Categories
CCAR Convention

The Aha Moments: Rabbi Jeffrey Lazar on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

There is almost something preposterous about trying to sum up 50 years in the rabbinate. The relationships and friendships formed are at the core of the past half century. Lives that have touched me and vice versa. 

Experience and the presence of good people have guided me over the years to what I would describe as memorable and gratifying moments.

Like December 19, 1977, when Robbie Werney, a child with Down’s Syndrome, read eight verses from Torah on the occasion of his becoming a bar mitzvah. His mother had helped us establish a special needs program within the religious school. Robbie revealed the spark of God that existed in him and made believers out of those who doubted that something like this could be done.

Or sharing a morning with a group of sixth grade parents on writing an ethical will, what to say to their children as they became the newest links in the chain of our people’s tradition.

Or speaking to a group of teachers on how to ask thoughtful questions to their students, engaging them in the arduous task of thinking through the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Asking Questions.

What each of these memories has in common is the “aha moment,” the personal connection, the belief in others. To help others see possibilities, to achieve something they didn’t think possible, isn’t that what a rabbi, a teacher does? How grateful I am for those.


“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
                            – Leo Buscaglia


On the occasion of 50 years in the rabbinate, I toast my classmates and colleagues with “L’chayim!”


Rabbi Jeffrey Lazar is celebrating fifty years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

Categories
Convention

Hard-Gained Wisdom: Rabbi Ed Treister on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor members of our organization who were ordained 50 years ago or more. In advance of CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, we share a blog from Rabbi Ed Treister.

They say a person will have seven totally unrelated jobs in their working life. Most of us will have but one—rabbi. We ordainees of 1971 have been rabbis for fifty years. That’s a long run, fifty years. Who knew when we left Temple Ema­nu-El or the Plum Street Temple that the run would be cross-country—literally and figuratively—and not a paved road marathon. But at the fifty-year mark, there is a sense of accomplishment for no other reason than for having crossed the finish line.

I’ve learned a lot in the past fifty years. Most of it the hard way, but then those are the lessons that stay with you. There were other classes I attended—and repeated!—and still others where I never got their message. But here at the fifty-year finish line are some things I’ve gathered. Some of them I took in and benefited from and some, to my chagrin, I ignored. As to those lessons repeated or missed, all I can say is—pay attention!

1. There is a difference between being a rabbi and being in the rabbinate. Rabbi is who you are; the rabbinate is where you work. You’ll always be a rabbi even if you aren’t in the rabbinate. Be always mindful of how you tie your shoes. 

2. Carve out time to study and make it fixed. Shammai said it better than I. There’s only so much in the tank, and while your mileage may vary, at a certain point, you know you’re running on fumes. Not good for you, and not good for your people.

3. What you say and how you say it are the tools of your trade. Avtalyon said to be careful with your words. That has to include preparing your words well: well-thought-out, well-phrased, well-presented. Preparation shows: it shows you care about what you are saying and to whom you are saying it. Lincoln could do it off the back of an envelope; few of us are Lincolns.

4. Spend a lot of time with the kids in religious school and youth group. It is with them that you may have the greatest influence. They’ll remember what you taught them, and it will shape their character to an inestimable degree.

5. The rabbinate offers the rabbi opportunities to touch a lot of people in a variety of venues every single day. I can think of no other field, with the possible exceptions of broadcasting and publishing, that has that kind of reach. Take advantage of those moments.

6. The rabbinate is one of the last places where you can speak before an assembly without fear of interruption or challenge. Maybe a good thing, and then again, maybe not. 

7. The rabbinate offers the possibility for you to focus your energies towards goals that you establish. You can shift your focus as you see the need in you or in your community with relative ease. That’s real flexibility and freedom.

8. The rabbinate is a job with all the storms and stresses of being an employee. Often you’re viewed as a middle manager who is under the direction of other managers. It is an unsustainable position and you will need to define yourself for them by what you say and what you do.

9. The smaller the institution the greater the likelihood of transitions. The larger the institution the greater the likelihood of stability. Sailboats are easier to maneuver (and tip over) than steamships and that goes both for the rabbi and for the institution. Hamaskil yavin.

10. By the time you are ordained you will have at least nine letters after your name. You may even acquire more. Bear in mind that wisdom is not measured by degrees but by demeanor. Ed Friedman said it differently: at all times strive to be a non-anxious presence. 

There’s my ten. There are lots more. The point is being a rabbi is an opportunity to help people live meaningful, Jewishly value-laden lives. But being in the rabbinate also means dealing with highly diverse agendas, some that can be supportive, but others that can be highly destructive. In this long run, that is the rabbi’s career in the rabbinate. I wish you Godspeed.


Rabbi Edward Treister is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

Categories
Convention

Fulfillment Beyond Measure: Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor CCAR members ordained 50 years ago or more. Here, Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman reflects on his life and learnings in the rabbinate.

If there is such a phenomenon as a spiritual journey, I cannot think of a better way to do just that than being a congregational rabbi. For not only have I experienced my own spiritual life, but I have tasted the spiritual lives of my members. As I have stood under the chuppah, enabling two people to make holy and sacred the bond of love that will join their two souls, I too was touched by the powerful magic of their romantic love. 

And again, I found myself in their presence as I participated in the naming ceremony for their tiny infant. To see the look in their eyes, to view the countenance of grandparents and at times even great-grandparents, all of whose faces radiated with a kind of ultimate joy, was a special privilege granted to me as a rabbi.

Then, before I knew it, I was standing at the door of our preschool and watching bewildered parents letting go, for the first time perhaps, of their little one as their toddler walked down the hall to his first preschool classroom. Then in the blink of an eye, I was handing each member of the kindergarten consecration class their own little Torah, which they accepted so tenderly, holding their Torah close to their hearts. Then in three blinks of an eye, I was standing next to a thirteen-year-old chanting from the Torah at his bar mitzvah.

Two or three years later, I was with this bar mitzvah boy and his classmates, participating with them in a stunningly, beautiful confirmation service they had created. Two years later, I was privileged to conduct an “off-to-college Shabbat,” praying and hoping that wherever these students went, their Judaism would live in them and that I had somehow instilled in them a desire to live a Jewish life.

The next time I might see one of my confirmands might be when they once again are standing in front of the congregation, but this time instead of reading a confirmation prayer, they are speaking about their late grandfather at his funeral, a grandfather who meant so much to them. The young man tells those gathered for the funeral how much it meant to him to hold his parents’ hands in a circle with me as together with his grandfather we repeated the Sh’ma, the last words his grandfather said before slipping into a coma and dying.

Sitting with families, listening to them speak about loved ones who have just died, about how they lived their lives, how they loved, how they struggled and sometimes failed, then strove again and succeeded, I’ve learned so much about how to live life, not just what I’ve read in books, but from sharing in my congregants’ lives.

The blessing I have received as a rabbi has brought me fulfillment beyond measure, but I am quick to note that whatever spiritual nourishment I have gained from my rabbinate would never have been possible without my life partner, Barbara, who has been by my side now for almost fifty-six years. Nor would it have been possible without the understanding and enlightened leadership of The Temple’s officers and board, as well as the deep support and understanding of our Temple family.

What I have described above, along with almost every imaginable type of counseling situation, became the heart and soul of my rabbinate.

I tried my best to keep not only the words of the prophets alive, but to turn those words into deeds, such as helping create a shelter for homeless couples and a shelter for  homeless newborns and their families. What wisdom did I learn? I learned when people are given a chance to allow the goodness of their hearts to bloom, they will do so. The night before we opened our shelter for homeless newborns and their families, we had an open house for our volunteers. The infant bathtubs were placed up high so mothers would not have to bend over to bathe their babies. On the side of each tub was a little yellow rubber duck that one of our volunteers had placed there. I smiled and I think God did too.

I pray that my rabbinate has been pleasing in God’s eyes….


Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman received his BBA from Emory University and was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1974 he was named senior rabbi at The Temple in Atlanta, Georgia. In December 1988, he received his PhD in Theological Studies from Emory University.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

Categories
Convention

50 Years in the Rabbinate

About the time I was ordained, Arnold Jacob Wolf alav ha-shalom, wrote a paper entitled, The Ideal Synagogue. I have saved it over the years. With modification it represents the dream of an ideal congregational rabbi I have harbored for half a century and even before.

What if there were a God? A God who was alive, concerned, somehow connected with the Jews. What, then, would the Synagogue be like? It would be a place of prayer directed toward the living God, where one could study God’s cryptic communiques to man and humbly try to enact God’s will in life …. No poor man, no victim, no brother in need would be unwelcome to entreat these Jews. All of these deeds of the congregation would be in the service of God. Service of self would not be the purpose of that congregation. Strenuous work in prayer, in study, and in acts of compassion would preempt time or energy for self-congratulation or for amusement. … Entering that congregation would mean submission, not to the Rabbi or the board, but to the One who called the world (and the synagogue) into being.

(That Synagogue would be a congregation) where all views are welcome if those who hold them do not run away but seek further, where an atheist is (only) one who lives everywhere as if there were no God.

The Rabbi of such a congregation will open the substance of his faith to public inspection and the accuracy of his knowledge will be on trial every day. His members .. will want his concern and will offer him their advice. He will learn more than he meant to learn. He will be pushed to extremities of creativity he finds dangerous and new. … He will see the awful emptiness of the contemporary American Jew and most of all, his own and his predestined failure will be in the service of the Utmost. … He will stand for something, some One – and encourage his people to become both free and committed.

Perhaps this congregation under God is Utopian. But Utopia is only what some call the Messiah. Messianic is what takes a long time, and Jewish is what we can do immediately.

My immediate Rabbinate has been far from this ideal, but it has been closer than many. Its best years, the greater majority, have been spent at congregations which hold active membership in both the Reform and Conservative Movements. In West Virginia and Utah I have come to learn that Judaism is a uniter of diverse Jews once they come to face and accept the commonalities of our Covenant.

Inspiring my rabbinate have been teachings of four of my Rabbis. I paraphrase them slightly:

Rabbi Maurice Pekarsky of the University of Chicago Hillel taught me: Judaism is a discipline for making a Jew into a better person.

Rabbi Petuchowsky of HUC-JIR taught me: You come here wanting to be a Rabbi, but first you have to learn how to be a Jew.

Rabbi Jacob Radar Marcus taught me: Remember, rabbis, you are in sales, not in management. God is the Manager.

Rabbi Sheldon Blank taught me: For Jews, hope is a duty.

All these teachings have led me into an active life teaching, preaching, leading worship, officiating at life cycle events from womb to tomb, representing the Jewish community to the non-Jewish world from Mormons to Muslims, counseling, administering, mentoring and nurturing potential Jews and non Jews who love Judaism, attending an infinity of meetings, helping to set policy, distributing tzedakah, executing the will of a bachelor philanthropist, and even janitoring. All in all, I’ve been neither a Rav nor a Rebbe, but proudly a Reform Rabbi who teaches Judaism to Conservative and Reform Jews in Salt Lake City.

In retirement, I have spent three wonderful seasons in Israeli Youth Villages and nearly four fulfilling years as Rabbi in Residence in Alaska. I taught world religions in a liberal arts college for eleven years. Twice, in between my successors, I’ve assumed full Rabbinic duties. I belong to two Havuot. Rochelle and I continue our lives together in Salt Lake City, the place that has become our home. I continue to teach teens and adults and officiate when asked in the Synagogue where we raised our two wonderful children. Close friends surround us here, and two plots await in the Salt Lake Jewish Cemetery.

In 1987, Rabbi Morris Hershman of the URJ told me: If you can raise a merger of convenience into a vision, you’ll be success. I’m still working at it.

Rabbi Fred Wenger is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention. 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Convention

Fifty Year Reflections

In many ways, the Reform movement is quite different today than it was when I was ordained. The Union Prayer Book was used in our synagogues universally most of the service was conducted in English. The introduction of Gates of Prayer, Gates of Repentance, and most recently, Mishkan T’fillah and Mishkan HaNefesh brought with it a more traditional feel while adding optional readings that fill the worship with meaning. Gender inclusive language makes all feel a part of the worship.

As students at HUC-JIR, we could not wear a Tallit when conducting services and students who desired kosher food needed the permission of the president to live off campus. My first contract in Akron specified that I could not wear a kippah on the bimah. Now kippot and talliot are made available to the congregation and the Tallit has replaced the robe that was standard attire for rabbis in the pulpit.

Our movement is no longer “classical reform.” More and more, our congregants and our younger colleagues pushed our movement to embrace traditions that had been discarded. We embraced Zionism and Israel became part of our rabbinic training and central in our congregations. I, too, embrace these changes. What’s lacking is the notion that the synagogue is central to Jewish life. Today there is much that competes and Friday night is no longer “Temple night.” We talk of spirituality without including the synagogue experience as an essential component of our relationship with God. I now hear people tell me that they are spiritual, but not religious. We can be both and I hope the worship service will once again rise up as part of our search for God in our lives.

In 1969, there were no women yet ordained by the College-Institute. There had not yet been ordained an openly LGTBQ rabbi. Women rabbis have become part of the norm, as have LGBTQ rabbis. The inclusion of both in our rabbinic leadership has changed us for the better.

In the early 1990’s, those of us with LGBT children and our colleagues who identified as gay or lesbian (mostly in the closet) were not permitted to post a meeting in a colleague’s room. Today most of our members are comfortable with officiating at same sex weddings. Our movement has become more welcoming of a diverse population making many more comfortable in our synagogues. I was happy to be a part of that change. I recall the controversy that arose when I officiated at the first same sex Jewish wedding in Ohio.   We have led the way and for that we should be proud.

Every generation makes its contribution to the growth of Reform Judaism. I look back on my career with a sense of satisfaction. It is good to know that I have made a difference in the lives of many people. It is good to know that, both in my congregation and as national president of PFLAG, I have made LGBTQ people feel safe, helped their families embrace them, and helped make them feel a part of Jewish religious life.  It is good to know that I have been able to teach both Jews and non-Jews the lessons that come from our Jewish tradition and its literature. It is good to continue to be a part of the general community and continue to present to Christian and Muslim groups. It is good now to be a member of my congregation. I now learn from my rabbi, and for that I am grateful.

Rabbi David M Horowitz is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention. 

Categories
Convention

The First Time I Was a Rabbi

The first time I was a rabbi happened in a small town in West Virginia. It was not what I had expected. I’m pretty sure it was 1965 but I am certain it was Yom Kippur because Jan Peerce, the great operatic tenor, sang Kol Nidre.

I had just found out I was going to be the rabbi there only a few days earlier.

At the time, I was in my second-year of rabbinic school (age 22) and didn’t even rate a High Holyday student pulpit. That year there were only a few but I had missed the cut-off in the student-pulpit lottery.

Then, just two days before Yom Kippur, the student who had been assigned to conduct High Holyday services in Logan, West Virginia was taken ill and confined to bed. Since I was next on the list, within only a few hours, I found myself standing in the hallway outside a sick classmate’s bedroom taking notes:

You take the Norfolk & Western to Huntington. Then you rent a car and drive through the mountains to Logan. There will be a room reserved for you at the hotel. When you get in, phone a mister so-and-so and tell him you’re the replacement rabbi. He’ll tell you where the synagogue is. Services begin at 7.

He gave me his prayer book, marked with all the cues for the organist and the choir, and explained that, when it came time for the chanting of the Kol Nidre prayer, I should reach under the lectern where, hopefully, there would be a phonograph ready to play a recording of Jan Peerce (nee: Jacob Pincus Perelmuth) singing Kol Nidre.

“Have you decided what you’re preaching on yet?” my classmate asked.

Preaching? It hadn’t yet even dawned on me that I was supposed to give a sermon!

Nervous would be an understatement. I was terrified.

Within two days, on the holiest day of the year, I found myself standing up on the bima leading a congregation in prayer. Everything went pretty much according to plan until we got to the shema. (I am not making this up.)

Before I could invite the congregation to rise—as per the dramaturgical instructions written in my prayer book—I felt a slight rumbling in the floor of the building and heard a distant roaring sound. Then the chandeliers began slowly swinging back and forth. At first, I thought it might be an earthquake. But the rumbling and the roar steadily increased. Soon, the whole building shook. The noise was deafening. Maybe I was having a mystical experience. I can only imagine what the expression on my face must have looked like.

But—and this is the crazy part—no one else in the congregation seemed to take any notice at all. Some began casually whispering to one another. Others simply closed their eyes and seemed to be meditating. Excuse me but does anyone else hear this loud roar? Pardon me, but are we concerned that the building is violently shaking? Perhaps I had slipped into an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story and a village whose inhabitants had become inured to the earth shaking and the heavens roaring whenever they declared God’s unity.

Thankfully, a member of the congregation, recognizing my dismay, came up onto the stage with a whispered explanation: A few feet behind the back wall of the synagogue—he inconspicuously gestured, right behind the five-member choir—was the main line of the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad’s coal division and, as it happened, every now and then, a two hundred car-long coal train passed by.

Fifteen minutes later, when the rumble and roar faded off into the distance, we continued our worship: Hear, O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

That winter, in my Hebrew Bible class, we read I Kings 19:12. “And after the roar there was the thin, barely audible sound of almost breathing.”

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention. 

Categories
Convention

Reflections on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Probably the greatest change in my life was the day Dr. Alvin Reines defined religion in Philosophy class as: “Man’s response to his finitude, his infinite striving and his finite factuality.” His elongated explanation changed my life due to the fact that for years I had struggled with my father’s suicide when I was 10 years old. Suddenly I had a cause and a mission to my life. I could bring comfort to the bereaved and a repurpose to those dealing with the death of a loved one. My life’s path suddenly took me on an adventure of trying to assist youth and adults preparing for the inevitability of the death and to reconcile this loss through mourning customs. A piece of this exploit took me into the world of teenage suicide and its devastating and profound impact on everyone; parents, fellow students and the community. My quest became as to what contribution I could make to prevent the next suicide? Utilizing members of my congregation, together we produced a video and called it Inside I Ache. This described not only the warning signs of suicide but that friends knowingly must break a confidence and tell someone in authority when they recognize such signs. This video began my adventure into the world of thanatology and my writing about death and dying issues, i.e. my book on Clergy Retirement: Every Ending a New Beginning, or The Suicide Funeral.

My rabbinate was also dedicated to offering a wide range of spiritual experiences through services filled with music and a sense of holiness and awe. We were once dubbed ‘the hugging congregation’ and awarded 4 stars by a newspaper reporter who made it his mission to go around and rate congregations in Cleveland. I also have a deep love of teaching adults and young people and have felt a sense of satisfaction by inspiring 9 of my students to become rabbis. I was highly involved in social action projects and perhaps felt most rewarded with the yearly observance of both Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and the yahrsite of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Our Temple and Antioch Baptist Church, a large, prominent church in Cleveland yearly held a MLK service and other discussions. As a result of this interaction, their pastor, the Rev. Marvin McMickle and I became the best of friends. I was invited to speak at each of his milestone celebrations at his congregation, and he at mine, and was prominently involved when he ran for the U.S. Senate. During my thirty-five years with Temple Emanu El, I led them to work cooperatively with other congregations and personally developed a community adult education program and a joint high school. I have a deep commitment to Israel and am on the local Jewish National Fund Board of Directors, as well as having served for many years on the National Rabbinic Board for Israel Bonds and am a member of AIPAC. I have lived in Israel twice for a year a piece and have traveled there about 30+ times. Prior to my retirement from Temple Emanu El, I positioned the congregation to make the transition to a new building in a suburb closer to where many young Jewish couples were living.   On a lighter note I have twice been dubbed Cleveland’s “Funniest Rabbi” at the bi-annual fundraising event at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

I have continued my involvement in Judaism through serving as a monthly rabbi in Sharon, PA for 10 years, as an interim rabbi in Lexington, KY, and as a High Holy Day replacements in Rochester, NY, Virginia Beach, VA and Birmingham, AL, as well as being a rabbi on cruise ships that have taken us to Antarctica, India, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates. We have traveled to Africa, Australia, Alaska and Vietnam.

Elaine and my children number 5 with one daughter living here in Cleveland, three sons in Denver and one son on Long Island. We have 9 grandchildren spread around the country and no great grandchildren as of this writing in 2019.

It has been a wonderful and meaningful life being a rabbi and if I could choose it over again I would do it in a heartbeat.

Rabbi Daniel A. Roberts is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention. 

Categories
Convention

50 Blessed Years in the Rabbinate

“Love is Blue” was playing on the radio as I drove home from HUC on Clifton Avenue after the lottery was over and my number guaranteed that I would “volunteer” for the U.S. Army. Chaplaincy school was now on the horizon, and Fort Belvoir, Arlington National Cemetery, and Vietnam were in my future. Of course I didn’t know all that as I opened the door of our apartment in Clifton Village, I just felt sorry and angry for Eileen, our newborn son and me – a lamb on its way to slaughter.

But life has a way of imparting its own truths and healing is a presence too often recognized retrospectively. If I lived in a different time or were a different person then, I would be talking about God here. Maybe I still am. Because a Lieutenant from Mississippi, a Private from Brooklyn, a Captain from Minnesota and countless others taught me what it can mean to be called “Rabbi”, present in the jungles of their confusion and fear, connecting us all to each other, to whatever the word God or Jewish meant to us in that seductively lush and dangerous setting.

The Placement Commission of the CCAR gave me a bonus when I came home from Vietnam. I was eligible to apply for a “B” congregation even though I was only two years out. Eileen gave me even a better one when our two-year-old looked up from his crib that first morning and said: “That’s my Daddy”. I guess even in an age of reel-to-reel tapes sent back and forth from Nha Trang to New Jersey we found our way to each other.

My first pulpit was in Springfield, New Jersey. Temple Sha’arey Shalom was looking for someone to follow a powerful, socially active, controversial and adored Rabbi. Do we ever know what we are walking into? They taught me to love and listen. There was no “incoming” to dodge but plenty of battles to navigate as divergent visions of what the past meant for their future collided. The Army served me well. “KISSKeep It Simple Stupid. Be there as consistently as you can; stand tall and true to yourself and your understanding of the Jewish continuum. But don’t be afraid to cry together, laugh together and dream even as you “never let them see you sweat.” We lived there almost twelve years; our family and our congregation growing and maturing, nurturing each other in times of strength and weakness.

I was in the middle of working towards an MSW in Pastoral Counseling from Wurzweiler School of Social Work when Temple Israel of West Palm Beach called to ask if I would consider interviewing for their congregation. Sometimes things are just meant to be and since I was conducting a wedding in Del Ray Beach two weeks later, I said – yes – if you can make it happen within that time frame. The interview took place in the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach over breakfast with 30 people. Talk about first impressions! A 28-year-bumpy, frustrating, exhilarating, challenging journey began that day. It was filled with new opportunities for growth some of my choosing some chosen for me. The position propelled me into community activism both in our Jewish Federation and the Interfaith Arena. In the meanwhile I was invited to serve on the Reform Pension Board where I am now Vice-Chair. An unexpected blessing, my years on the RPB have linked me with lay and professional people who care deeply and religiously for the professionals and congregations of our Reform movement. It taught me how the sacred flows into the secular; how a shared vision and commitment can become God’s work.

I retired in 2008 to a new chapter. I spent two years learning to become a Jewish Spiritual Director. The Hasidic and Mussar masters informed my heart as my Judaism evolved finding a new home in my soul. With a friend and colleague from the Episcopal tradition we became lecturers at Florida Atlantic University’s Life Long Learning Centers as well as the Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews. In my Jewish communal life, I serve as a consultant to the Synagogue Institute of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, working in synagogue transformation and leadership initiatives.

I have been very lucky. My Episcopal friend corrects me when I use the word “lucky”: “Blessed, Howard – blessed.” My life is full; my cup overflows.

Rabbi Howard Shapiro is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate at the upcoming 2018 CCAR Convention in Orange County, CA.

Categories
CCAR Convention Rabbis spirituality

50 Years a Rabbi: A Path Less Traveled

Martin Buber’s philosophy and Hasidic spiritual revival, along with my attraction to intensive small group experiences, brought me to rabbinical school. Five years later, as a senior at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, I had my life mapped out: I accepted a Fellowship to the Social Psychology Department at the University of Michigan, along with an appointment to the part-time congregation there. But Richard Levy, an upper-class mentor at HUC, urged me to meet with his senior rabbi, Leonard Beerman, z”l, even though I insisted I was not available to be his next assistant.

Nevertheless, Leonard offered me the job, and then brought me to Los Angeles to meet some members of Leo Baeck Temple, a congregation famous for its social activism and non-theological teachings. Just before I was to return to Cincinnati, having once again declined his offer, Leonard said something like, “When I was beginning my career, I wish I had been able to be with someone who could help me with things like weddings and funerals.” Suddenly feeling how very unprepared I was, I said, “Okay. I’m coming.”

Not everyone was happy with my sudden change of direction, but, months later, when I met with a father and three children who brought with them the suicide note of their 41-year-old wife and mother, I gratefully marched into my senior rabbi’s office and laid out the situation. “What do I do?” I asked. He thought for a moment, then said, “I have no idea. Let me know what you do.”

It took me a long time to get past my sense of betrayal and realize what a gift Leonard had given me. In many ways, that moment pushed me onto my own path, needing to trust my own instincts and access a deeper Wisdom.

Pursuing my interest in small-group process, I became a Sensitivity Group leader. In the context of that intense training, some of the shells around my heart broke open, and things began to change both personally and professionally. Returning from a week at Esalen Institute in December 1969, a rockslide on Highway One shattered my basic sense of reality with what I later learned was called an OOBE, an out-of-body experience. Although it was some time before I would share that with others, I awakened to an identity beyond the limits of my physical self. Because of the profound clarity of that realization, I began learning and practicing meditation, hoping to revisit that sacred space less dramatically. I was no longer the same person who had been hired by Leo Baeck Temple a year and a half earlier, and I declined an offer of a third year.

This time, I followed Richard Levy into the Hillel environment, and at Cal State University, Northridge, I worked with Rabbi Michael Roth, a yeshiva classmate of Shlomo Carlebach, who would become my primary teacher, mentor, and friend, until his death in early 2017.

Because spirituality and meditation had become primary for me, but were not core agendas of synagogue life, I entered a graduate program at the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles, where I could more openly pursue my spiritual and psychological interests. Away from the professional rabbinate, I found a surprisingly natural way of being rabbi, counseling and officiating at life-cycle moments for faculty and fellow students. Since that time, I have focused on sharing the spiritual authenticity at the heart of Jewish tradition, developing a psycho-spiritual approach to Torah. My work has included the founding of two meditative synagogues (Makom Ohr Shalom in Los Angeles in 1978, and Bet Alef in Seattle in 1993); practicing as a therapist and spiritual counselor; becoming, along with Pastor Don Mackenzie and Imam Jamal Rahman, an Interfaith Amigo; and authoring or co-authoring a number of books.

While I retired from congregational life at the end of 2009, I continue to write, do counseling, travel with my Amigos, and work as an independent teacher of a universal spirituality based in Jewish text and tradition, seeking universal teachings from other great spiritual paths in order to support the healing of person and planet that needs to be. I am deeply grateful for the road less traveled on which I have found myself.

Rabbi Ted Falcon is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2018 CCAR Convention. 

Categories
chaplains Rabbis

Reflections on 50 Years as a Rabbi

I was ordained a rabbi on the Shabbat before the Six-Day War erupted in Israel in 1967.  Little did I realize then how powerfully that event would transform American Reform Jews for generations. Since that time, we have reclaimed once-discarded traditional rituals and have embraced Zionism enthusiastically.

After ordination, I became an Army chaplain for two years, first at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. In that capacity, I officiated at all Jewish burials at Arlington National Cemetery, many of which involved Vietnam casualties- a painful, frustrating assignment. I was told the name of the deceased and the grave site, but nothing more. Yet I was expected to eulogize the deceased when I arrived at the grave site. After that experience, I committed myself to learning as much as I can about the deceased prior to the service to give him/her an appropriate final tribute.

While at HUC-JIR, I envisioned becoming a congregational rabbi, with an emphasis on scholarship, preaching, and teaching and without much attention to social action. Vietnam changed all that.

At Ft. Belvoir, as a military officer, I became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and was punished for my actions by being reassigned to Korea.

Discharged in June, 1969, I interviewed for seven pulpits, three of which were assistant-ships. During that process, I discovered that I am not temperamentally suited to be an assistant rabbi and needed a solo congregation. My first pulpit was Temple B’nai Israel, in Galveston.

I continued my anti-war protests, in Galveston and received considerable affirmation from many members of my congregation. While engaged in social justice causes, I still maintained a commitment to scholarship. In 1975, I received my DHL degree, having written a dissertation on the noted medieval biblical commentator, Obadiah Sforno.

In 1976, I became Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, where I served for 26 years. I succeeded Rabbi David Jacobson, who had served the congregation for 38 years. He and his wife, Helen, were revered community leaders who supported and encouraged me during my tenure. I have tried to do the same with my successors.

From 1984 to 1990, I was editor of the Journal of Reform Judaism (now the CCAR Journal), and am grateful I could disseminate the wisdom and insights of my colleagues through this medium.

I often felt the sting of subtle anti-Semitism during my formative years. Therefore, I pledged to devote my life to combating bigotry and prejudice and to advancing interfaith understanding wherever I served. Fortunately, both Galveston and San Antonio are renowned for their healthy inter-religious climate.

I have also tried to avoid the turf battles which plague many Jewish communities and to cultivate mutually respectful relationships with rabbinical colleagues and members of all other local synagogues.

Since my retirement in 2002, Lynn and I have spent our summers at Chautauqua Institution. At this “adult brain and soul camp,” as Lynn calls it, in western New York State, I am a member of the staff of the Department of Religion. I was once named Theologian-in-Residence and have lectured there frequently. Chautauqua is the ideal setting for my interfaith work. Though its foundation is Christian, about 30% of its current participants are Jewish.

Serving as a rabbi for half a century has been a privilege and an honor. In no other calling does one gained instant entry into people’s lives, during their times of trials and triumphs.

Having been raised in western Pennsylvania, I still can’t believe that I have spent my entire civilian rabbinate in Texas. The Jewish people here are warm, gracious, and caring, but many are culturally more Texan than Jewish and tend to be more politically conservative than elsewhere.

I close with the insightful observation, “Dor dor v’dorshav– Each generation requires its own interpreters.” My rabbinate has been exceedingly rewarding and fulfilling. Yet, I realize that the Reform Jewish world has changed so significantly since my ordination 50 years ago that I doubt if I could be an effective pulpit rabbi today. Fortunately, HUC-JIR is producing a new generation of rabbis who are more attuned to the needs and aspirations of contemporary Reform Jewry.

Rabbi Samuel M. Stahl is celebrating fifty years as a CCAR Rabbi.