Rabbi Albert Plotkin is no stranger to standing-room-only crowds: With his expansive personality and his warm singing voice, he has, over many decades, packed in the crowds both for services and for song.
It was a standing-room-only crowd once again at the synagogue in Sedona on Friday, Sept. 9. Congregants, friends and family came to celebrate the dedication of the synagogue's sanctuary in the name of the rabbi and his late wife, Sylvia. The occasion also marked Plotkin's 85th birthday.
Joe Knauer, president of the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, called it "one of the most memorable Shabbat services ... I ever attended." According to Knauer, well over 225 people were present at the service. "The rabbi's family came from all parts of the country to be with him and help him celebrate," Knauer wrote in an e-mail to Jewish News. "Many friends came from Phoenix and surrounding locations to be with this giant of a rabbi."
Born and raised in South Bend, Ind., Plotkin served as spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel (now Congregation Beth Israel) for 38 years, until his retirement in 1991. He is currently CBI's rabbi emeritus. As the spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Sedona for more than a decade, he led the community in its drive to establish a synagogue there; the building was completed in 2004.
Cantor Sharona Feller led the Shabbat services, which were followed by the unveiling of a bronze plaque dedicating the synagogue's sanctuary in the name of Rabbi Albert and Sylvia Plotkin. In addition, Rabbi Plotkin was presented with a memory book filled with inscriptions from members of the congregation and numerous other well-wishers.
"What an emotional moment for all," Knauer wrote. "We then celebrated the rabbi's 85th birthday with cake and his favorite, ice cream."
Those in attendance also got to see a short film about Rabbi Plotkin's life that was created by Mindy Brandt and Jay Levinsohn, members of Congregation Beth Israel, as a surprise for the rabbi. In the film, "The Rabbi and the Red Rocks of Sedona," Plotkin shares that it was his wife, Sylvia, who, on their first trip to Sedona, said to him, "What a place to build a synagogue!"
"The tribute to Rabbi Plotkin was just magnificent," Brandt said of the event. "His daughter and the remainder of his family (were) there. ... everybody just was so proud and happy to be there, and he got the tribute he deserved."
Brandt recounted that when, at the end of the film, there is a scene of Plotkin singing his signature tune, "Old Man River," the rabbi stood up and sang along with his videotaped image.
There wasn't a dry eye in the house, Brandt said.
"I was on Cloud 9," Rabbi Plotkin said several days after the event. "I felt like I had been with Moses and all the prophets. It was an exciting and marvelous time for all of us, including the congregation and the president and all the other officers and wonderful workers. It was truly a night to be remembered."