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Celebrating the Class of 1964: “Being in the Right Place at the Right Time”

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1964, 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 the members of the class of 1964.

I had a paternal grandmother who truly believed that much of life was “b’shert,” the result of fate. In my 50 years as a rabbi, I feel as though, I was often in the right place at the right time.

After ordination, I became an assistant rabbi in the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. My senior was Rabbi Maurice Davis z”l.  I learned so much from him. Both of us possessed a passion for working with teenagers. We had both been advisors to the Ohio Valley Federation of Temple Youth.  We were both deeply committed to Inter Religious Dialogue and Civil Rights. We opposed American military intervention in Vietnam.

Two and a half years into my assistantship, Maury invited me to his house for lunch. This was not unusual, because this was not an infrequent occurrence. You see, all of the sermons delivered from the bimah of IHC were recorded and he and I would evaluate my sermons.  But this day was different.  A few weeks earlier, I had been asked by the then UAHC to become the Southeast Regional Director with headquarters in Miami.  I wanted to remain in the Midwest, having been born and bred in Chicago. At that time, I believed only senior citizens lived in South Florida.  My grandparents moved there in 1935. Maury Davis’ message to me was simply: ”You’ve made a big mistake. They’re going to offer you the position again. Take it.”  Little did I know then, that within three months, he was going to become the rabbi of the White Plains Jewish Community Center. He had been one of the main reasons I wanted to be in Indianapolis – to learn from him.

And so, 48 years ago, my wife Penny and I and two of our three children, the third being born in Miami, moved to South Florida. We have never regretted the decision to journey to our “subtropical paradise.” In my new position, I travelled to and spoke to, at that time, 56 different congregations in five Southern states and Freeport, Grand Bahama Island.  I served as advisor to the Southeast Federation of Temple Youth and I was responsible for the creation of new congregations.

In 1970, after four years of travelling for the Union, I wanted to get back to being a Congregational rabbi.  A new temple forming in Hollywood, Florida  with approximately 35 families asked me to be their rabbi.  I was offered a one-year contract; the rest was up to Penny and me to make it work. It was a gamble. Should I take it? I asked CCAR placement. They said,” It’s up to you.” Was this “b’shert” or a mistake about to happen?  Well, that one year contract lasted for 37 years until I chose to retire as Temple Solel’s Founding Rabbi Emeritus.

Out of our large Temple family, we produced two rabbis, one a member of the CCAR and the other a Reconstructionist rabbi. We have produced an invested Cantor. We have produced two writers of Broadway shows – one who had three shows playing on Broadway at the same time and the other a Tony Award winning writer of “Avenue Q.” We have produced various congregational leaders throughout North America.  We have produced leaders in science, medicine, the arts, the commercial world, mayors, city commissioners, state senators and representatives and a member of the Congressional House of Representatives. We created the Interfaith Council of Broward County, Florida, the Broward Outreach Center for the homeless and hungry, and continue to serve in leadership positions in an African American Community in Hollywood.

Even though I’ve retired, I really haven’t! I keep busy with lifecycle ceremonies for so called “old timers” and 30 and 40 year olds who grew up in the Temple. I now conduct their wedding ceremonies and name their children and occasionally speak at the bar/bat mitzvah of their children.  I teach World Religions on two college campus’s and serve on numerous boards of directors. I lead services for Jewish holidays on various cruise ships. I just “can’t say no ” and I wouldn’t want it any other way!  My Orthodox colleague in the community sent me a delightful note congratulating me on my 50th year as a rabbi, in which he wrote: “Even a Hebrew slave is freed after 50 years!!!”

If these past 50 years were slavery, I’ll take it.

Do you think all of this was “b’shert?”