Ordained in 1964, Cincinnati. Went directly to B’nai Abraham Congregation in Hagerstown, Md. where I served for four wonderful years and made lifelong friends among the congregation and clergy. I also was involved there in the integration of public housing.
Moved to Westbury, NY in 1968, Community Reform Temple where I served for 12 years. These years were very challenging with the Vietnam War and Drug culture, runaways, Flower Children, the breakdown of respect for authority. and Havurot. During that period I was experimenting with liturgy, bringing Havurot under the umbrella of the synagogue, housing and sometimes helping runaway children return to their families. I protested the Vietnam War from the pulpit and by withholding a major part of my Federal Taxes from the IRS and of course by demonstrating. I marched with Dr. King and AJ Heschel. Civil Rights were integral to my Judaism and remained so long after most of us were pushed from the stage by African American Activists. It was easy to find me, with congregants and fellow clergy of many faiths, on a picket line promoting abortion rights. There were many marches demanding the release of Refuseniks from the then Soviet Union and thousands of letters sent to Nathan Scharansky and others in Soviet jails and Siberian prison camps. I worked closely with Cezar Chavez and the United Farmworker’s Union boycotting lettuce and grapes, visiting lettuce workers in California fields and being an observer to attempts at Union Organizing among migrant workers. Human rights and Social Justice were a dominant theme throughout my rabbinate.
While in NY I continued my education in the field of counseling and earned certificates from the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health and the Blanton Peale Graduate Institute, eventually becoming a member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (Therapists). I believe that my work as a Rabbi was enriched by these experiences. They also led to my appointment to the Chairmanship of the CCAR Committee on Family Life where I served for eight years. During my Tenure as Chair the Rabbinic Hotline was established. This was the CCAR’s first major attempt to formally deal with the stresses of life in the Rabbinic Family and
the ways in which these stresses work out in the congregation. The Family Life Committee also conducted the very first(and perhaps the last) Conference on Sexual Values which produced some rather startling research. The papers presented there and the records of the group discussions were apparently “Lost” and never published. But, at very least, and notably from this Conference emanated the CCAR committee on Homosexuality which years later resulted in groundbreaking shifts in attitudes relative to Gays and Lesbians at the College-Institute, in the Rabbinate and in the Congregation. I am proud to have been a very small part of that revolution
and to see where it has come in very recent years.
I left Westbury to serve Temple Anshe Sholom in Olympia Fields, Il. Those twenty years were the most wonderful of my career. When I retired I had already been Tenured for ten years and was given the honor of the title “Emeritus.” I learned that big was not necessarily better. But at least I would be able afford to put my three children through college. My partner for life, wife, mother of my children, Judy, whom I had met and married in Cincinnati was able to practice her social work and we began, slowly, to travel to many places in the world. Our children thrived in the Chicago environs, eventually each moving on to marry and earn professional degrees. My eldest, Jonathan is a Ph.d. in Psychology and entrepreneur, next, Bruce is a Ph.d in Physics and teaches and researches biological neurophysics at the University of Pennsylvania, and Batsheva Meiri is Rabbi of Congregation Beth HaTefilah in Asheville, NC. My proudest achievements are my six grandchildren, Jacob, William, Ari, David, Noa, and Gabriel, whose parents Jonathan and Leslie, Bruce and Lauren, Batsheva and Mark, love them almost as much as Judy and I do.
During my years in Olympia Fields I helped develop a High School Havurah program which was part Youth Group, part classwork, and part Israel in orientation. Every third year flew to Israel for two weeks or so. Every student who was willing to stay in the program through High School was able to come on the trip(regardless of ability to pay). This program, which took enormous energy from senior staff (myself most of all) was wonderfully successful. I’d like to believe that the next generation of Ohavei Yisrael was born in this generation of students.
Over the years I have served as the President of the LIARR (Long Island Association of Reform Rabbis) and as president of the Chicago Association of Reform Rabbis. I have served and been active in Ministerial Associations wherever I have lived.
If I shep a little nachos at this moment let it also be in remembering that in my 36 years of Congregational rabbinate I sent six students to Hebrew Union College to become Rabbis and one who became a Cantor. I pray they have derived as much as I from the way in which I spent my life for I know now that I would do it again. For me, being a rabbi was the perfect avocation, vocation, “calling”, profession, and way of life–. Right now, for me, retirement with my partner for life, mother of my children, wife, Judy, is equally fulfilling. I love being the Zeyde.