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Rosh Hashana 5780

11/12/2019 02:04:03 PM


Rev. Norm Rubin

On this Erev Rosh Hashanah 5780, we are now in the ’80s again! Are you nostalgic for the 1980s? Imagine you are transported back to 1982... That was the year the CD was introduced, Brezhnev and Princess Grace died, Britain went to war at the Falkland Islands. It was also the year that a new congregation opened its doors in Tucson.  I have here a copy of Bet Shalom’s first newsletter, HAKOL BAMIDBAR, THE VOICE IN THE DESERT. Who were these people with the chutzpah to think they could form a new Jewish congregation in Tucson? What did they really want? And the bigger question remains: “Is our congregation the same or different today?” I contend that Congregation Bet Shalom is very much the same today as it was back in 1982.

As a founding Bet Shalomer myself, let me start by telling you a little about some of our founders. I believe we can draw inspiration from them as we reflect on our own life choices at this holy time of the year:

 I want you to hear about our first president Nobart Shapiro and his wife Fagel.  Nobart was the inspiring magnet for all of us metal filings. He was brilliant, cigar-smoking, emotional and sensitive.  He could cry at the drop of a hat. Rabbi Avi would have liked him immensely. Rabbi Phillip Goodman, Nobart’s son-in-law wrote the following about Nobart Shapiro:

“My father-in-law was a man in search of a family.  Being an only child, I believe he sought brothers and sisters, with his idealism, intelligence, and spiritual sensitivity, he found them in the Jewish People.  From his early teenage years, his new home environment was the synagogue and institutions which helped and supported Jewish communal and spiritual life…. It gave Nobart the sustenance he missed to be so creative and filled with energy for service to his Creator and the Jewish People.”

His wife, Fagel kept him balanced, slowing and steadying him as he rushed for rapid results.  She knew that Nobart wanted to design a shul that enjoyed ample attendance, with programs every day of the week. When Fagel died  in 1982, Mrs. Lottie Neiblum wrote the following:

“When bad things happen to good people the usual saying is, ‘why me’. Some get embittered, silent, get angry at G-d, turning their backs to Him.  They no longer live or practice their Jewish faith. This was not the case of Fagel. After her severe illness and surgery, she showed unusual courage and determination to start enjoying life… (for) today and (for) a better tomorrow. Every Monday she conducted a Bible study group, lecturing at Hadassah Aviva Chapter and Handmaker Nursing Home. In spite of her difficulties, Fagel was delighted to prepare meals for her dear husband, Nobart.  Her courage was unusual; just to watch her maneuver from the wheelchair into the car was breathtaking, her hands became her feet. She was an inspiration...”


What were they looking to create?  It says it clearly in a document labeled “Credo” that was printed in the HAKOL BAMIDBAR newsletter:


The Credo aimed to involve all interested in a community which:

  1. “Provides a social network of support services responsive to individuals, family and community needs and interests.

  1. Develops participatory lay leadership in religious and cultural activities.

  1. Offers innovative and stimulating Jewish education programs for all ages, including daycare.


To unite those who share these goals, this congregation will:

  1. Provide opportunities to enrich your life through Jewish experiences.

  1. Create a house of study and worship with a tradition of doing and learning.

  1. Generate a community feeling with the congregation.” 


“Enrich your life through Jewish experiences.”  Sounds a lot like Positive Jewish Experiences! There was an emphasis on lay leadership, still, we would eventually welcome the guidance of the right rabbi, who would help us to cultivate lay leadership.  What we never, never, ever desired was engaging the services of a cantor. Our mistake – so he became a rabbi – corrected.

We soon enjoyed the leadership of talented volunteers.  There was no Think Tank, but Elizabeth Greenberg led Talmud and Hebrew studies after Shabbat services. Stu Shacter opened his home for bar and bat mitzvah preparation. Reverend Lynn Saul, of blessed memory, taught us to write our personal commentary. Jane Kemesley, Rachel Port and others added music to our Friday night dinner services.

Nobart lived to see the beginnings of a shul supported by lay leadership and many volunteers, who would immerse themselves in the sea of Jewish life.  In our time, members such as Moshe Garfein, continue to chant from the Torah and haftarah. Rita Zohav teaches these skills. Dr. Ellis Friedman and our synagogue past presidents establish a foundation for the future. Ann Lowe teaches Poetry and Writing in remembrance of Rev. Lynn Saul. Professor David Graizbord and Rabbi Dr. Howard Schwartz facilitates our CBS Think Tank.  Jacques Gerstenfeld washes bottles and dishes. I still work in the kitchen. Our shul is thriving with activity nearly every day of the week. And we are exceptionally fortunate to have had my partner this evening Sarah Frieden overseeing our operations, and now Lisa Schachter-Brooks, Yosef Lopez, and Rabbi Avi helping to navigate. Rabbi Avi dreams of the future; similar to our first leader Nobart Shapiro. 

  In the year 5760, twenty years ago, I had the privilege of addressing our kehila, our communal family.  At that time I asked our volunteers to rise and be acknowledged. So many stood up joyfully.  I would like to ask the same of you today. Please allow us to visualize you who serve presently as volunteers and visualize the rest of us joining them in these efforts. (When I call your category please rise and remain standing.) 


1   Our Torah readers, 

those who have read Torah of any age

2  Service Leaders of all ages

3 Gabbies and Parnasim

4 Board Members and Foundation executors

5 Building and grounds maintenance assistance 

6 Teachers

7 Providers of child care 

8 Kitchen cooks and bottle washers

9 Gardeners and Chicken-coop fabricators

10 Chair and table movers

11 Ushers and Shomrim

12 Succah builders

13 Sandwich makers for soup kitchens and socks donators

14 Social Action volunteers

15 page turners

16  Any area of support I haven’t mentioned...

You see, we are not much different.  Just greater in numbers, and some of us a little bit older with more and more youngsters to take the reins.

Please remain standing while I share my poem:


Once upon a time when Bet Shalom was still young

The core volunteers helped to guide us with food and with song.

They opened their homes for adult education

Set up tables and chairs, ordered prayer books and kipot

visited those who were ill whether close or remote,

they cooked in the kitchen, they formed a board

They planned directions and slowly moved forward

Serving the families with Jewish sechel and stories

Although few in numbers they were not in a hurry.


So today we continue this needed tradition

Staff and Rabbi guide and refine our mission

Our community family has grown quite large in size

And meeting their needs made us realize

That Rabbi Avi and staff could not do it alone

They would spend every last hour answering the phone


For all, you have done and the rest not mentioned

We’re excited to tell you we’ve doubled your compensation.

And although we may laugh at the multiple zeros

The truth is we value you, yes you are our heroes


Oh, having said this, and I don’t mean to be funny

But could you also send gifts, for we also need money.


L’Shannah Tovah T’kateivu

Sat, January 16 2021 3 Shevat 5781