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I'm an atheist.  But I was raised as a Jew.  My rabbi was a mensch.  So, I am writing a diary about him.  It's entirely personal, and I won't blame you for not reading, but he really was a good guy, and if you want to read more, it's below the fold

Again, I'm an atheist.  And I'm writing about a rabbi.

(cross posted at street prophets)

Some facts

Shalome Michael Gelber died on Dec 8, 2001; aged about 80.

He was born in Toronto, Canada, and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he was part of the forces liberating the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.  In addition to beinga rabbi, he was a stockbroker with Bear Stearns, a psychotherapist, an author, a playwright, and a professor of religion at NYU.

His writings included 1. The Failure of the American Rabbi

  1.  Job stands up: the Biblical text of the book of Job arranged for the theater
  1. An introduction to a prayerbook


  1.  His dissertation The image of the Jew in the productions of the London Stage 1919 - 1945

Some personal reminiscences

Micheal was a mensch.  Michael had time for everyone.  Michael took interest in everyone.  Michael helped everyone.

When I was a troubled teen, struggling with my learning disabilities and my difficulties with my parents, Michael had time for me.  When my brother was struggling with drug addiction and alcoholism, Michael had time for him.

Michael started and ran the Family Synagogue.  You've heard of the wandering Jew? We were the wandering congregation.  We met in unused rooms in other synagogues.  We met in Michael's apartment.  We met in members' homes. Once, we had our seder at the Yale club. We brought all the 'fixings'.  One member made Matzoh balls and we asked them to put them in broth.  Not specific enough.  Matzoh balls in beef boullion!  weird.

Our meetings were 5 minutes of prayer, and 45 minutes of stories.  I still remember some, and it's been 35 or 40 years.  That's some good God teaching.  

Once, when I was about 10, Michael told me I should be a rabbi when I grew up.  I said "but Michael, I'm an atheist"  He replied "a lot of good rabbis are atheists".  

So, now, when I take part in Street Prophets or the Brothers and Sisters diaries on Kos, I think of him.  He would approve.  

I miss him.  Thanks for reading

Originally posted to plf515 on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 06:31 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (22+ / 0-)

    tips, thoughts, comments, recs....

    I suspect this will get little notice, but it meant something to me.

    What are you reading? on Friday mornings
    What have you got to learn? (or teach) on Saturdays

    by plf515 on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 06:30:53 AM PST

  •  I'm sure he'd appreciate being celebrated now. (7+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, cfk, serrano, BachFan, plf515, slksfca, marykk

    It seems like that role-- the spiritual counselor, elder, someone we can take our problems to without pathologizing them-- is missing in many communities now.  And, when someone does exist in that role, all too often there is an outrageous abuse of power.

    Teachers, maybe, are kind of left to fill that niche-- but what about after we grow up? :)

  •  Agnostic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, plf515

    Perhaps you are are not an atheist, but an agnostic.

  •  The central message of Judaism (9+ / 0-)

    "That which is hateful to you, do not unto your neighbor."  Everything else, as they say, is commentary.  

    I think that Rabbi was successful with you. Thanks for posting.

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 07:05:13 AM PST

  •  Very Nice Diary! (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, astraea, cfk, plf515, slksfca, marykk

    I'm glad you had this Rabbi in your life.  I'm personally proud of a student rabbi (originally from Argentina) who came up from Cincinnati to help me prepare for confirmation.  I got a kick out of it, because I could use some of my Spanish with him.  

    He came back to visit recently as our Temple celebrated a big anniversary, and I was thrilled to discover: 1) he's still the nice, down-to-Earth guy I remembered, much like yours; and 2) he served for many years as the lead guy in ADL reaching out to other faiths, Catholic, Muslim, etc...and he still appreciated both that he could speak Spanish w/me, and that one of his very first students still remembered and appreciated him.  

    You struck a chord, tho, w/your mention of Bergen-Belsen.  A fine old gentleman took me there when we were in Europe.  There are these huge mounds of bodies everywhere.  It seemed strange that the trees had grown back and birds were chirping.  We read the inscriptions w/the horrific approximate totals of bodies in each mound.  

    Then, at the end, we watched a film showing how the Liberators (presumably including your rabbi) had torched the germ-infested wooden buildings as a safety measure.  Then they thought, "Gott en Himmel!" (my choice) What if someone should come along and try to deny that this ever existed?  We will have just destroyed the evidence!!!  Well, I certainly saw all of the evidence I needed or cared to see, and God Bless your dear rabbi for who he was and what he did.

    One last thought I'll share w/u: My grandmother died on her 80th birthday.  I'll never forget the graveside service as the Rabbi intoned, "You shall live threescore years and ten; or, by reason of strength (his voice now rising to a meaningful crescendo) FOURSCORE YEARS!!!  Jenny Moscowitz (not her real name) passed away yesterday on her 80th birthday."

  •  "A lot of good Rabbi's are atheist" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    astraea, plf515, elie


    Tu es responsable de ta rose Le Petit Prince

    by Brahman Colorado on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 07:31:31 AM PST

  •  I have to tell my story now (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, astraea, cfk, plf515, slksfca, marykk

    My family back in Nashville attends a conservative synagogue, one where some of the "established families" on the board are trying to oust the rabbi.  They have all sorts of excuses--he's not "warm and friendly" enough, the synagogue is having financial difficulties, blah blah blah.  My mom, who's been leading the rebellion against the board, is convinced that it's because these Southern families don't like having a "Yankee" rabbi.

    However, when I was younger, my family attended a Reform synagogue.  My parents left after fighting with that rabbi after my Bat Mitzvah (definitely a pattern here) and put my little brother into Hebrew School at the conservative synagogue.  They let me stay at the Reform temple for Confirmation because I wanted to stay with my friends.  Shortly before Confirmation, when I was 16, I went on March of the Living, where they took us to Poland to show us the death camps.  It was a life-changing experience for me, and I came home yearning for more spirituality.  The Reform rabbi suggested I do a speech about it for Confirmation.  However, when we ran through it at Confirmation rehearsal, he told me it was too long.  When I told him I had already cut out a good bit and didn't see how else I could make it shorter, he suggested that perhaps I could leave out one or two concentration camps.

    That was the day I lost all respect for that rabbi.  After Confirmation, I joined the rest of my family at the Conservative shul, where that rabbi really helped me reconnect to my Judaism.  I went on to college and stayed active in Hillel as a result.  I also remember that he was a rock for my parents when my grandfather passed away.  At the special congregation meeting that was called a few months ago to discuss the board's decision, so many people had stories like ours.

    Which is why it so angers me, the way the board is treating him.  Although around 2/3 of the congregation sided with the rabbi, it looks like he may retire anyway after this year.  But what you've hit upon is that it seems the best rabbis are the ones who don't fit the traditional mold.  Thank you.

    GoldnI for TN State House District 56 2008!! (Now on Facebook!)

    by GoldnI on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 08:30:07 AM PST

    •  The best of ANY group of people (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bronte17, astraea, BachFan, slksfca, GoldnI

      are the ones who don't fit the traditional mold

      "Anybody any good is different from anybody else"
      Felix Frankfurter

      "To get nowhere, follow the crowd"

      What are you reading? on Friday mornings
      What have you got to learn? (or teach) on Saturdays

      by plf515 on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 08:36:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  what?? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nowhere Man, plf515

      "perhaps I could leave out one or two concentration camps"

      Wow, yeah, point out the insignificant concentration camps for me here, because I'm not seeing it.

      Interesting story, GoldnI, thanks.

      humani nil a me alienum puto (I consider nothing human foreign to me) --Terence

      by astraea on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 04:50:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  after more thought (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I imagine a larger part of the problem wasn't leaving out camps per se, though that could have been phrased in a much better way (I'm assuming here that he phrased it more or less as you've reported it), but that he seemed more interested in timing than in what you were learning.

        humani nil a me alienum puto (I consider nothing human foreign to me) --Terence

        by astraea on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 05:16:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Being Jewish in TN (0+ / 0-)

      did you see the movie Paper Clips?

      I wrote about it in a diary called A great film

      What are you reading? on Friday mornings
      What have you got to learn? (or teach) on Saturdays

      by plf515 on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 05:00:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Doesn't "rabbi" mean "teacher"? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cfk, plf515

    I'm not a Jew so I may be missing the full meaning of the word.  Anyway, it seems to me that as a teacher he gave you something that has stuck with you over the years.  The giver of such gifts is always, IMO, worthy of honoring and celebrating.

    Scientia potentia est.

    by slksfca on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 08:36:43 AM PST

  •  We are very fortunate to have such caring people (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    astraea, plf515, slksfca, marykk

    in our lives.  Mine was a piano/organ teacher. She cared for me and yes, "ministered" to my needs, each week even when I was such a terrible student.

    She took a bunch of her students from our tiny town to the big city of Detroit to see organs played at Lent and introduced me to the Detroit Art Museum.  She could only let us have 20 minutes there, but that was time enough to know I had to come back.

    She took us to see the huge theater organ at the Fox Theater and I was so impressed by the theater's somewhat shabby, but marvelous decor even then, long before it was redone in later years.

    She also took me alone, once, to Detroit to hear a famous French organist and I got to carefully shake his hand at a reception afterwards. She bought us pralines which I had never had.

    She was very religious and would never attend any movie.  She made me promise I would never read Quo Vadis so I never have.  

    She had a wonderful sense of humor and she kept me alive through some hard teenage years.  

    Thanks for your story, plf.

    "Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis

    by cfk on Sun Jan 28, 2007 at 03:51:54 PM PST

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