May 29, 2019
About six months ago Congregation Etz Chaim’s first rabbi, Shalom Lewis, assumed emeritus status following a hotel gala attended by 300 and a more intimate “Shalom, Shalom” ceremony at the East Cobb synagogue. And while he has more time to travel and visit family, Lewis doesn’t seem to be slinking into the traditional retirement.
“I’m not sleeping in. Let’s put it that way,” he said when I caught up with him earlier this month.
Lewis, who was the rabbi for more than 40 years, said that in retirement he still teaches, leads the occasional service and comes into the synagogue several days a week.
“I still visit people who are ill or in recovery from surgery. I still lead shiva minyan or pay condolence calls,” he said, and he helps his successor, Rabbi Daniel Dorsch, with lifecycle events. “Though I’m retired, I still have a deep love and history with the people of the Etz Chaim community and am happy and honored to still be a part of their lives.”
He explained the paradox of his status. “I look at the calendar and there’s nothing written down, yet every day I find myself rather busy. I do not punch a time clock nor have the expectations as before, but I do not hide behind retirement or disappear. This is still my life. I’m still functioning like a rabbi, but admittedly it is different.”
In addition to his synagogue involvement, including a weekly blog, Lewis is catching up on his reading and seeking a publisher for a book he’s writing about his theology. It is based on a sermon he gave for Kol Nidre several years ago, he said. “Folks think that unless they are fundamentalists, they are in spiritual exile. I want people to know they are not.” He said the book should help readers find an authentic faith that fits both tradition and reason.
Lewis is also developing a website with his sermons as well as topics for scholar-in-residence weekends for other Jewish communities.
So while he may not be a fixture at the synagogue as before, Lewis is still very connected to Etz Chaim and can be found in his office or schmoozing in the hallways with his congregants.
“I think I found the sweet spot between fading away in retirement and remaining active. I am in a happy, creative place at this point in my life. I am truly blessed.”
Although some may have thought he would “head off into the sunset,” he said, “People now see we have a wonderful new rabbi to take us forward and a retired rabbi who remains a part of the congregation and the community.”