Rabbi Plotkin

That human beings are born and die no longer comes as a surprise to most of us who've been on Earth a while. And yet there are some people whose death seems impossible, no matter how many years they've lived, because their absence is unthinkable.

Rabbi Albert Plotkin, who died in the early morning hours of Feb. 3, is one such person.

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants who settled in Indiana, Albert Plotkin arrived in Phoenix in 1955 to lead what was then known as Temple Beth Israel.

Rabbi David Rebibo, who arrived here 10 years after Plotkin, to lead the Orthodox Beth Joseph Congregation, remembers him as "always very positive, very optimistic. When you were with him, you were going to laugh. 'Yes, we're going to do it, it can be done.' This is Al Plotkin. There was an angelic goodness about him."

Together Plotkin and Rebibo worked on numerous projects, including drumming up support for Israel during the '67 war, and Rebibo says that they met often for coffee and to consult each other.

"It's an interesting phenomenon that he was Reform and I'm Orthodox and there was no wall between us," Rebibo says. "In most other places, it doesn't happen."

Like many others, Rebibo credits Plotkin with laying the foundations of the Jewish community as we know it, extending a hand outside the confines of his own denomination to do so. That inclusive spirit reached beyond the Jewish community as well.

"There almost wasn't a social justice issue he wasn't involved with," says Rabbi Andrew Straus of Temple Emanuel of Tempe. During the civil rights era, Plotkin worked with the Right Rev. Joseph Harte and Msgr. Robert Donohoe to prevent rioting in Phoenix. For their efforts, the "three clerical musketeers" received the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

And in the last few decades, Plotkin devoted time and energy to encouraging the return of Crypto Jews, or conversos, to Judaism and speaking on their behalf, most recently at a Ceremony of Return late last year.

His energy seemed never to flag; neither did the keenness of his thinking or the generosity of his spirit. A self-described "shorty" with twinkling blue eyes, he sang (and danced) with the consummate grace of a showman. Was his voice as beautiful as reported, we asked Rabbi Rebibo? "What are you talking about?" Rebibo said with pride. "Of course! That's him - part of his joy."

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