In Memoriam: Dr. Michael Henderson

Dear Friends,

I am most saddened to report the passing of Dr. Michael Henderson, husband of Dr. Nancy Henderson, who were members for many, many years.  Our condolences go out to the entire family at this most difficult time.  Notes of concern and support can be sent to Dr. Nancy Henderson at 443 North Markley Street, Greenville, SC  29601.  Our thoughts and prayers are with their family.
Yossi Liebowitz

June Events!

Kabbalat Shabbat: This Friday, June 8 at 6:00 with a pizza dinner including salad and dessert and musical entertainment here at the temple.

Saturday Service this week is canceled.

Breakfast Schmooze: Wednesday, June 13 from 7 to 9:00 am at Broadway Bagels

Kabbalat Shabbat: Friday June 15 at 6:00

Saturday Service: June 16 at 9:30

Father’s Day: Sunday, June 17

Condolences to the Family of Norm Bornstein

Dear Congregants,

I am sorry to inform you of the passing of long-time member Norm Bornstein. Our condolences go out to the entire family, his wife Marilyn, and his two children. Funeral arrangements have been planned for this week in Massachusetts. A local memorial service may take place in the next few days here in Spartanburg. 
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz

From the Heart with Rabbi Liebowitz


Dear Friends,

I am a fan of billboards, succinct declarations of what makes known the sense of an institution’s mission. Whether they come from Churches, Synagogues or Mosques, they constitute a creative motto for what floats their boat ideologically. Thus, the above billboard which sums up both their concern for the hazards of excessive electronic communication and their attachment to the Golden rule found in Leviticus’s Holiness code and in other sources including Buddhism. There is a quip from a scene in the marvelous Jewish Canadian film “Lies my father told me!” The ragman emerging from his noisy and gossipy Old Montreal neighborhood offers a query to God: “Dear Lord, when you said in the Bible ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,” did you know about Mrs. Lefkowitz?’” Easier said than done are following the prescriptions of faith. Many of us will emphasize the faults of others while minimizing our own missteps. At times it is psychologically rewarding to put someone else down to raise up our own egos which are in need of bolstering. In a more global view, we need look no further than to consider the current political discourse in Washington to see how civility has taken a downturn.

I have a rabbinical colleague who had the good fortune to work as an intern for a Senator from Alaska. The Senator artfully said to him one day; “When one of us wishes to take issue with or demean the views of a fellow senator we refer to him as ‘My distinguished colleague’ from such and such state!” But when we really wish to put him down, we say “My MOST distinguished colleague from such and such state!’” All romanticizing aside, the days of “Have you no shame?” have long passed. To use the current parlance this is the new normal. Can we unring the sour notes from current bells being rung in the future? Has its contagion spread too far and gone too deep into our psyche? Does the internet with Facebook provide ugly and lasting opportunities that encourage everything from cyberbullying to rumor mongering about age, looks and more? I hope not.

As part of our Pilgrimage of Peoples interfaith and multiracial tour to three museums: Holocaust, Indian, and African – American, we included a visit with Congressman Gowdy and Senators Scott and Graham. They were as cordial as they were amiable and receptive. Most touching was Senator Scott’s and Congressman Gowdy’s review of their book Unity. It was wonderful to have a half dozen of our young people outfitted in Boy Scout attire to witness such warmth and sharing by two leaders of our nation. Nice to see the Golden Rule demonstrated in these difficult days.

Wishing one and all a wonderful summer in which you tweet others as you would want to be tweeted.

Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz D.D.

Eulogy for Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D.

May We All Be Disciples of Our Aaron

Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Rabbi Aaron Panken, z"l

This past weekend, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Reform Movement’s seminary, announced that President Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., age 53, died tragically in the crash of a small plane he was piloting on Saturday, May 5. He served as the 12th president in HUC-JIR’s 143-year history. What follows is the eulogy Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, delivered at Rabbi Panken’s funeral earlier this week.

I first met Aaron Panken at HUC-JIR in the late 80s when I interviewed him to be my rabbinic intern at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. Based on his resume, I tried to figure out what he was like; a degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins? Really? If I was looking for a guy to run the AV equipment maybe, but I also saw that he played guitar, had been a NFTY advisor and so much more. This guy was either a complete misfit or he was one extraordinarily multi-faceted human being.

In five minutes, I knew I was in the presence of a brilliant and immensely personable future leader of our people. And when I learned that Rabbi Jack Stern had just interviewed him to be the rabbinic intern of Westchester Reform Temple (WRT), I knew there was no chance he’d take our job. And, as a former WRT intern myself, I told him he’d be crazy to work with anyone other than Rabbi Stern. I knew at that moment that if I was really lucky one day, I might get to work closely with this remarkable person.

The Torah teaches that: “Aaron shall carry the names of the children of Israel on the breast piece of decision over his heart….” (Ex 28:29)

Midrash Tanchuma elaborates: “When Aaron had to make a decision regarding a fellow Israelite, he was to consult not only the rule book but his heart as well….” (Tanchuma Sh’mot 27)

Aaron Panken was cut from the same cloth as our ancestor; the depth of his heart matched, if not exceeded, the breadth of his brilliant mind. In the past few years Rabbi Panken has not only recruited, taught, mentored, ordained, and graduated a new generation of Jewish leaders, but, more significantly, he has modeled for each of them how to live a Jewish life of depth and integrity, embodying instead of merely espousing our Torah’s timeless teachings. Greatness and goodness flowed forth from this remarkable man.

I was blessed to have Aaron as a close friend and, until six years ago, to be the rabbi of his family’s congregation. It was on this bimah that Aaron dazzled WRT with incisive and provocative readings of our sacred texts, especially the Book of Jonah each Yom Kippur. It was here that Eli and Sam lovingly received Torah from their parents and grandparents and at URJ Eisner Camp and on our URJ EIE Heller High semester in Israel they deepened their own Jewish journeys. Before I had the chance to work with Aaron, I had the supreme blessing to work closely with his amazing wife Lisa Messinger during her years as president of WRT. Lisa, by the way, was very timid at first and I take pride in having helped her come out of her shell.

Fast forward. I was invited to lead the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and in 2014, Aaron became the president of HUC-JIR. What a blessing it has been to work so closely with Aaron. There was only one other time when the Union and the College were more closely aligned and that was at the beginning, when Isaac Mayer Wise held both positions simultaneously.

Aaron Panken didn’t enter our Reform Movement through the front door. Three weeks ago, at our Scheidt Seminar in Atlanta, Aaron shared with 87 incoming congregational presidents how he came to Reform Judaism.

He shared: “It all began when I was in the fifth grade. Inexplicably, one afternoon as I walked home from school in Manhattan, I entered the Lincoln Square Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation on Amsterdam Avenue.”

“I’d like to go to religious school,” I told the receptionist. The next thing I knew, the cantor appeared and asked, “How can I help you?”

“I’d like to go to religious school,” I repeated. “That’s lovely,” he said. “Could I talk to your parents about that?”

Sitting him down later that day, his parents, Peter and Beverly, said, “Aaron, we’d prefer that you go to a place where what they teach is a little closer to what we believe.”

And so, starting at age 11, Aaron attended religious school at New York’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. Rabbi Sally Priesand, our movement’s first woman rabbi officiated at his bar mitzvah and the rest is as they say history. Thank God we didn’t have our specialty camps back then because Aaron would have been a stand out at 6 Points Sci-Tech and Lisa would have been a champion at 6 Points Sports, but luckily, they found each other at URJ Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA.

Aaron knew from his experience and his vision that Reform Judaism is truly a movement, not merely a collection of organizations and his leadership covered every part of it. You could have dropped him into any role anywhere in our movement – camp, campus, youth group, pulpit, scholarly seminar, social justice rally, Israel, chaplaincy, you name it; he possessed all of God’s leadership gifts especially humility and kindness.

Aaron didn’t just write about justice. In March 2015, at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a watershed moment in the Civil Rights Movement, Rabbi Panken spoke in Selma, Alabama, in front of 400 activists, including Reverend William Barber, Dr. Susannah Heschel, Peter Yarrow, Rabbi Jonah Pesner and host of other leaders in the battle for equality. Aaron said:

We remember the period’s frightening moments when unabashed hatred battered the good and robbed people of life and opportunity; when authorities who we looked to for leadership, morality and fairness used their immense influence for evil and not for good, and when the powerless suffered mightily at the hand of those who held them down.

And Aaron’s love of Israel was full throated and constant. The new Taube Family Campus at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem represents his deep commitment to expanding and intensifying the place of Israel in our movement.

When 16-year-old Shira Banki was murdered during the Jerusalem Pride march three years ago, Aaron reached out to the Banki family and in partnership with the U.S. embassy created a program that brings together teachers and their young students to learn about the different groups living side-by-side in Jerusalem. These educators who are Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, religious and secular, have to face the fear of the “other,” the stereotypes, and sometimes the hatred. Aaron knew it was not enough to hope for peace.

This past November during the HUC-JIR Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem, Aaron ordained the 100th Israeli Reform rabbi, signaling the transformative impact the College-Institute has had in shaping a more inclusive and pluralistic Israel. Aaron has modeled sacred partnership with the College-Institute’s lay leadership and especially with his board chair, Andy Berger. Andy and Aaron were always in synch, always deeply respectful of each other.

And if you think Aaron was only a gentle, mild mannered individual, you should have seen him assertively carry a Torah scroll past the security guards as we entered the Kotel (Western Wall) plaza to finish our celebratory prayer service in honor of the four newest Israeli ordinees. Not only did Aaron proudly carry the Torah, he plumbed its deepest layers and lived its most demanding imperatives.

Our tradition commands us: “Raise up many disciples.” (Pirkei Avot 1:1)

Many attempt, and some succeed but only a few, including Rabbi Aaron Panken, have their disciples spread out around the world. Pirkei Avot doesn’t only want many disciples; it specifies which kind; it says, “Be disciples of Aaron.”

And how do Aaron’s disciples conduct themselves? Do they only sit in the academy studying all day and night?

No, the disciples of Aaron spend their days “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving their fellow creatures and bringing them close to the Torah.” (Pirkei Avot 1:12)

Today, this sanctuary and our movement overflow with the many disciples of Rabbi Dr. Aaron Panken, especially Aaron’s beloved sister, Rabbi Melinda Panken. The biblical Aaron and our Aaron inspire us to bring many others to the deep water of Torah and from there, find strength and inspiration to pursue peace and love all of God’s children – not just the ones who are just like us.  Indeed, that was Aaron Panken’s way. May we all be disciples of our Aaron; may we never stop teaching and living his Torah.

In the Talmud, there are some sages who are simply irreplaceable: “Woe to those who are lost and cannot be replaced.” (Sanhedrin 111a)

Today we are the ones who are lost, and Rabbi Aaron Panken is the one who cannot be replaced.

In Memoriam of Rabbi Aaron Panken

Dear members, 
I wish to share with you the sad news about a remarkable Rabbi of our Reform movement who tragically died this weekend. His exemplary life is reviewed in this moving testimony below. May his deeds and the memory of his life be a blessing to us all.
Yossi J Liebowitz Rabbi
“And if he is a sage … everyone is like his relative, everyone mourns together …” (Talmud Bavli, Moed Katan 25a)

“When a president dies – we all rend our clothes in mourning” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourning 9:15)

The leadership of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, its rabbis and members are saddened by the tragic death of our teacher and friend Rabbi Prof. Aaron Panken of blessed memory, President of our Seminary for training Rabbis, Educators and Communal Workers in North America and Israel – Hebrew Union College, Institute of Jewish Studies.

Rabbi Panken, a scholar of the literature of the Second Temple and Chazal, had been at the head of Hebrew Union College for the last four years, bringing with him a spirit and vision of love of Torah and love of Israel, intellectual depth, pedagogical innovation, striving for academic excellence, and personal exemplary commitment to the future of Reform Judaism and the future of the entire Jewish people. Under his leadership, the College continued to be the leading institution for the ordination of rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators, and community leaders in North America, shaping the future of North American Jewry.

Rabbi Panken z”l held a clear love of Zion, was fluent in Hebrew and was familiar with the events in the State of Israel and in Israeli society. Rabbi Panken was wholeheartedly dedicated to the strengthening of Reform Judaism in Israel by nurturing the Israeli rabbinic leadership and generations of young Israelis who view the Israeli Reform Rabbinate as the realization of a life of Zionism. Rabbi Panken maintained the glorious tradition of his predecessors by developing the HUC Jerusalem campus, and by continuing to require students from the Diaspora to experience a full year of study in Israel, and as the first and leading institution for the certification and ordination of liberal rabbis in Israel. In November 2017, Rabbi Panken ordained four new rabbis in a moving ceremony in front of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, thereby bringing the number of Israeli Rabbinical graduates of the Israel program of HUC to more than 100.

We share the deep sorrow of the Panken family: his wife Lisa, his children Eli and Samantha, his parents Beverly and Peter, his sister Rabbi Melinda Panken, and his sister-in-law Daryl Messinger (chairwoman of the Board of the Union for Reform Judaism), and the entire family.

We mourn together with all of the colleagues, friends and disciples of Rabbi Panken in North America and throughout the Jewish world.

May there be a flourishing and nurturing of the Reform Rabbinate in Israel, and the promotion of the values of pluralism, religious tolerance, Torah study and Tikun Olam in the State of Israel and throughout the Jewish world as a legacy to Rabbi Panken’s leadership and teaching.

“We are saddened by those who have gone and are no longer with us” (Sanhedrin Tractate 111; 1)

Reuven Marko – Chairman of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism
Rabbi Gilad Kariv – President and CEO of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism
Words in memory of Rabbi Panken from colleagues and students:

Rabbi Michael Marmor, Dean of the College in Jerusalem and a member of the faculty: “To all his many loved ones and admirers, Aaron was an exemplary rabbi and friend. He was a young and vital man who believed that our Torah was the Torah of life, and he wanted to live every moment in its entirety. He was a wise and profound man who combined Torah knowledge with openness and curiosity. He was a loyal, devoted and supportive friend. Above all, Rabbi Panken was a family man whose love for his family knew no bounds. We have been working together for twenty years, and the shock of his sudden demise is still great.”

Rabbi Yehoyada Amir, Chairman of the Council of Advanced Rabbis in Israel and member of the faculty: “Aaron was a friend and partner, a guide and a leader. In his quiet and welcoming way, he guided the college and gave us, in Jerusalem, the promise that our enterprise is an essential and important part of this fabric. In fluent Hebrew and out of love for a burning and honest Israel, he also knew how to express concern about many developments in Israel, and held a strong belief in the possibilities of repair and construction. From far and near he was a full partner in the construction of the family of the Israeli Reform Rabbinate. So many members if the Jewish community, in Israel and out, had the privilege to be ordained by him and to receive, at the moment of their ordination, his profound and inspiring blessing. It was good to share the path with him, to clarify disputes and to join hands for the sake of Klal Yisrael. Aaron symbolizes for me the new horizons of Reform Judaism around the world and the tremendous opportunities that arise in Israel. It is difficult, very difficult, to talk about this man of the future and his vision in the past tense; it is permissible, necessary even, to believe that his light will continue to shine even after his death. יהי זכרו ברוך.”

Rabbi Talia Avnon Benvenisti, head of the Israeli Rabbinate program: “Rabbi Panken was one of the architects of the idea of Jewish liberalism. He devoted his life to a new Jewish thought in which morality and ethics were the basic foundations of modern Jewish existence. Rabbi Panken was an ardent supporter of the Reform Zionist rabbinic leadership and was committed to preserving the State of Israel whenever necessary. His quiet and gentle spirit has transformed young rabbis in Israel and the world, and his legacy will remain forever engraved on their hearts.”