After 35 years as leader of Temple Beth Ami of Rockville, Rabbi Jack Luxemburg has some advice for his successor, Rabbi Gary Pokras: continue the dialogue between the Reform congregation’s rabbi and congregants.
“Always remember that Jewish life is a dialogue,” Luxemburg, 67, said in an interview last week. “It is an ongoing conversation between the Jewish people and God. I think anyone new coming into a new congregation needs to appreciate the congregation’s story, and how we came to where we are. A rabbi needs to understand the process within the congregation itself.”
Luxemburg has led Temple Beth Ami for more than half of its history. He will retire June 30, and the congregation has planned a series of events in his honor, beginning on Friday, when Rabbi David Saperstein, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international freedom, will speak during Shabbat service. On Saturday night, Beth Ami is throwing a celebration with food and dancing.
Looking back on his tenure at Beth Ami, Luxemburg said that he encouraged congregants of all ages and backgrounds to learn and participate in the synagogue’s education programs.
“A multicultural Jewish community means a few things,” he said. “It means we have Jews from different communities of practice and observance. We have non-Jews who are part of our community because they, with their Jewish partners or spouses, have chosen Judaism as their family religion and are raising Jewish children. We have children who come from multi-ethnic backgrounds who are being raised as Jews and who identify as Jews. Consequently, we have tried to be a congregation that welcomes this diversity and uses it to help create and celebrate an inclusive and welcoming expression of Judaism and Jewish culture.”
He cited “cultivating a culture of learning” among his achievements, “whether through Shabbat morning Torah study,” or other educational opportunities.
This summer, Luxemburg will lead a post-retirement congregational tour of Israel. He noted the congregation’s “deep and abiding commitment” to Israel.
He will continue to serve on the board of directors of the Association of Reform Zionists of America and has been named to the board of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “I will stay active with those organizations and will look forward to new opportunities as they arise,” he said.
Pokras, his successor, leads Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, N.Y. Beth Ami President Tom Temin said the search for Luxemburg’s successor was a two-year process, involving 500 congregational families.
Temin thanked Luxemburg for leaving Beth Ami “in very good shape. He came when he was young and the congregation was young. He had the insight to see ahead where the congregation was going,” he said.
Luxemburg counseled his successor to acknowledge the demographic changes in the congregation and look for new paths toward affiliation.
“Maybe synagogues have to enable people to be affiliated in ways that meet their particular needs at different points in their lives. Some want family memberships, some want individual memberships, some want memberships for educational or religious activities only.
“If younger generations of Jews reflect the changing patterns of joining, then we have to make synagogue affiliation meaningful and attractive to those young people,” he said. “If synagogues don’t recognize this, we will not know how to speak to them and we will lose them,” he added.
Additional events marking Rabbi Luxemburg’s retirement include attending a June 5 Frederick Keys minor league baseball game. On June 10, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, will speak during Shabbat service.
Pokras emphasizes inclusivity
As rabbi of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, N.Y., Rabbi Gary Pokras welcomed developmentally disabled adult children of congregants with free membership.
On July 1, Pokras will succeed Rabbi Jack Luxemburg as rabbi of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville.
Pokras said he felt a “real synergy” with Luxemburg when he came to Rockville with his wife, Shauna, during the selection process in late 2015. “I have tremendous respect for him.”
Pokras emphasized the need for inclusivity at the Reform synagogue, and that the dialogue between rabbi and congregants remains crucial.
“All synagogues are conservative in that they conserve the past. Sometimes they are slow to change to adapt to the world around them,” he said. “It is critically important to empower both congregants and staff to bring their Jewish ideas and ideals to life. This means not only giving permission, but providing support and being committed to their success.”
In choosing Luxemburg’s successor, Temple Beth Ami President Tom Temin said he wanted someone who is “compassionate and lifelong. Our next phase is to ensure good financial health for the synagogue.”