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CCAR Convention Convention

Celebrating Joys, Sorrows & Deepening My Faith: Rabbi Paul (Shaul) Feinberg on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

My rabbinate in North America and Israel has given me opportunities to share in the joys and the sorrows of others. Moreover it has enabled me to learn and teach our religious heritage. My rabbinate has helped me to deepen my faith in God; my family, my teachers, and colleagues have guided me in this path.

In 1981, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion invited me to join the faculty of the Jerusalem School and thus enabled us to make aliyah. I became an integral part of the developing narrative of our people, while strengthening the Reform Movement in Israel.

For three decades, I engaged with students in their quest to develop religious leadership wherever they were to serve. During these years, my rabbinate facilitated my travels throughout the world to teach Judaism, Israel, and education. All along I was deepening my own religious faith, refining the understanding of Judaism as an ever changing way of life. My rabbinate continues to connect me with former students, now colleagues and leaders, in their own communities.

In all facets of my rabbinate, education has been a key empowering factor of living the values of tikkun olam b’malchut Shaddai. As Tania always says, the Jewish community begins at home; in this spirit we are grateful to see our children teaching their children values they hold dear as each one of them continues on her or his own path.

My credo is shlichut—being on a mission which as a parent and as a rabbi continues to unfold to this day.

Today, fifty years from our Ordination is a milestone, even as we remember dearest friends and classmates who have gone to their Eternal Rest.

“This is the day the Eternal has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’maan hazeh.


Rabbi Paul (Shaul) Feinberg 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.

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CCAR Convention

My 50-Year Learning Journey: A Rabbinic Evolution, by Rabbi Richard J. Birnholz

The African proverb: it takes a village to raise a child pretty much describes my 50-year rabbinic career because of all the people who helped me get here.

My classmates were the first to rescue me when I arrived at HUC-JIR. Though New York City was only a few thousand miles from Austin, Texas, I felt like I had been dropped into an alien world. But my new classmates, all from the northeast, helped me find housing and jobs, welcomed me into their parent’s homes, showed me where to find Hebrew textbooks on the Lower East Side, and then spent five years explaining the meaning of course work that was totally foreign to my classical Reform, southern mindset.

Meanwhile Dr. Cohen and Dr. Borowitz z”l helped my HUC-JIR transition in significant ways. By teaching about power politics, Dr. Cohen helped me differentiate between the political and the spiritual in Jewish texts. This distinction made the “sacred pronouncements” in the texts more believable because I could finally understand theological narratives in their historical context. I think my students over the years appreciated this insight as much as I did.

The “God question” was also an early stumbling block to my rabbinic career, but here Dr. Borowitz z”l came to my aid. His existentialist explanation of knowing God in moments when we let God in, as opposed to having to prove God as a concept, immediately resonated with me. I liked the Buberian notion that personally experiencing God’s presence, despite the existential risk involved, was “proof” enough that God is real. This paradigm has been one of the most valuable accessories in my rabbinic tool kit.

Fortune further unexpectedly shined on me when I reached out to Rabbi Harry Danziger while navigating my assistantship at Temple Israel in Memphis. Harry had preceded me there, and, in addition to having been loved by all, was known for his extraordinary wisdom. Harry quickly became my friend and career-long mentor. He gave me sage advice and at a critical time in my rabbinate. He said two things: First, a rabbi’s greatest gift to people comes from just being there for them. The words and prayers are important, but a rabbi’s spiritual presence says more than words ever can. Second, if you first give your congregants time to feel comfortable with you, the rest of your time with them will take care of itself. This advice has served me well whenever I have moved or launched a new initiative. Harry was teaching Relational Judaism long before it became popular.

At Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, Mississippi, congregants helped me refine my curriculum-building skills. They met with me once a month to develop lessons for a seventh through ninth grade, three-year, rotating religious school program. I introduced raw ideas and they massaged them into effective lesson plans until we felt they would work. And they did. I won the NATE Samuel Kaminker Memorial Curriculum Award for Outstanding Informal Education as a result, but my congregants deserve much of the credit for the cooperative effort. Best of all, I learned the value of partnering with lay leadership, which was particularly important in Jackson for another reason. I went there near the end of the Civil Rights struggle when the Jewish community still faced attacks from the Klan. I quickly learned that I had to coordinate my pronouncements with the best interests of the congregation lest I put my congregants at risk. This collaborative mindset then carried over into my rabbinate as a whole and has reaped benefits I never could have anticipated.

My introduction to Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa came by way of a behind the scenes recommendation from another classmate. It has been the gift that keeps giving. My congregants here opened their hearts to Donna and our family from day one. They gave us a forever home, where we could feel appreciated, supported, and loved.

To put it bluntly, I had no idea how to lead a large congregation. My leadership saw this and decided to patiently teach me, skill by skill, with each new president and executive committee adding a new one. 

And then my lay leaders did something even more important. By providing a safe environment in which failure was an acceptable option, I learned to do the same for my expanding team and for all my congregants. My leaders though never spoke of failure. They referred instead to “accepting people and outcomes.” I adopted this phrase and attitude and am convinced that using it widely became the “secret sauce” propelling our growth.

It took me a full 50 years to grow into my rabbinate and I am incredibly grateful for the “village” that made my evolution possible.


Rabbi Richard J. Birnholz serves as Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa, Florida. He 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.

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CCAR Convention Convention

A Scholarly Rabbinic Career: Rabbi Roy Furman on His 50-Years in the Rabbinate

During my years at HUC-JIR, my expectations of a future rabbinate were vague, at best. What 50 years after ordination actually held were beyond what I could then have imagined. It would certainly prove to be a multifaceted rabbinate, one which extended the boundaries of how I would be a rabbi and what sort of congregation I would serve. It has been an interesting journey to say the least. 

That journey first took me to Los Angeles where I served as Hillel director on the campus of the University of Southern California. There I immersed myself in the creative challenges and rewards of working with students developing a vibrant campus Jewish community. Four years later, I decided to enhance my counseling skills by studying for and obtaining an MSW, followed by another four years practicing clinical social work at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. 

By the ten-year mark after HUC-JIR, I sought congregational work for the first time, moving with my wife to Portland, Oregon to work with a small, participatory, egalitarian, and very spiritual chavurah. The five years with that community were my idea of rabbinic heaven. I would still be there, I imagine, if my wife did not need to relocate to pursue her academic aspirations.

If Chicago did not readily yield to my rabbinic needs and aspirations, it did provide me with the opportunity to work with a gay and lesbian community, with a suburban congregation in an assistant rabbinical position, and another two years as interim rabbi for a large Reconstructionist shul.

Through the years, I took great pleasure in doing scholarly work, including PhD studies in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. Having served as a rabbi on a college campus, at Jewish family service, with a chavurah, and with three Chicago-based Jewish communities, I now entered the academic part of my rabbinic journey. Some twenty-three years after ordination, I began teaching comparative religions and Jewish studies at DePaul University, an adjunct position I held for twenty years, along with part-time work as campus rabbi. 

At the forty-sixth year post ordination mark, I entered a year-long training program in clinical pastoral education and continued working as a chaplain in an acute hospital setting until the Spring of 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And through all of these years, my rabbinate has been expanded and enriched through interactions with Jews in congregations, both old and newly emerging, in Russia, Germany, Poland, Spain, France, Chile, and Morocco.

From the time I left HUC-JIR until the present, I have been active as a leader, facilitator, and member of chavurot and minyanim. That aspect of my journey reflects much of what has come to be important and meaningful for me as a rabbi and as a Jew, as I have met, taught, counseled, comforted, andlearned from many, many wonderful people along the way. I continue to write divrei Torah for my minyan, study Hasidic and Mussar literature with Rabbi Richard Hirsh, my long-time chevruta and dear brother-in-law, and to be challenged by the likes of Maimonides, Heschel, Buber,  Hartman, and the Baal Shem Tov.


Rabbi Roy Furman 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.

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Convention

Building Congregations and Communities: Rabbi Stephen Einstein’s 50-Year Career

At HUC-JIR, we thought that the road to a successful rabbinate began with an assistantship. During the placement period before ordination, I interviewed for several assistantships, but in each case was a runner-up. So, my first position was as the solo rabbi in a New Jersey “A” congregation. I didn’t have an experienced rabbi from whom to learn, nor a Temple administrator to guide me in dealing with a staff.  In fact, I had no staff or even an office. For a while, my study was half of the dining room of our small rented apartment until the congregation completed construction on its building. 

I recently received an email from one of my confirmands in that congregation with whom there had been no contact in the intervening years. Now a 60-something leader of the shul, she expressed what an impact I had had upon her as a fifteen-year-old girl. This is probably the greatest joy every rabbi has—the knowledge that rabbis touch people deeply, often without even being aware of the extent of our influence.

We might well have remained in that congregation had we not faced housing difficulties. We lived in three places in three years and were facing a fourth move when we learned of an opening in California. Robin—who has been my mainstay throughout—and I both grew up in Southern California and wanted to be near our family. So, we returned.

I learned a valuable lesson: geography is not a very good reason for a rabbi to choose a congregation. This was a troubled group. I was there to celebrate the temple’s bar mitzvah year—and I was rabbi number seven! They had already spun off two other congregations before I arrived! At the conclusion of my two-year contract, I suffered what too many of our colleagues have experienced—a professional dislocation.

At that point, we rented out our house, moved in with my in-laws together with our three children (number four came along later), Robin got a job, and I enrolled in law school. However, a lovely group of people decided to form a new congregation and asked me to serve as their rabbi. From September 1 to Simchat Torah, the membership grew from 31 to 99 households. I realized I could have a decisive role in giving shape and substance to this synagogue. So, I left law school and devoted myself to Congregation B’nai Tzedek for the next thirty-six years.

While I was synagogue-based, my involvements extended far beyond the walls of our shul. The first that I would mention is Interfaith Activities. I was a founder and past president of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council. I was an elected member of the Fountain Valley School Board, and following that served on the School District’s Personnel Commission for twenty-seven years. I was on our local hospital board, which I also chaired. I served on committees of the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, and PBS.

In the Jewish community, I was a founder and past-president of the Bureau of Jewish Education and board member of Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Service, American Jewish Committee, and ADL.

A focus of my rabbinate has been outreach. I taught our community-wide Introduction to Judaism class for forty-one years and co-edited the curriculum that was used throughout North America. For over two decades, I was the rabbinic cochair of the Commission on Outreach, Membership, and Sacred Community. I am currently cochair of the Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California.

For twelve years, I served on the CCAR Ethics Committee—six of those years as chair. I’ve been on the CCAR Board for two terms, including one as VP of Member Services. I am currently on the Ethics Process Review Committee.

In retirement, I remain active. I continue to mentor rabbinical students. I am doing a lot of Social Justice work, primarily through CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice).

Through all this, the person-to-person connections remain most meaningful.


Rabbi Stephen Einstein is Founding Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley, California. He 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.

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CCAR Convention Convention

Great Privilege and Joy: Rabbi Steven Chester on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

My desire to become a rabbi after graduating from UCLA led me to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, Israel, and Cincinnati, and reached fruition when I was ordained in 1971. My love for Judaism in all its many aspects made me realize that the only way I could live and teach the values of our tradition, as well as become fully immersed in Jewish life, was by becoming a rabbi.

Where has it led?

I had the privilege of serving four congregations in my career: Temple Beth Israel in Jackson, Michigan; chaplain for the Jewish inmates of the state prison system of Michigan; Temple Israel in Stockton, California; and Temple Sinai in Oakland, California. In addition, after retirement in 2011, I became interim rabbi in three other congregations: Temple Beth Ora in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Temple Israel in Alameda California; and Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, California. All the congregations I served gave me a positive rabbinic experience, and I feel so fortunate to have served each of them. Each, in its own way, has helped form the rabbi I am today.

Some thoughts after fifty years in the rabbinate: to be a rabbi has been my privilege and joy. I feel privileged that I have become an intimate part of so many lives. I have become part of my congregants’ lives through joyous occasions: a B’rit Milah, a naming, a bar/bat mitzvah, or a wedding. I have become part of their lives at sad times: a serious illness or the death of a loved one. To be with my congregants at these times—to rejoice when they rejoiced, to offer comfort when they suffered—has been an awesome responsibility, an awesome privilege and a blessing for me. It was especially meaningful for me to train and officiate at b’nei mitzvah for those who had either severe physical or learning challenges.

I have had the privilege to have wonderful colleagues. The rabbis and cantors with whom I served in my forty years of congregational life made my rabbinate rich and fulfilling. Sharing with them, learning from them, studying with them, and sharing the bimah with them enhanced my life.

My fifty years has been full of many diverse experiences. I have served on various boards of both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. I helped found an in-home hospice in Stockton, served on the board for a number of years, and became the grief and mourning counselor for the hospice. I taught Bible at Spring Arbor College near Jackson. I was privileged to be appointed an adjunct professor of Jewish Studies at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, teaching two classes there. 

Leading congregational tours was an important part of my rabbinate. I led eight trips to Israel; two to Cuba; one each to Spain, Morocco, and Central Europe. In Oakland, I led a trip to the Gold Country of California where we visited cemeteries and other Jewish sites that were active during the Gold Rush.

The most important thing I learned in my fifty years of the rabbinate is that the great majority of people are basically good. They care about others, want to live a good life, and wish for a world of peace and justice. I also learned that the board of directors of a congregation are partners with me and not adversaries. We are both working for the same thing: to make a vibrant and vital congregation.

As I think about the future, I look forward to the time when we again can meet in person. I am now living in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic where all of our synagogue activities are virtual. I long for physical contact, for being together at Temple as a live community. I will continue to do life cycle events. Also, I plan to study, teach and travel.

I hope to live long enough to see our ten-year-old granddaughter become a bat mitzvah. I hope to see our country become united instead of divided.

I end with the following: My life has been blessed because I am a Jew, because I am a Reform Jew, and because I am a Reform rabbi. If I had to do all over again, I would do it in the exactly the same way.  I feel so much gratitude for the fifty years I have served as a congregational rabbi.


Rabbi Steven Chester serves as Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sinai in Oakland, California. He 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.

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CCAR Convention Torah

A Career Dedicated to Teaching and Learning Torah: Rabbi Norman J. Cohen 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 Norman J. Cohen.

Though it has been fifty-three years since we were ordained by Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, z”l, at Central Synagogue, it seems like yesterday. But as I look back and remember the emotions of that day, which were heightened for me by my mother’s death only months before, little did I know that fifteen years later, Dr. Gottschalk would ask me to join the Administration of the College-Institute. And, as I stood on the bimah of Central Synagogue with Dr. Gottschalk, seated on the bimah was his ultimate successor, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, then a rabbi at Central. What an amazing snapshot! Three presidents of HUC-JIR on the bimah at one time. Who would have thought that I would also have the honor of serving for a brief time as Interim President of the College-Institute.

At that moment of Ordination, it surely would have been impossible to imagine how my life as a rabbi would play out. My goal then was simply to enter our graduate school in Cincinnati and immerse myself in rabbinic text study, hoping to gain a deeper understanding of its various genres. The years studying Midrash and Rabbinic Literature were such a blessing, and in great measure, it was due to the knowledge I gained and the passion I imbibed from wonderful mentors, chief among them, Drs. Eugene Mihaly, z”l, Ben Zion Wacholder, z”l, and Ellis Rivkin, z”l.

Little did I know then that my entire rabbinic career would be bound up with the College-Institute, as a faculty member who also spent twenty-three years working in the administration. And it began with my return to the New York School in 1975, due in large measure to the faith that Dr. Gottschalk had in me, as well as the efforts of Dr. Paul Steinberg, z”l, and Dr. Eugene B. Borowitz, z”l. For thirteen years I served as a full-time member of the Faculty, teaching and advising rabbinic and cantorial students; trying to impart to them not only the knowledge that I gained, but a sense of what it means to be a rabbi, a cantor, really a Teacher of Torah.

Serving as the Director of the Rabbinical School and then Dean of the New York School, and finally as Provost of our College-Institute was indeed a wonderful way for me to channel my rabbinic aspirations. Helping to shape the training and growth of future rabbis, cantors and educators provided me a tremendous opportunity to ensure that future Reform Jewish leaders would become the newest chuliot, links in the Shalshelet HaKabbalah, the chain of tradition and help ensure Jewish continuity. And in the process, I gained so much from so many of the students with whom I was truly privileged to study.

During the years I spent working in the administration, it meant a great deal to work with clergy, education and administrative staff, and faculty who embodied supreme dedication to shaping a seminary which could be a bastion of creativity and commitment to Jewish life. They, in turn, would train leaders who would make a significant difference in the lives of all those whom they were blessed to serve.

Yet, as I reflect upon almost five decades of work at our alma mater, it has been clear to me that the greatest joy and personal fulfillment I experience comes in the myriad of moments in which I share my love and passion for words of Torah. Studying with students and laypeople alike—opening ourselves to every element in the text, biblical and rabbinic, and having it teach us who we are and who we aspire to be as Jews and as human beings—has given me indescribable pleasure. Through my teaching at the College-Institute and in congregations, and the six books I have written, I’ve tried to demonstrate the power of words suffused with k’dushah, the holiness latent in every textual element, which have been transformational for me in my life. The most important insight I have ever gained about the importance of the teaching of Torah came from a comment by Franz Rosenzweig, who noted, “Teaching begins when the subject matter ceases to be subject matter and changes into inner power. We truly teach when we ourselves are drastically changed in the process. We truly learn when our autonomous self is pierced and we move beyond ourselves to the Other.”

And so we praise the power in the universe, in us, which is the source of mayim chayim, life-giving water, Torah:

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.


Rabbi Norman J. Cohen is celebrating 50 years in the Rabbinate. Rabbi Cohen serves as Professor Emeritus of Midrash at HUC-JIR New York.

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.

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CCAR Convention Convention

Convention 2021: Enter with Intention

During a recent CCAR Board meeting, our colleague and board member Rabbi Mona Alfi selected a pasuk from Parashat T’rumah on which to d’rash: “ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Included in her chosen source texts was a passage by Mordecai Kaplan, a segment of which follows:

“The presence of the multitude in public worship creates an atmosphere that profoundly influences the individual participant. It stirs up emotions of gratitude and confidence that one could not experience in isolation” (A Year with Mordecai Kaplan, p. 73).

The ensuing discussion invited an evaluation of Kaplan’s (and other commentators’) assertion amidst this continuing stretch of isolation when the concept of “presence” has taken on entirely new meaning. Can a “multitude” comprised of silent individuals, visible in small boxes filling our computer screens, still engender an atmosphere rich with emotion, gratitude, and confidence?  For many, the answer was a definitive “yes.” Even in their silent Zoom sanctuaries and classrooms, colleagues noted that the mere presence of engaged and participatory congregants and students effects greater spiritual meaning and enhances the level of joy for all involved…with one caveat. The present multitude to which Kaplan is alluding is achieved when, virtual or not, individuals actively engage and participate in the worship (or learning, or community-building, or meeting, or…), and not simply log in to check a box or listen passively while trying to work simultaneously on other tasks.

Admittedly, the learning focused my attention as much on events to come as it did on experiences during the past year, in particular, our approaching CCAR Convention. Contemplating the potential and hoped-for impact of our Convention, even as we gather from our respective homes and individual spaces, the aspirational qualities that Kaplan describes aptly named are a now-familiar longing for countless among us—an atmosphere that profoundly influences the individual participant, one that stirs up emotions of gratitude and confidence not experienced in isolation. That we happen to be gathering by virtual means is, in truth, an inconsequential variable. With the stellar leadership of our colleagues Rabbi Amanda Greene (Convention Chair) and Rabbi Peter Stein (Vice-Chair), this year’s Convention possesses the undeniable potential to make a genuinely needed, positive and enduring impact in each of our rabbinates. However, the remaining variable in the realization of a spiritually renewing, heartening, confidence-boosting, enriching, educational, and joyful gathering rests not in the hands of the Convention planning leadership, but in each of ours. It is our collective determination to be present that will enable the restorative atmosphere we seek.

This past Rosh HaShanah, our congregation’s first pre-recorded service began with an invitation to members to “enter with intention.” Appreciating that it would have been easy enough for people simply to watch passively, as if with popcorn in hand, we encouraged congregants not to allow the fact that the service was pre-recorded to dissuade them from engaging and participating fully and sincerely, as if they were sitting in the sanctuary.

Looking ahead to this year’s Convention, the sages remind us that our mutual commitment to presence, our decision to engage fully and participate actively—to enter the days with intention—will foster an atmosphere in which renewed gratitude, confidence, and joy can well up and flourish. So, if not done already, clear your calendars for the days of this year’s Convention. Treat the few days we have together as if we were sitting together in the grand ballroom of a Convention hotel. The commitment we make to be present—for ourselves and for one another—will ensure this year’s Convention with all of its virtual creativity, realizes its full potential as one of the best Conventions yet.


Rabbi Ron Segal is President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

CCAR Convention 2021 will take place online 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.

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CCAR Convention

Reflection on Lessons That Should Have Been Learned Decades Ago

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 Jay Heyman.

In the fall of 1974, the Chief of Police called and asked me to stop by his office. “Rabbi,” he said, “I don’t want to upset you, but we have an undercover agent in the Klan, and he has told me of a plot to kill you or someone in your family.” So, for the next several weeks, while white fundamentalist Christians, right-wing extremists, and assorted white supremacist groups burned books, blew up bridges, painted Nazi and Klan insignia on public buildings, and generally created mayhem in Charleston and Kanawha County, West Virginia, my family and I were guarded around the clock by at least two and sometimes more uniformed police.

That spring, the Board of Education had selected new textbooks, which included multiethnic and multicultural literature. Local evangelicals saw the new titles as anti-Christian, anti-God, anti-Bible, inconsistent with American values, pro-integration, and filled with doctrines to encourage their children to merge their racial identity with Blacks. Within a matter of weeks, the John Birch Society, the Christian Crusade, the KKK, and American Nazis had climbed out of the sewers to lend moral support. Nor was it long before the entire community found itself embroiled in conspiracy theories involving the satanic banking system and the cabal of the “international Jew.”

Such was the first uprising of white, fundamentalist Christians threatened by 1960s social changes: the civil rights struggle, banning school prayer, the anti-war movement, women’s liberation, sex education. ’Twas an unholy alliance of religious fanaticism and political grievance; not just fringe extremists.

That era remains an enduring memory with me and, since the events in D.C. this past January 6, it is now one that plays even more than a leitmotif in the back of my mind.

Since those opening shots of the culture wars between the urban cultural elites and the rural red state rubes, we have experienced unparalleled affluence and poverty, national insecurity and popular dissatisfaction, growth and consolidation of power, the concentration of wealth and the spread of poverty. But mostly we have been lured into a trance of false promises by an economic system, best characterized as neoliberalism, that has weaponized the struggling, poorly educated, gullible masses of this country, enrolled them to serve an ever more fanatical Republican party, and has now unleashed a demon that threatens the very future of the nation.

We who have benefited from the status quo for such a long time seem to have forgotten what happens when the populace becomes fed up with not being seen, being denied equal opportunity and a fair share of economic benefit. It is so easy to forget what has always happened historically when the peasantry becomes impoverished and starving. That’s when the pitchforks come out. And Jewish history reminds how easily that pent up anguish and frustration can be ill-channeled through propaganda by those in with money and power.

Even before our current health and economic crisis—when our politicians were reassuring us of the basic prosperity and health of the economy—soup kitchens were filled to the brim, homeless shelters unable to accommodate all those needing shelter, emergency rooms overflowing with the uninsured. Millions of Americans have worked two jobs for decades for minimum wage and still do not earn enough to provide for their family’s basic needs.

The Reform Movement in which I was raised in the 1950s and 1960s prided itself on the notion that “ethical monotheism” meant living an obligation to build a better world. The imperative of tikkun olam should have reminded us not to forget seeking justice, speaking truth to power, confronting evil, bigotry, and greed in the great tradition of our biblical prophets. We have had strong social justice narratives, but all too often we have been largely silent about the political changes and widening economic chasms. Our values of compassion, justice, and concern for the poor are inconsistent with any politics dedicated to helping the wealthy become even wealthier at the expense of the poor and the middle class. Support for politicians who want to cut services while keeping tax cuts for the wealthiest is not consistent with Jewish teachings about caring for the most vulnerable of society. Indifference to the suffering of others is ungodly according to rabbinic tradition. The work of repairing the world is holy work. The work of economic and social justice is spiritual work. And that is what we are called to do.


Rabbi Jay Heyman 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.

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CCAR Convention

Growing A Congregation and Watching It Bloom: Rabbi Mayer Perelmuter 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 Mayer Perelmuter.

Upon reflection, I am so grateful to have been in one congregation over the majority of these years. It enabled me to grow and develop a congregation and to see Temple Isaiah through some difficult financial crises, until it blossomed into the largest and most active Reform congregation in Queens, New York: The Reform Temple of Forest Hills.

Here are some of the accomplishments of which I am most proud:

  • I hired and trained numerous rabbinic interns who are currently religious leaders throughout the country.
  • I instituted a temple covenant with our board of directors and committee leaders, developing a humane, sensitive, way to agree and disagree as we worked together. 
  • I expanded the temple covenant with our lay and professional educational leadership, to be part of the religious school classrooms; this covenant continues to be the opening lesson in our religious school to this day. 
  • Our Mitzvah Day committee started out as a “senior group,” but with my advocacy and encouragement, it became an intergenerational event that included and partnered with the Religious School Parents’ Association. To this day, Mitzvah Day is our most celebrated intergenerational event in the congregation and is known throughout Queens.
  • Prior to the High Holy Days in 1994, Temple Isaiah’s roof was leaking, and the sanctuary was unusable. In partnership with our board, we made the decision to build an ark and move the services to a local college. The lesson that the congregation learned continues to this day: “We celebrate together as a congregational family, not as a building.” This was the rationale that enabled me, in partnership with our board leadership, to convince Temple Isaiah congregants to merge with three other struggling Queens congregations to become the Reform Temple of Forest Hills in 1995.
  • I loved establishing a men’s study group to complement the active women’s groups in our congregation. This weekly men’s study group, which drew diverse ages and very curious intelligent men, was provocative, challenging and exciting for me, and continues to exist today.  
  • I learned so much from my congregational leaders, from my rabbinic interns, cantors, and most important, from my congregants. My involvement, pastorally with them was among the most meaningful aspects of my rabbinate. I treasure the relationships that developed through the numerous life cycle events, sometimes over three generations; the joys and sorrows that I was privileged to share with these people have influenced my life and have enabled me to cope with my own challenges in life as I grow older.  

Rabbi Mayer Perelmuter is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate. He is Rabbi Emeritus of The Reform Temple of Forest Hills in New York.

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.

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Gratitude & Lifelong Learning: Rabbi Philip Kranz on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

The rabbinate, as realized, was everything that I expected it to be and much more. What appealed to me, initially was the fact that the congregational rabbinate would allow me to serve Judaism through a number of different activities in a variety of different settings. That expectation turned into a reality which I celebrated every day of my active ministry. I championed, more than anything else, the importance of ongoing Jewish education, both for the rabbi and the congregants. I made adult education a hallmark of my rabbinate. I also continued to enrich myself as a student of Judaism, continuing my learning on a daily basis. I came to realize, early on, that my knowledge of Judaism was the most important thing that gave me authenticity as a rabbi.

The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion trained me well, but I did not draw deeply enough from that experience, and I committed myself to a lifelong program of Jewish learning. Teaching and learning makes my rabbinate significant until this day. There were so many outstanding rabbis who served as mentors and role models. Only now do I realize how much I owe to my own rabbis, growing up, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver and Rabbi Daniel Jeremy Silver, of blessed memory; to Rabbi Sidney Brooks, of blessed memory, who mentored me during the critical years of my student rabbi days; Rabbi Samuel Egal Karff, of blessed memory, whom I served as assistant and eventually succeeding as senior rabbi; and Ronald M. Segal who was my assistant for ten years and who succeeded me as senior rabbi and who now serves as president of our Conference. I was equally enriched by my teachers and my students. “My lines truly were fallen unto me in pleasant places.”


Rabbi Philip Kranz 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.

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