Judy Shanks was one of thousands of children who learned from Rabbi Albert Plotkin. Like him, and inspired by him, she went on to become a rabbi. Here is the tribute she paid Rabbi Plotkin at his funeral, held Feb. 5 at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale.
When I was a little girl growing up at Temple Beth Israel in its Osborn Road location, I thought Rabbi Plotkin was very tall.
Sitting in those plush upholstered wooden pews in our Sunday School dresses, patent leather shoes and frilly socks, my friends and I looked waaaay up to him standing high in his pulpit, little lower, really, than God. He magically communicated with Mrs. Buchholtz, the organist, hidden in the heavenly choir loft, and we delightedly watched his face turn red when he happily burst into song or tried to squeeze a sound out of the shofar.
But what we kids waited for most eagerly was when the rabbi came down out of the pulpit to stand right in front of us on the steps and tell us the next exciting installment in the life and times of Temple Tommy. As far as I know, Temple Tommy was Rabbi Plotkin's creation - a little boy who learned Jewish values not only from Torah stories but from everyday situations we could relate to: facing the bully on the playground, breaking a promise or eating all the challah up before Shabbat started.
The rabbi paced animatedly back and forth along the steps, jumped up and down, looked heavenward for guidance for poor Tommy when he got into a scrape - "Oh NO! What to do?!" And Temple Tommy always figured it out, or asked his mom or dad - or his rabbi - or God - just in time and with the happiest of results. And then Rabbi Plotkin stood at the door as we processed out row by row, waving, smiling, laughing - a "towering" presence to each of us.
If we are very lucky in this life, we get to have a lifelong rabbi like Albert Plotkin. It is an honor to speak today for the literally thousands of us who received Rabbi Plotkin's blessings at our namings and brises, at consecration, b'nai mitzvah, and confirmation, as brides and grooms and, yes, leaning on his consoling presence at our parents' gravesides.
Our rabbi walked through our lifetime with us, always at our side, and those of us so blessed sense now a deep personal loss. We must come to grips with the end of an era. Because though we shared Rabbi Plotkin with multitudes, he somehow always managed let us know that each of us was dear to him and every simcha was the BEST; in his words - "It's a great day for Israel." We were all - and equally - his favorites.
Thank you, Janis, for sharing him with us - and I'm sorry for all the times we took him from you and Debra and your mom. When I first asked your dad if he thought rabbinical school was a good idea, he was so excited he practically filled the application out for me. He couldn't stop talking about the joys of the rabbinate, the superlatives flowing one after another.
Sylvia was the one to draw me aside and give me the inside scoop on the behind-the-scenes life of a rabbi and his family, coupled with her own resounding "YES! Go for it!" In that meeting, Rabbi Plotkin told me that not long after I graduated from Sunday school he had introduced "Synagogue Cynthy" alongside Temple Tommy so no girl would ever feel left out in his temple.
Others will speak, I know, of Rabbi Plotkin's exuberance, his optimism, his warmth and humor. I want to speak of his emunah, his deep and abiding faith in God's goodness and God's love. When after Sylvia's untimely death he then faced his daughter Debra's, he got through it, he said, because of his faith. I will never forget his last words to her, spoken in a strong voice: "You are D'vorah - woman warrior and judge. You are Ruth, loving, giving, generous heart. You are faith and you are hope."
Rabbi Albert Plotkin - you were faith and you were hope - our teacher, our mentor, our beloved friend, our rabbi. It was your custom to stand and recite this poem from memory at the end of every funeral. In your honor and in your memory, let me say the words for you:
"Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that swiftly blow.
I am the diamond glint on newly fallen snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the soft and gentle autumn rain.
When you wake from sleep in the early morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep."
Rabbi Judy Shanks is a spiritual leader at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, Calif.