It’s rare to find 19 pulpit rabbis sharing one bimah on Shabbat, but to gather 19 pulpit rabbis on one bimah that each of them has called his or her own? That’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Actually, it’s probably a once-in-several-lifetimes event, given that it took the celebration of The Temple’s 150th anniversary to bring all those rabbis together for Shabbat on Feb. 2 and 3.
Joining current Rabbis Peter Berg, David Spinrad, Loren Filson Lapidus, Lydia Medwin and Alvin Sugarman for a special Saturday service were members of the congregation’s large, informal rabbinic alumni group: Fred Reeves, who was at The Temple from 2005 to 2013; Donald Tam (1978-79); Harvey Winokur (1976-79); Devon Lerner (1979-81); Craig Marantz (2000-02); Philip Posner (1968-71); Diana Monheit Gershon (2001-03); Brett Isserow (1992-2002); Debra Landsberg (1998-2002); Marty Lawson (1974-76); Ed Cohn (1974-76); Fred Davidow (1979-82); Rachael Bregman (2010-13); and Judith Beiner (2003-08). Rabbi Don Berlin (2007-08) was a late cancellation from the festivities.
The Temple’s education director, Rabbi Steven Rau, was on the crowded bimah Friday night, which I missed. Rabbi Bill Rothschild, son of the legendary Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, joined the festivities with his mother, the equally legendary Janice Rothschild Blumberg, but was not part of the Torah reading with the Temple clergy past and present Saturday.
The history in the Temple chapel that morning was overwhelming for a visitor like me; I can only imagine the thoughts of longtime members who are living links to events such as the October 1958 bombing and to the inspiration embodied in four letters, WWJD: “What Would Jack (Rothschild) Do?”
During a study session about angels led by Rabbis Beiner and Cohn (one of five options for Torah learning between the Saturday service and lunch), Rabbi Cohn said he knew that Rabbi Sugarman used WWJD as guidance during his time as senior rabbi.
The Temple has had only five senior rabbis in its century and a half, and it’s awe-inspiring to think that two of them, Rabbis Berg and Sugarman, and the widow of a third not only were together during the “Temple Rabbis Return Home” weekend, but also are regularly at the synagogue at the same time.
It’s hard to grasp that while The Temple has had such stability in its leadership, it also has produced so many rabbinic leaders for other congregations.
Rabbi Tam, who is retired, founded Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, not far from Temple Kehillat Chaim, founded by the soon-to-retire Rabbi Winokur. Rabbi Beiner also didn’t go far, serving as the community chaplain for Jewish Family & Career Services and on the MACoM board.
Rabbi Bregman leads Temple Beth Tefilloh in Brunswick, and Rabbi Cohn is approaching two years of emeritus status after decades on the Temple Sinai bimah in New Orleans, where his duties included my grandfather’s funeral.
Rabbi Isserow is wrapping up his time as the senior rabbi at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, Va., just in time to hand the reins to Rabbi Spinrad this summer.
Others have made impacts in places such as New York, Chicago, San Diego and Toronto. It all reiterates the national influence of The Temple.
But you had to be there during Shabbat to see the real importance of all those rabbis. Years and decades later, Temple members still share special memories, like the time Rabbi Lawson lent a frantic congregant his wife’s maternity clothes when life and motherhood-to-be seemed overwhelming.
At the end of the day, perhaps all you need to know is that so many former Temple rabbis wanted to come home again, and The Temple’s current team was happy to have them.