It is an honor and privilege to be one of the family speakers this evening.
I would like to share a few brief family stories which illustrate how the value of l’Dor v’Dor has impacted my family and our connection to HUC-JIR and the Reform movement
What I have learned from my family, my studies at HUC, and my vocation as a rabbi is that it is not enough to be born Jewish. Judaism is realized not through birth or through rituals; but through the actualization of one’s convictions.
Honoring the Louchheim Family
Henry Sandel Louchheim (1833-1903) emigrated with his brothers from Jebenhausen, Germany during the summer of 1852. My great great grandfather joined Rodef Sholom synagogue in Philadelphia. In his 1894 ethical will to his three sons:
If I die from this surgery, take care of your mother, look after your cousins in Germany, and do not give up your seats in the synagogue because my faith is what has sustained me in my most difficult times.
My great grandfather, for whom the Louchheim School was named took that to heart and much more. On April 6, 1945 Dr. Louis Wolsey (rabbi) spoke of Rodef Sholom being Jerome Louchheim’s “holy place…his monument.” He went on to say,
“He was an earnest-minded Jew, who was proud of his faith and who conceived of religion as the paramount description and objective to the Jew. Secular and nationalistic definitions were abhorrent to him, for he was an American of Jewish faith. He was one of Philadelphia’s noblest and most liberal philanthropists. The cause of the sick, the orphaned, the dependent, the underprivileged, was his cause and he was a guardian angel to the poor of all sects and creeds.”
My grandfather, Bill Louchheim, among other things, served on the Building Committee for the HUC campus here in LA. There was a need to replace the heating and cooling system in the building. As a result, engineers would parade their products before this Committee. One of these engineers, who was so proud of his product, said to the committee members, “This is the state of the art system.” My grandfather chuckled. The man inquired what he found so funny.
“What does that mean?” my grandfather asked.
“What does it mean that your product is state of the art?” The man straightened up proudly and said, “This is the most modern technology for this kind of system.”
To which my grandfather responded, “That’s nice, but the real question we are here to answer is does your system work in this building and not? Whether it is the most technologically advanced is not the issue.”
To me, this is a metaphor for Reform Judaism. If what you are doing or thinking of doing will not fulfill the mission of Reform Judaism, then – no matter how great or technologically advanced it may be – it does not make sense to do it because it diminishes your mission.
My grandfather helped start Leo Baeck Temple in the 1940’s and was a supporter of bringing Rabbi Leonard Beerman to the congregation as its founding rabbi. He may not have always appreciated having Peter, Paul and Mary perform for the High Holy Days, he may not have always been a supporter of the synagogue’s position on the Nuclear Freeze or Leonard’s very liberal politics; nevertheless, he was dedicated to the importance the synagogue and the rabbi holding dear their mission and adhering to it. He belonged to synagogues, to Jewish organizations, to the United Way, because they were dedicated to the improvement of the social condition for everyone. He and his brothers, Jerry and Henry, helped create the Louchheim School over 40 years ago because they felt that this program would promote a betterment of America through a Jewish lens.
These stories reflect what Reform Judaism and HUC mean to my family. Our view is that our faith should ennoble our spirit, make sense, and work within the American culture in which we reside. For close to two hundred years it has done just that in my family.
This, I believe, is the fulfillment of the dream of Isaac M. Wise and Julian Morgenstern who believed and advocated for the Americanization of Judaism. They, and my family believe that Reform Judaism is best represented by the positive fusion of Judaism and being an American. The values of Judaism linked with the values of America lead to us being a better person, a patriot and one who cares for family and country.
Just prior to every Bar or Bat Mitzvah, I present my students with two documents: one, their Bar/Bat Mitzvah certificate, and the other the poem, “I Stood with Abraham” by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, teaching this child that they are connected to 4,000 years of Jewish history and they are responsible American citizens. It concludes with:
I saw them stay sane in the midst of madness,
I saw them stay civilized in the midst of brutality,
I saw them lighting candles in the midst of the darkness.
Then I saw the night lift and the dawn break
And into the new world, blessed with liberty and freedom
I saw the radiance of their emancipated minds and hearts.
I saw them enrich every land that gave them opportunity.
I was with them when they landed at Ellis Island
And fell in love with the land that stood for liberty.
I tell them that in order to enrich the United States that they will need to integrate their Jewish values with their American values.
These values have been transmitted to us by our parents, grandparents, great and great great grandparents and our family’s Reform rabbis: Rabbi Michelbacher of Beth Ahavah in Virginia from the 1860’s to the 1890’s; Rabbi Louis Wolsey in the 1930’s and 1940’s of Rodeph Shalom, Rabbi Alvin Fine of Temple Emanuel in San Francisco in the 1960’s, Rabbi Edgar Magnin of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and Rabbis Beerman, Ragins and now Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple.
For Marcia and me, the rabbis of HUC gave us the inspiration to take Jewish teachings and actualize them through our convictions as we have served congregations in the Midwest and Southwest.
HUC-JIR and our family’s connection to it and Reform Judaism, have made real the opportunity for my parents, my brother, Mark, my sisters, Terry and Deb, our spouses, our children, and grandchildren for a continuation of our story that gives us the opportunity to be part of and have impact on our American culture. We are the illustrators of our prophetic and rabbinic fundamental principles and concepts. We so appreciate this honor. Thank you.
JUST AN ADDED DISCOVERY AS I WAS LOOKING INTO JEROME’S HISTORY (not included in the speech):
When asked by columnist, C. William Duncan, “Are you looking forward to absolute retirement from business?” he responded, “No I wouldn’t retire if I were worth many millions. I like to work. An idle man is a poor man, in my judgment, regardless of his bank balance.”