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Rabbis

Discovering Reform Judaism

My religious training began in Istanbul, Turkey in an Orthodox Jewish synagogue to which my parents belonged. I excelled in my studies and became not only a shohet (for chickens only) but also the hazzan kavua of my temple. When I discovered Reform Judaism in law school, it changed my life for ever. Now I could become a religious, as well as an observant Jew, in good conscience. During my military service in Turkey (1959-60), I applied to and was accepted by the HUC-JIR as a rabbinic student. After six months in Paris, where I studied at the Institut International d’Etudes Hebraiques, the now defunct French-Jewish progressive rabbinic school, I came to the States in the Fall of 1961.

After five years in Cincinnati I was ordained as a Rabbi and sent to Buenos Aires, Argentina as the representative of the WUPJ as well as the spiritual leader of Temple Emanu-El, a small liberal congregation of about 100 families. It was there that I got married to Ines Goldstein, my now wife of almost 50 years, and where our son Daniel was born. In Latin America I dealt with Orthodox opposition and Conservative competition but was successful in solidifying the foundations of Reform Judaism in Argentina. In 1969, I decided to leave the congregational rabbinate and was accepted as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania where in 1975 I received my Ph.D in Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies. Our daughter, Deborah was born in Philadelphia, where, in addition to my studies, I also became the Education Director of Main Line Reform Temple, in the suburbs, on a part-time basis.

My first full-time job was at North Shore Congregation Israel, in Glencoe, IL as the Education Director of a large religious school (about 800 students). In 1980, however, I decided to have my own pulpit and accepted an invitation to become the Rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom of Needham, MA where I remained for 23 years, retiring in 2003. During my tenure, I became active at Camp Eisner, was elected president of the Boston area Reform Rabbis, wrote a number of books on Judaica, served as the editor of the CCAR Journal, and trained many Mohalim/lot.

Since my retirement, I have been in academics, teaching part-time Comparative Religion at Boston College and now Ethics at Framingham State University (closer to my new home in Ashland, MA). In addition to my academic obligations, I continue to blog and lecture, and support, through trips and Skype lectures, a small but emerging Reform congregation in Barcelona, Spain, called Bet Shalom. I also love to spend time with my children and grandchildren, two in the Boston area and two in California.

In the 60’s Reform Judaism had a distinct style and philosophy. Even though there were differences of opinion among us, we all had a general idea of what Reform Judaism stood for: We supported progressive revelation; we believed in the immortality of the soul; we had a common liturgical style and a special prayer book etc. It is in the nature of Reform Judaism to be progressive and diverse. After all, the Centenary Perspective (CCAR, 1976) clearly states that “Reform Judaism does more than tolerate diversity; it engenders it.” Today we have many more theological differences among ourselves. We espouse different perceptions of the divinity, and we are all over the map with regard to ritual practices, making the rabbinate even more challenging.

When I was a congregational rabbi, I influenced my synagogue with my style of worship and thinking pattern. Being a non-theistic religious naturalist, my liturgy, sermons and writings reflected my philosophy, even though I tried not to impose it on others. My rabbinate taught me to be patient with people, empathetic with individuals, and accept greater diversity. I learned to be well organized, prompt with my appointments, always respecting time and place. I also assiduously set aside a few hours a week to study, for without it, I would have nothing substantial to teach.

Looking back, I consider myself very fortunate for having a rich and fulfilling life, and am grateful to the Reform movement in the USA for allowing me to realize my dreams.

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D. is celebrating 50 years as a CCAR Rabbi. 

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Rabbis

Rabbi Philip Berkowitz – Reflections on 50 years in the Rabbinate

First and foremost, my emphasis in the rabbinate was pastoral. I was blessed to serve two congregations. One in Pontiac, Michigan and the second in the Township of Washington in New Jersey. Early in my tenure in Pontiac (in the 1960’s), I was asked to serve on the Police Trial Board. I was reassured that the need to meet was rare. The first summer we had meetings every evening. Two cases regarding police brutality. The first we found the accused innocent. The second case the officers were found guilty. All of this during civil unrest. On Kol Nidre Eve, Pontiac was under a city wide curfew.  We managed to hold services with the understanding the police not subject us to the curfew. As serviced ended, I asked everyone to go directly home. In event some wished to ride around town, I would not visit them in jail. Such was the tribulations of a young rabbi.

In 1975, we moved to New Jersey where I served Temple Beth Or in the Township of Washington. During my rabbinate there I became involved in helping the homeless. I  also had to deal with a NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue. Temple Beth Or responded to my call. The battle was with local towns to permit congregations to house the homeless. Those battles were also won. In the years that followed, I was elected president of the Inter-religious Fellowship for The Homeless. It was a first for a Jew in Bergen County.

One extraordinary event in New Jersey stands out in my mind. We planned a community program, which had such a large turn out we had to move to a larger location.  We invited Elie Wiesel z’l to address the community. I was honored to introduce him that evening. Prior to the program we sat in a second floor office. We decided to step outside the office a see what was going on. The auditorium was filled. There were hundreds of teenagers there. Many of the came over to greet me. They did not recognize our guest who was nearby.  Elie observed all of this and was impressed with the turnout of young people. He was outstanding that evening. He changed his topic, and spoke to the teenagers. He was at his very best and everyone was moved and inspired.

Looking back on these chapters, they are mild in comparison to events of 2016. I thought I accomplished a great deal, but there is more that must be done. During the span of my rabbinate I prayed from the The Union Prayer Book, Gates Of Prayer, and Mishkan T’filah. So much has changed. Would I conduct worship services today as in 1966? NO! Today I would use more Hebrew and encourage more music. I would recommend the use of live streaming. There is a need that cannot be ignored in order to meet the needs of an aging population.

In 2001 we found a retirement home on the beach in Kennebunk, Maine. We moved there in 2003, the day I retired. In 2004, I became a conductor and volunteer operator at The Seashore Trolley Museum. Shortly thereafter, a president of NAORRR called me and asked if I was alright. Did I have to work to survive financially?  The answer was all was well. I had learned to operate old street cars from all over the world.  I went on to become Assistant Superintendent of Railway operations, a Board trustee, and its vice chairman. Never did envision that kind of retirement.  I have now retired from the Railway, and enjoy life at the beach. From our porch we have seen our 41st president skydive twice, as well as his boat stranded on the sand in front of our home. Such is the joy of retirement that Nancy and I share in beautiful Maine. It is here that our children and our grandchildren join us to enjoy the pleasure of retirement and share the way life is in vacation land.

Rabbi Philip Berkowitz is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Or, Township of Washington, New Jersey.

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CCAR Convention

Celebrating the Class of 1965: The Past and The Exciting Future

At the CCAR Convention 2015, we honored the class of 1965, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years. CCAR is proud to share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of these members of the class of 1965 and their 50 years in the rabbinate.

Those of us who have spent fifty years in the rabbinate and five preceding years at HUC-JIR, have lived through the end of the first period of Reform Judaism and have entered the second.  The first period, sometimes called Classical Reform, began in Germany, and was brought to America by, mostly, German Jews.  Its philosophical base is called German Idealism, principally the philosophies of Kant and Hegel.  This philosophy saw Judaism as a system of ideas, and Judaism  “presents the highest conception of the God-Idea” in history.  Rejecting the thoughts of Hegel, about religious history, which said that Judaism had made its contribution to the unfolding of the Spirit and it was time for it to go, Reform believed that the Jewish mission was eternal until the Messianic Age, when our purpose would be fulfilled.  Thus, Arnold Toynbee, the eminent historian, accepting Hegel’s analysis, said the Jews were a fossil.  This caused us great consternation, and we suspected anti-Semitism and not deep philosophy.  Our founders understood our role in human history as bearing the pure monotheistic God-Idea and teaching it to the world.  They knew, precisely, what was living and dead in the Jewish Tradition and saw their mandate as continuing the purity of the Jewish purpose.  All of this is enshrined in the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885.

Much, however, has changed since 1885.  Reform Judaism is no longer dominated by German Jews.  Hitler destroyed our late 19th century optimism about historical progress, and German Idealism is no longer the regnant philosophy of the thinking world.  In actuality, now, there is no regnant philosophy, but if we want to label our approach, it is, loosely, existential and we are influenced by such thinkers as Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Eugene Borowitz.  We are more concerned than Leo Baeck was, in his book, to find “The Essence of Judaism” than the meaning of Jewish existence and how to be a Jew.  We look for mitzvot more than ideas, and we are no longer so certain about what, in our Tradition, is anachronistic and dead.  We are more open to the Tradition and the role it plays in our lives.  I was on the committee that produced the Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism, adopted at the Pittsburgh convention of the CCAR, in 1999.  It was a wonderful opportunity to witness the first attempt to articulate the new direction of Reform Judaism.  The rabbis present spanned the spectrum from left to right, but pretty much, we all agreed.  The discussions were more concerned with the style and format of the document than the direction we all felt Reform was going.  It is a document that sees Reform evolving from its early principles, without which we wouldn’t exist, to a greater openness to all of our Jewish past and humility about our ability to know the future.

I believe that Reform is still Reform and all the achievements of our forbears have been preserved because our greatest achievements in the first period are permanent: an historical and critical approach to our Tradition, egalitarianism, social concern.  I, also, believe that we are exhibiting an understanding that characterizes the entire Jewish Tradition, including Reform: the creativity, and insight that sees Judaism as dynamic.  Judaism and the Jews have survived because of this creativity and our existence as the Eternal People depends on it.

 

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General CCAR News Rabbis

Celebrating the Class of 1965: Retirement, Change and Continuity

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1965, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years. In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of these members of the class of 1965 and their 50 years in the rabbinate.

Retirement:

A wise friend once told me, “Retirement is not necessarily everything it’s cracked up to be.”  At the time I didn’t believe him.  Already retired a number of years, on a scale of 1 to 10, I felt I had a 12.  But opportunity often strikes when you least expect it.  A small part-time congregation arose near my suburban Atlanta home.

Change:             

Marilyn, my eshet chayil of fifty-four years, and I discussed what this change might mean in our lives.  We decided that reentering the congregational rabbinate would add immeasurably to our retirement. That was seven years ago.  We have not regretted it.

Continuity:                                                                                                                                                        

Friendly baalbatim, on average our children’s ages, have made our lives easy.  Our congregants lovingly regard us as bubbie and zeyde.  This rings favorably in our ears.  As the senior members of our congregation we enjoy both teaching them and learning in return.  It is a mutual endeavor.  Together we’re searching for life’s meaning at different stages of our lives.  Judaism assists us in our quest.  Our involvement also softens some of the inevitable changes retirement brings.  Rabbinic continuity of service makes a real difference.  Now we understand better why Moses remained vital to 120.  Now when asked about retirement satisfaction I respond, “On a scale of 1 to 10, we have a 20.”

Continuity:                                                                                                                                                         

It seems unbelievable that we’ve reached the fifty year milestone since receiving s’micha.   Incredulously, we ask, “Can this be true?”  We are grateful but it is humbling.  Throughout this span Marilyn and I served congregations as a team.  In addition, Marilyn was for many years an educator, a public school and Hebrew school teacher. Commitment to a life of service came naturally to her.  It was also part of our covenant with each other, the Jewish people and G-d.

Change and Continuity:                                                                                                                          

Like you, over the decades we have fulfilled many roles.  Teachers, chaplain, college lecturer, community positons, interfaith representatives, counselors, comforters, writer and exemplars of the Jewish faith are part of the familiar mix.  Congregations, a full time nursing home position, retreats, URJ camps and conclaves, Confirmation class trips, CCAR shaliach to kibbutz Nir Eliyahu, president of the GCAR/Greater Carolina Association of Rabbis, regional and national boards, a Doctor of Ministry degree in Counseling from Boston University School of Theology, four children and seven grandchildren – make for many blessings.  Throughout fifty years the transcendent meaning of our faith, G-d, Torah and Israel, enabled us to hear the “still, small voice” motivating a life of service.                                                                                                                                                       

Retirement and Continuity:           

Recently, to our delight, our baalebatim signed us up for two more years.  We are looking forward to it.  Judaism is infectious.  We want to keep teaching it.  Nothing gives our lives more direction, usefulness and continuity.  Ihm yirtseh haShem, when these two years conclude, we’ll have reached another milestone, four score years.  Ken y’hi ratson.                                            

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CCAR Convention General CCAR Israel News Rabbis

Celebrating the Class of 1965: Fifty Years and a Lot Has Happened

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1965, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years. In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of these members of the class of 1965 and their 50 years in the rabbinate.

Fifty Years and a lot has happened… “I am closer to death today than I was to puberty as an infant.  What a chilling thought for one with a couple of diseases knocking on the door.”

“Hamishim Shana, Uchmo shenohagim lomar:  Ken Mashehu Kara beintayim ba’olam.”  Lea Goldberg wrote lines like this about lovers re-meeting after “twenty years.”  Yes, something has happened in the meantime.

Fifty years is longer than Goldberg’s lovers’ hiatus, but I experience the same astonishment about time’s way of confounding us.  I entered College just after Brown vs. the Board of Education, which occurred shortly after Campy and Jackie Robinson were allowed to stay at the Chase Hotel in St. Louis as long as they didn’t swim in the hotel pool.  I went to a fancy college “un-prepped” (both literally and figuratively) and—since there weren’t any “preparatory” schools for seminary, I entered HUC with little thought about getting ready.  My main motive, I think, not cultural-ethnic, to be a kind of Jewish Unitarian, but I left with deep ties to Israeli life and Hebrew culture.  I began to serve my “Unitarian” self some years after ordination when a surprise illness drove me into self-care and attention to people who needed attention as they entered their own worlds of illness.  Just as apparently good things sometimes have unintended problem consequence, so may the bad things that happen yield fresh life and important achievement.

And that became the two sides of my rabbinate:  vigorous, I hope “progressive” attachments to the Jewish nation (my parents called them “pinko”) and a dedication to the problems people experience as they go through their journeys into the world of illness.  So I retired from HUC (a partial retirement, I hasten to add) as a teacher of Hebrew literature and as a trainer of hospital chaplains.  The Kalsman Institute, established by our friends the Levy – Kalsmans, urged me on in the pastoral direction, hard work, and (frankly) batting a little over my head, led me to a life of scholarship about matters Hebraic and literary. I have enjoyed my scholarship, although living in Hollywood has made me aware that more people read a stray blog in one day than have read all of my hundreds of essays over 50 years.   Along the way I helped HUC California grow with a school of education, a school of Jewish studies, and a museum education program that flourished and grew many heads.  A full rabbinical school emerged with a special spirit that maybe I have helped create.

But back to what happened in fifty and more years:  The Civil Rights Movement, our changing relationships with women, The Six Day War, new freedom to Russian Jews, the digital revolution which continues to give me the finger as I try to navigate all the gadgetry that makes life easier and busier.  As with people, progress seems paradoxical, and when I think of Israel’s management of the territory that a few wild eyed dreamers made part of Jewish history, I cry for all we should or might have done as Jews.  But Agnon won a Nobel Prize, and there has been more Jewish American creativity (much of it clumsy but all of it interesting) than I ever imagined when I thought I owned all the creativity that was available.  And the culture that comes out of Israel—good grief, it is amazing, created by geniuses, who are my friends; and scoundrels, most of whom are my opponents (I hope.)

In fact, what I have learned in fifty years is how deceptive people can be in the midst of their goodness; and how many great victories are won at a huge cost to others. Some of the good people:  My first rabbis as a rabbi, Leonard Beerman (z’l), and Sandy Ragins, my first boss (with whom I had a problematic relationship, but who was a major and gracious mentor) Alfred Gotschalk (z’l), the funky but wonderful Ezra Spicehandler, and complex Gene Mihaly (both separated out to death), and many others including my own unruly, gutsy and generous father.

A couple of years ago Hara Person asked me to reflect on my retirement for a little squib in the Newsletter.  I look back at what I wrote then and realize that I was too sanguine.  I retired voluntarily, and enjoyed some great years on account of that; but had I known how well I would manage cancer, heart disease, and a tendency to broken bones, and how I would deal with those unmentionable deep dark things of the soul, how much energy I have, and how attached I was to the institution that made my professional life possible, I would not have taken the deal.  Anyone want to hire a near 80 year old?

Is everything built out of contradictions?  I don’t know, but sometimes I think so.  I am a kosher man (a la Yehuda Amichai, another mentor); I am a kosher man whose soul is cleft and because my soul is parted I seem to be better able to stand.  Chewing the cud is like regret — that other part of Kashrut.   It’s not the best part of my game, but it works for me.

But who would dare regret American efforts at civil equality for minorities and a different consciousness about women; who can regret the multiplicity of Jewish voices that one would not even have dreamt of 50 years ago (although it too has been mixed with some issues) who can regret the privilege during those fifty years to serve people, to teach young students aspiring to be old (some day) just like us? And who would ever regret a life of friendships, a marriage that finds me looking forward to seeing my partner every morning! And who would hesitate for one moment to smile as my wonderful son and colleague daughter in law send pictures of the (belatedly wonderful) little boy who bears my father’s name.

I do “regret” (but it’s the wrong word) that my father and mother could not live to see that little boy, but—as the sunset and the sunrise never actually meet (that phrase is plagiarized) so it is God’s way that each generation has new interpreters—interpreters whom the old timers aren’t really comfortable with.  I hope little Kobi (Jacob, that is) and the Kobi cognates (my students) will interpret my life as contributing to the great citizens and Jews he and they will become.

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News

Celebrating the Class of 1965: A Shidduch Between Science and Religion

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1965, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years. In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of these members of the class of 1965 and their 50 years in the rabbinate.

Upon ordination in 1965, I went to live in an ashram for two years where I studied, dreams, meditation and yoga. From there I went to Winnipeg where I became the founding rabbi of Temple Shalom. While in Winnipeg, to make ends meet, I had three jobs in addition to Temple Shalom – I taught classes at the Universities of Manitoba and North Dakota and worked as a prison chaplain for the various levels of correctional services. From Winnipeg I went to work for three years with the Government of Canada in Ottawa as a consultant in yoga, meditation and altered states of consciousness. From there I opened a practice in psychotherapy in Toronto, specializing in dreams, past-life regression and psychogenic illness. During my time in Toronto I began to write, mostly books and poetry I also took a part-time position with a small congregation, B’nai Shalom V’Tikvah where I continue to serve as their rabbi. I have recently become engaged to a beautiful woman.

In looking back over fifty years of joy and pain, I can’t help but feel like four lifetimes have been lived during these years. I have stumbled, I have grown and I like to think I have learned from my mistakes – not that this will keep me from making more, but hopefully they will be different. I still struggle, given a scientific background, to make a shidduch between science and religion in such a way that God is taken out of the abstract and made more concrete in the every day and in the every night. I like to think that Kabbalah has given me an answer by expressing God in terms of levels of consciousness and that it is my sacred task to expand my awareness into these dimensions. Upon reflection, it seems to me that I have been working on this most of my life and I see the end of my life as the beginning of a new phase.

I’m physically active, swimming, bicycling and curling (that northern sport). It’s an interfaith curling league and my rabbinical and cantorial colleagues are known as “The Frozen Chosen”.

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CCAR Convention General CCAR Israel Rabbis Reform Judaism

Celebrating the Class of 1965: Shaping What Tomorrow Will Bring

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1965, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years. In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of these members of the class of 1965 and their 50 years in the rabbinate. 

As with all of my jubilee classmates, life has brought me much undeserved joy: Resa, my life partner who shares with me a nurturing, forgiving, healing, joyous love; children for whom I am still a desired part of their world; grandchildren who regularly turn to me with challenging questions and unsolicited hugs; and a career of meaningful, often satisfying sacred service, rich with human interactions.

As with most us, life has also brought me much undeserved pain: sitting by my young mother’s bedside, helpless before the malignancy that was consuming her brain; confronting a professional failure that challenged my too fragile self-worth; bearing the agonizing burden of deciding whether my sister should be administered sufficient morphine to quiet her pain, morphine that would also stop her heart; trying to internalize what it meant, what it really meant, when for over ten years – every six months — my physicians would tell me that I had only three more months to live.

In the pursuit of meaning in the presence of such a mixed bag of life experiences, I have dedicated my rabbinate to the Jewish People. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It just happened. I came alive to our world in the ’60’s; I embraced the anti-war movement while still in uniform; I entered into the struggle by African Americans for human and civil rights; feminism; choice – yet through all of that I found myself inexorably drawn to my people’s right and obligation to secure its own future. The Six Day War. The Soviet Jewry Movement. The birth and flowering of Reform Zionism. High school kids at Kutz. College kids. Israel. The Aliyah that Resa and I embraced as full partners.

For four decades as a congregational rabbi and now for one decade as a retiree – the meaningful survival and evolution of the Jewish people have been at the center of my day-to-day concerns. Over the years that struggle became a unifying theme around which I could organize my thoughts and actions. Even today, even now, it ignites within me hope and purpose. To put it simply, that struggle keeps me alive. Perhaps it is not the most worthy of causes, but it infuses my being with a shot of metaphorical adrenaline.

Maybe that is why I find myself today still trying to shape our people’s tomorrows. Maybe that is why so many of my classmates have made similar choices in their own ways, in their own lives: refusing to give up on trying to have an impact on the future.

It’s not that I see better or know more than anybody else. I know that I don’t. But I believe based upon what I have seen and learned and experienced that the survival of Israel as a Jewish democratic state is a sine qua non for the survival of North American Jewry, even as the reverse is equally true. And that belief for me is a mandate for meaningful action.

So when I received a call from a close colleague and friend in early January, asking me to help him raise some funds quickly so that he could effectively compete for a position on the Labor slate in the forthcoming Knesset elections, I could not refuse. That election has a real possibility of overturning what I consider to be an intransigent government incapable of launching positive initiatives which might, just might, move us closer to a two state solution. If a new government is formed this Spring linking parties of the political right with the ultra-orthodox parties, many of the recent ground-breaking achievements in easing the stranglehold of the Rabbinate over matters of personal status and life cycle events will be reversed. To shape the future, outspoken advocates for religious pluralism like my friend are needed by the Knesset. There is a job demanding to be done. I tried to help.

Elections for the World Zionist Congress are currently on-going. A victory for ARZA in these elections will pour more than $20 million into the activities of the IMPJ and the Hebrew Union College over the next five years. Israeli Reform Judaism now tracks support from more than 7% of the population. We are growing, evolving, changing. We offer new definitions as to what a synagogue could be; we demonstrate how the manner in which we treat the stranger in our midst helps determine our relationships with an increasingly hostile world. With a western understanding of democracy and with a liberal and embracing vision of Jewish identity both embedded in our Reform DNA – Israel needs us to win and to win big in the Congress elections. Another job yet to be done. By us. We can still help. We are very much alive. We are relevant. We are needed.

I don’t know how many quality months or years that I have left. The door to that mystery is firmly shut. And I am painfully aware of my own personal limitations and weaknesses. But like many of my classmates, I am not yet willing to turn my back on how the future will emerge. Being in a struggle the outcome of which will not be known for many years after I am gone doesn’t diminish the vitality that I feel today because I am still engaged.

So whatever the worthy issues that command each of us: Israel or environmentalism or racism or economic justice or the strengthening of our families or writing that book that really needs to be written — we who are growing old can continue to find what Frank Bruni recently called in The New York Times, “slices of opportunity” awaiting us. So long as our hands can reach, so long as our souls can yearn and our minds can comprehend – so long can we yet have a vital role in shaping what tomorrow will bring. We who were once the future and then were the present are not ready to lay down our burdens. Not yet. Not now. We have too much to do. We are needed. You see, there is life to be lived. And we are still choosing to live it.

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CCAR Convention Rabbis Reform Judaism

Celebrating the Class of 1965, 50 Years in the Rabbinate: First and Foremost a Rabbi

My relatives and my childhood friends in my native Israel keep wondering to this day how in the world I ever became a Reform Rabbi. Back in Haifa in the 50th we never heard of Reform Rabbis. We heard of Nelson Glueck, whom we knew as an archeologist. We also heard of Abba Hillel Silver, whom we knew as a Zionist leader. We heard of Judah Magnes, whom we knew as co-founder of the Hebrew University. But we did not know that all three were American Reform Rabbis. In my late teens I was living in Uruguay, and one day I met a Reform Rabbi named Isaac Neuman who told me about the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. I told him I was accepted at Brooklyn College and was getting ready to go there for my undergraduate studies. He convinced me that HUC was a better choice for me, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The last fifty years since I was ordained at the New York school have been a wonderful journey. My first pulpit was in Guatemala, where I had to create my own Spanish-Hebrew Reform prayer book. The second was associate rabbi to the late Arthur Lelyveld at Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. In Cleveland I founded the Agnon School against great odds, which has since become one of the finest communal Jewish day schools in the country. From there I was “called” to Commack, Long Island, where I spent seven years as the rabbi of Temple Beth David, which grew from 300 families when I arrived to 700 when I left. I recall doing over 1000 b’nai mitzvot ceremonies during that time, probably some kind of a record. After Commack my focus changed from the pulpit to other venues, but over the years I helped small congregations grow and performed other rabbinical duties.

Since then I have had several careers besides the rabbinate, including national director of education for BBYO, the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization; founder  and president of two companies, Schreiber Publishing, which publishes Jewish books and books for translators, and Schreiber Translations, which has become one of the main providers of foreign language technical  translations for the U.S. Government. Currently, I am serving on cruise ships as Rabbi and discussion facilitator, and I love the life aquatic. Through it all, I never stopped writing, and over the years I have had over 50 books published. My latest book is called Explaining the Holocaust: How and Why It Happened, due soon from Cascade Books, and I am working on a new book titled Why People Pray, which gives me immense satisfaction and which makes me realize how important prayer is.

Through it all, I am first and foremost a Rabbi. The essence of my life is to impart the Jewish heritage and lore to my fellow Jews and to the world. I am very fearful of the decline of Jewish life and knowledge in our goldeneh medineh. But my greatest satisfaction is that all my three children have a strong Jewish identity, and my three grandchildren show every sign of carrying on our glorious chain of tradition. I am sure my wife Hanita and I have something to do with it.

I would like to thank ribono shel olam for having kept me alive and sustained me and allowed me to reach this great milestone of 50 years in the rabbinate.