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A 'Renaissance Man' Retires From Pulpit

June 23, 2005 By:
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Rabbi RICHARD Levine
Although Jewish causes were a significant part of his Brooklyn upbringing - his father was president of their Orthodox shul, and was also involved with the Zionist Organization of America; and his mother headed up a chapter of Hadassah - Richard Levine's family never really thought he'd become a rabbi. They assumed he would join the family's law office.

Now, some 41 years after being ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City and leading Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel for all that time, Levine will step down from the pulpit, and retire from a profession that is the "closest thing" he knows of "to becoming a renaissance man."

"One day, I represent the Jewish community at Independence Hall on July 4 or at Holocaust ceremonies," said the 66-year-old congregational leader, "and the next day, I'm talking to a family where a husband is out of work - or I'm helping a Bar Mitzvah kid."

'A Feeling of Family'
Ruth Randolph, a member of the congregation since Levine joined in 1964, said the greatest gift the rabbi has given her and others is a sense of closeness to one another.

"He made us aware of our need for more Jewish learning, and made us aware that we are a part of a community where we can speak up as Jews. He made us aware that we had a voice," she said. "He created for us a feeling of family."

Toward that end, the rabbi, eschewing common practice in many Reform congregations, helped set up a Passover seder at the synagogue scheduled for the first night of the holiday, in the hope that attendees would make plans to get together the following night.

Levine also created a Tu B' Shevat seder and a healing service, which is held every month.

"I've tried to create ways for people to be there for each other," he said.

Outside of the congregation - and across the river - Levine was the first New Jersey rabbi to be president of the Greater Philadelphia Board of Rabbis, and was also host of a KYW/Philadelphia Eagles preshow called A Higher Authority. The tongue-in-cheek program featured the rabbi, a priest and a minister analyzing and predicting the outcome of each game.

Still, noted Levine, his favorite part of being the congregation's religious leader was having the opportunity to take people on trips to Israel - trips that he himself planned, from beginning to end.

On June 24, Levine will lead his final service as full-time rabbi - the service being the culmination of a series of special events held over the past several months in honor of the man.

"He's a very knowledgeable person and genuinely spiritual, which permeates the congregation," attested Helen Weinheimer, president of the synagogue. "There is a wisdom there that he has learned throughout his life."

Though Levine plans to write books and travel to speak at various congregations - something he was always invited to do throughout the years, but never felt he had the time for - Adath Emanu-El and its congregants will always seem like home.

"I just won't be in the building as often as I am now," said Levine. "I plan on being at services many times a month - but sitting with my wife in the pews for once, just holding hands."

 

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