He was walking about five paces ahead as I strolled toward the synagogue. He was an older gentleman, and I quickly overtook him. He must have heard me, for as I came upon him, he turned and said "Good Shabbos." I was a bit surprised, having never met him, but immediately wished him "Shabbat Shalom."

I can't remember the last time I attended Shabbat services. But a good friend had suggested I attend Temple Beth Israel's services that night as the David Friedman Scholar-In-Residence, Rabbi Emeritus Albert Plotkin, was to deliver the sermon.

I have heard many remarkable things about Plotkin since I moved here and was intrigued by his sermon topic. So I found myself walking into temple last Friday night.

I was not disappointed. In fact, I had a wonderful time. The sanctuary was beautiful, yet not ostentatious. The service moved at the right pace for me and contained many familiar prayers and melodies.

And Plotkin's sermon lived up to my expectations. It dealt with the proposed direction of Reform Judaism. Many of our Reform rabbis, he said, "have become very traditional and want to bring back that tradition to their synagogues." This is controversial and involves "trying to bring back our people to the ceremonial traditions that many of us have lost," he said.

This statement concerned me as I envisioned this return to traditionalism accompanied by less acceptance of those uninterested in making that journey.

Plotkin, however, described something entirely different. He discussed the need to attract young people to a fuller understanding of Judaism. We must, he said, build a love for Jewish ceremonies and emphasize the warmth, spirit, and joy of the Jewish experience.

How? In part, by more outreach to the intermarried community, which today comprises 50 percent of our marriages. Plotkin spent 40 years in the rabbinate helping non-Jewish spouses better appreciate Judaism. Not to convert them, he said, but to "enlighten them to the beauty of the Jewish home." He taught them our heritage, our holidays, and took steps to welcome them to our congregations.

We must continue, he said, even more actively, for "we need to create an understanding that our future depends on how we recognize that intermarriage is part of our way of life."

Jewish camping must also be a part of the new Reform direction, according to Plotkin, for it "makes Judaism a living and joyous experience."

Our community must reach out to intermarried and unaffiliated Jews with a positive message and inspire them with what Judaism offers - culturally, religiously, traditionally, spiritually and ceremonially.

And this must be built around the Jewish family and home, which is the core of our Jewish identity and provides the basis on which our next generation - half of whom will marry outside the faith - will decide how to raise their children.

When I was growing up, my family always tried to have Shabbat dinner together. We would light candles, eat challah, sip a little wine and sing our prayers.

As I sat in the sanctuary, the familiar ceremonies and prayers reminded me of these dinners. And the depth and focus of Plotkin's sermon reminded me of my own rabbi's sermons. My memories relate to the past. But their messages relate to our future. Our future is bright. But, as Plotkin noted, we must recognize and face our challenges together. We are "a people of vision, a people of faith, a people of hope. We are a people who will build a future because we believe in it ... (and) will bring (into the new century) harmony, peace and joy."

Marty Latz is a Valley attorney and negotiation consultant. Send comments to mlatz@negot.com.

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