces, as well as by a variety of challenging situations that I’ve encountered along the way.

During this half-century – particularly when my heart and mind have been open to all kinds of possibilities – the rabbinate has permitted me to be emotionally, intellectually and spiritually grow and to clearly see the world as it really is.

It has been then when I have enthusiastically responded to the needs of a vast array of persons and groups, and when I have been constantly emboldened by the ultimate realization that I have been doing work assigned to me by God.

Have there been times of confusion, of disappointment, of exhaustion? Of course!

But, most often they have occurred at those times when I have failed to energize my better self or when I have tried to satisfy some superficial ego need instead of being totally in touch with my reality and remembering that what I must do is to actualize some potential – mine and/or other folks.

Of uppermost importance have been those young people and adults who have turned to me for guidance, support, and a clear vision of what they and I are able to achieve when we keep our cooperative efforts viable and exclusively focused on an assortment of worthy end goals.

At the heart of what I began to become 50 years ago was essentially the beginning of an evolving affirmation; it has been rooted in the belief that all of us, dear colleagues, have been ennobled by the teachings and demands of Judaism’s biblical and contemporary prophets – those consistent advocates of human rights and social justice, who – according to Abraham Joshua Heschel – taught those who would listen to them that “the self is not the hub but the spoke of a revolving wheel.”

I have witnessed how that wheel is constantly propelling all of us towards a better tomorrow. And, I have been reminded over and over again that ours is the responsibility to make sure that – without exception – it is used to convey each and all of God’s progeny to a place where an abundance of blessings awaits us whenever we give evidence that we deserve them.

So, reflecting on everything that has occurred during this span of a half-century – even when I never for a moment ignore those losses which I have been forced to sustain – if you were to ask me: “Allen, how are you?” without hesitation, my instantaneous response is: “I am blessed!”

Rabbi Allen I. Freehling serves as Rabbi Emeritus at University Synagogue in Los Angeles, California and is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate.

Prayer Rabbis

Prayer Revisited

For years, I led people in prayer. It was always clear to me that prayer operates on three levels—personal, communal, and universal.

On the personal level, I have always found prayer (mostly silent prayer, or meditation, while all alone) to be a form of spiritual therapy. In moments of extreme mental pain or extreme joy, it connected me with something much more powerful than myself, and anchored me in a safe harbor. While alone, it reassured me I was never alone.

On the communal level, it connected me with my people – amcha yisrael. Not only those with whom I prayed, but also with the entire Jewish people worldwide. It was always clear to me that personal prayer by itself is not enough. Prayer is much more powerful when it becomes a group experience, a spiritual support system, if you will, in which one does not pray only by oneself, but also as part of a community of faith that is able to fulfill the Talmudic dictum that the world stands on three things—Torah, or knowledge; avodah, or worship; and gemilut hasadim, or acts of love and kindness. All three are interrelated, and all three must come into play to make prayer effective.

As I became a student of religions, especially in recent years as a cruise rabbi, which gave me the opportunity to travel around the world and observe people at prayer everywhere, I found out that millions of people worldwide pray both individually and communally. I also discovered amazing similarities in both personal and communal prayer, East and West. While the form may differ, the essence is the same. All people everywhere pray for healing, for peace of mind, and so on. The two things I took away from this experience are, one, prayer is a universal expression of the human heart, which, in a sense, makes the entire human race one global community of faith; two, both personal and communal prayer continues to play a central role in the lives of people everywhere, as it has for centuries, and most likely will continue long into the future.

This brings us to the third level of prayer, namely, the universal. Here is where I find prayer to fall short of human expectations. By universal prayer I mean praying for what is known in Judaism as tikkun olam, repairing the world, putting an end to violence and war, and establishing a world order of—to paraphrase the Christian expression—peace on earth and good will towards all people. For years, I stood at the pulpit and I concluded the service with the words expressing the wish for a world at peace. As I grew older, I became more and more frustrated by the realization that I was mouthing words, and that the words I was uttering did not have the power to redeem the world.

Back in the 60s, when I first became a rabbi, I was very proud of my colleagues and teachers who played a leading role in the struggle for social change in America. America has come a long way because of their sacrifice, although it still has a long way to go. I am equally proud of my movement for the decision to ordain women, a decision which has greatly revitalized the movement. Thirdly, I am proud of my movement for its continuing work in making our liturgy more relevant and more inspiring than ever before. All these are significant steps towards repairing the world. But there is still one step missing, as I discuss in my new book, Why People Pray. We need to link up with all people of good will around the world, both people of the other faiths and of all movements for social betterment, and pursue a new universal language of prayer, in which there is no triumphalism or exclusivism, but rather the recognition that we are all travelers on a small planet, one species created by one cosmic source, custodians of this small planet, who can no longer afford to wage wars and engage in violence. This will be the first right step towards a true tikkun olam.

Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber, a member of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Florida, is celebrating 50 years as a CCAR rabbi.


Reflections on 50 years in the Rabbinate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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