Below are some of the letters about Rabbi Plotkin we have received at Jewish News since his death on Feb. 3.
Somehow, he was always larger than life. Leading me, guiding me - and everyone else - embodying the spirit of Judaism in a way I've never seen since. He and my father, Dr. Sam Mackoff, made it all seem so right, singing at the table on each Pesach we shared with our two families. "Had Gad Yo" (An Only Kid) sung by Dad and Rabbi, with the kids' table joining, was a celebration unlike any other. I think my sisters and Janis and Debbie Plotkin would have agreed that our true moment of "coming of age" was when we no longer sat at the kids' table one holiday when we would return as college students or young adults.
No matter where I am on Passover each year, I can hear them singing. For a long time after Dad was gone, it gave me solace that somewhere Rabbi's one-of-a-kind voice was bellowing out the songs with emphasis. This Passover, I shall raise my voice for both of them and all of us who have shared those times.
It's hard to separate, sometimes, my feelings for Judaism from the special holiday times shared with our family, the Mackoffs and the Plotkins. How lucky we were! How we "kids" didn't really know it until so much later. How lucky Phoenix was to have a Rabbi Plotkin. His ecumenical spirit soared as he joined with so many leaders of many faiths to make my hometown of Phoenix a more accepting place. He did that. Yes, he did. Our Rabbi went to Notre Dame - oh yes, he could have been Irish with his sparkling blue eyes and fair complexion. He took that understanding and reached out in the community - and later all around the country.
That twinkle is his eye made him seem like a leprechaun, perhaps. He had Chasidic joy in our Reform congregation of Temple Beth Israel. He could tell a great joke and his laugh would ring out. Succos under the Stars - as we grew up - is entwined with Rabbi handing out fruit inside the sukkah on the old temple's spacious grounds on 10th Avenue and seeming to visit each and every family's picnic table.
When he was no longer a full-time rabbi, he went on to teach and create new Jewish venues in so many places - even on cruise ships. He was the traveling rabbi - he always found time to inspire and to be a friend. He carved out new definitions for the title of rabbi.
His love of life was sorely tested. His wife, Sylvia, and his daughter, Debra, were to pass away much too soon. Yet he and his other daughter, Janis, picked up and kept going.
Once, when I was visiting in Phoenix, my mother, Selma Mackoff, and I went to Sedona. Neither one of us had been there in at least 10 years. Although we were dismayed by many of the changes (isn't it always that way?), we decided to go to the Sedona temple because Rabbi said he'd be coming that evening. He was behind the organization of the synagogue. Maybe his movements were slower when he got up to speak, but that voice rang out in prayer and song. I was suddenly home because he was there.
He was my family, too... at every simcha and sorrow. He was there when I was one of the first bat mitzvahs at our congregation. He was the rabbi when my son, Adam, and my daughter Hillary were bar and bat mitzvahed. He was there at my marriage(s). He was there at my father's funeral as a spiritual leader, and he remained to console us. He was there to celebrate my youngest child's baby naming, and so many more occasions and revisitations of our family celebrations.
There were so many who were his congregants, his flock, his people. Yet he always seemed to be there when situations were difficult, or a road was unclear for me. He took the time with the most generous of spirit. Yes, he did that!
There is a rare and wonderful picture of Rabbi and Dad at Saguaro Lake maybe a half-century ago. I saw it the last time I was home. They were so young and handsome wading in the water. We children (my sisters Barbara, Cora and Mavis, plus Janis and Debbie) looked like we were dancing on the shore. Memories are dancing with me now - of a lifetime of sharing with this most special family and most extraordinary person.
Oh, the world is such a poorer place with his passing. He lived a meaningful and important life. It could never have been long enough. May his inspiration console us. I will treasure forever the gift of his presence.
Valerie Mackoff Graham
A few years ago I was taking a Religious Studies class on the West Campus of ASU. My topic was Crypto Jews. I asked Rabbi Plotkin to come to the class and tell us about his recent trip to Spain where he had met with many of these people. He graciously agreed, and we spent a fascinating hour while he spoke on his meetings with and impressions of the people there. I will never forget how this very busy man readily agreed to give his time to meet with us and share his knowledge once again.
When I first came to Phoenix in 1955, he was one of the only rabbis in town. I was a student at the University of Arizona in Tucson. When we came to Phoenix during breaks, etc., we attended services at Temple Beth Israel. We were always welcome. He provided me with the inspiration to continue my studies of cantorial music and eventually to act as the student cantor at Hillel in Tucson.
Bernard Van Emden
Besides the Temple Tommy and Synagogue Cynthia stories, he always told me, "Hazak!" - "Be strong!" When I lived in Boston, Rabbi and Sylvia visited. I have great memories of spending a few days walking everywhere and showing them the city. He bar and bat mitzvahed all the Tracht children. Because he built a special community at Temple Beth Israel, I still have a lot of the same friends now that I did in the late '50s and '60s. I still have home movies of Sukkos Under the Stars. The Plotkins were and are very special people.
How very difficult it is for Cyrille and me to envision a world without the laughter, joie de vivre, care, love and dedication of Rabbi Albert Plotkin.
We were blessed to have shared so many wonderful years in his company when I served first as director of the Jewish Education Council and Phoenix High School of Jewish Studies, and later as the rabbi/educator at Temple Beth Israel.
We were blessed to listen to his clear, sweet voice chant the Seven Blessings as he co-officiated with Rabbi Bell at our wedding almost 27 years ago.
He was the consummate mensch, a role model, and a caring, precious friend. In our eyes he was, in the words of the song, forever young - always with a twinkle in his eye.
As the years passed and our paths took us away from the Valley of the Sun to Kansas City and now to Las Cruces, we would think of our friend frequently when we would attend an opera.
His special gifts touched so many lives. He brought so much to so many. But as he often said at the end of eulogies he delivered: If you continue to love the one you lose, you never really lose the one you love!
Rabbi Gerald M. Kane
Las Cruces, N.M.
Just two weeks ago, Rabbi Plotkin officiated as my cousin renewed his wedding vows. We had the pleasure of spending some time with him. He was charming, pleasant, delightful, sweet; there are not enough accolades to describe this wonderful man; his stories were fabulous and his memory was remarkable. We spoke about his 90th birthday, which was coming up this September on Rosh Hashanah. He appeared vibrant and "healthy" (even though we knew of his heart condition). It certainly was a day that ranks up there as one of the most memorable for us. Rabbi Plotkin was an icon in the Valley, and he will be very missed.
Dorie and Eddie Miller
Rabbi Plotkin was an inspiring speaker, champion of civil rights, avid art collector and the main impetus for the creation of the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, housed in the building of Phoenix's first synagogue. It was hoped that he would be present at the formal opening later this year, but at least he was able to view the renovated building recently, a point of great pride and joy for him.
Plotkin served as Congregation Beth Israel's spiritual leader in Scottsdale from 1955 through the early 1990s, when he became Rabbi Emeritus. During his travels with his beloved wife, Sylvia, who died several years ago, he collected an impressive collection that became the basis of the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum, housed at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale.
He did not remain retired for long, but answered the invitation to serve as spiritual leader for the newly formed congregation in Sedona. He served as rabbi of the JCSVV (the Jewish Congregation of Sedona and the Verde Valley) from 1991 until 2005. He encouraged the building of the synagogue, which was dedicated in 2004. The Sanctuary is named the Rabbi Albert and Sylvia Plotkin Sanctuary in his honor. When I was hired to serve as full-time rabbi for the congregation, he kept up his warm connection with the congregation.
Rabbi Plotkin was a community rabbi, active in interfaith programs, and supportive of the arts. He continued writing books, lecturing and acting as Rabbi Emeritus, both in Phoenix and Sedona. He had a stirring speaking and singing voice, and always ended his sermons with the biblical phrase "Hazak v' Amatz" - Be strong and of great courage - the empowering words spoken by Moses to Joshua.
He was a light on the horizon of several generations. That light is not extinguished, but lives on in the thousands he served and counseled, and in his books and teachings. He was a generous mentor to me, and I will miss him greatly.
Rabbi Alicia Magal
Current Rabbi of the JCSVV