The Whole Journey

My Long Journey

I guess the journey started in a Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx, getting educated in Yiddishkeit (and a little socialism and Zionism) at Sholem Aleichem Folkshul Eyn Un Tsvantsik (21), having Shabbos dinner at my grandparents apartment, and being bar mitzvahed in an Orthodox synagogue (my mother had to sit upstairs).

There were three synagogues in the area, all orthodox. My parents picked the furthest away for my big day. So on the morning of my Bar Mitzvah, we drove to a spot two blocks from the shul, and walked the rest of the way, so no one would see us driving.  There were a couple of other neighborhood community rooms where men met to have daily minyans, like the shtiebels they were used to in Eastern Europe.  

The neighborhood had several kosher butchers and delis. My family shopped at Carmine’s, the Italian butcher. We had three corner candy stores, each known by the first name of its owner. I remember walking with my father one spring into Phil’s. Phil was in the back pasting kosher for Passover labels on bottles of Hoffman’s sodas. I didn’t think that was really kosher.  Almost everyone around me was Jewish. My neighborhood, Jewish. The holidays, Jewish. My high school, Bronx Science, was Jewish. I was living a Lenny Bruce routine.

I went to Cornell University. My two favorite subjects were anti-war activities and another one that I can’t really mention. It was after all, 1970. My Dad thought I was supposed to get an education and stay out of trouble. He was kind of a war hero and didn’t like long haired anti-war activists. His war and mine were very different. The anti-war movement started to get violent, and I was looking for a place to run. So, I went to Israel for my junior year. Going away for a year was not as easy as it is now. It meant very little communication with home. We communicated by aerogram. No cell phones, overseas calls were very expensive. I only spoke to my parents once the whole year. Midway through the year, I sent them a picture, looking like a long-haired activist. Dad asked me not to send any more pictures. While I was in Israel, I started to work for Hillel. Under it’s auspices, I established and ran a coffee house in the dorms, which became a major gathering place, and I got some press in the Jewish papers back home.

The Viet-Nam war dominated our lives. I applied for and received Conscientious Objector status. For my alternate service, I came to live at Hillel at Temple University. Right up the block was the newly established Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, which I intended to attend. RRC required all students to get secular doctoral degrees. Most students got their degrees in religion. I did not want an academic degree; I wanted a more practical one. So, with the school administrators, I came up with a plan. I would go to law school, then rabbinical school, consecutively instead of concurrently. I started Villanova law school. When I began, I had no intention of being a lawyer. In 1972, I wanted to be a rabbi.

But I got distracted. Marriage, supporting a family, all the kinds of things that get in the way. So I put off any thought of being clergy. I practiced law, mostly divorce and family law, then became one of the pioneer mediators in the community. In 45 years, I worked with thousands of divorcing couples. Even with that experience, I have still managed to be married for 34 years.

But perhaps 15 years ago, I started going to Torah study. Every week, sometimes twice a week. I loved it. My Rabbi recommended reading Reb Zalman’s Schachter-Shalomi’s book, Jewish with Feeling. I started reading up about Aleph and the paths to ordination. The Rabbinic Pastor program, for “prospective clergy drawn to spiritual service primarily through pastoral care, ritual craft and holy accompaniment through life changes … for those who have a sincere willingness to serve the Jewish people in spiritual leadership,” sounded like it was designed for me. But I thought I might be too old to start something new. An announcement came about the 2016 Aleph Kallah, a week of study and community and prayer in the mountains of Colorado. It sounded great and was great. The classes were exciting, on subjects as varied as A Liberation Theology Reading of Torah and Jewish Angels and Demons. I was amazed how warm and inviting and, well, spiritual Kabbalat Shabbat could be. I felt like I was home. I started taking classes immediately.

And five years later, at age 70, I was ordained as a Rabbinic Pastor. I have done things I never imagined. I led High Holiday services at a senior facility. I taught hours of adult education classes and led Shabbat programs at M’Kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ. I was the Rabbinic Intern/LGBT+ fellow at the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, where I led more programs, and sang Hanukkah songs in Yiddish. I suffered for the isolation of the residents at these facilities when COVID hit. I provided pastoral care services to many people. And, I wrote a book, a Guide for Clergy to use in pre-marital counseling with older folks, and with people marrying for the second (or subsequent) time. It is in the resource section.

And here I am. Ready willing and able to provide pastoral rabbinic services, like pre marital counseling, creative life cycle and other rituals, and a whole range of pastoral counseling. I also speak and provide programs on marriage and divorce later in life. Contact me here.