Templegoers With a Unique View

September 18, 2009

Author: Samuel G. Freedman

Source: The New York Times


After 31 years in the pulpit, after postings from the Mexican border to a New England college town, Rabbi Jonathan Gerard retired in 2007 with the notion of spending more time on his private practice as a family therapist. Then, shortly before Rosh Hashana last fall, a colleague in the Reform movement asked him if he would mind taking on a part-time job with a small congregation outside Philadelphia.

Somewhat reluctantly, Rabbi Gerard agreed. His new flock numbered only eight, and in certain ways was quite ordinary. The members included a paralegal and a furniture-store owner; only a couple bothered to keep kosher; and the rank and file complained that the congregational president was too bossy.

Still, Rabbi Gerard, 62, arrived for that first Rosh Hashana service with a sermon about the akedah, Abraham’s binding of Isaac, a central text in the liturgy, and a chocolate cake baked by his wife, Pearl. It turned out that she had been in the same high school homeroom in Philadelphia as the brother of one of the congregants.

Rabbi Gerard also brought some Honeycrisp apples, symbolizing the hope for a sweet new year. The fruit attracted some quizzical glances, the rabbi noticed. Then he realized why. The Honeycrisp hybrid has been widely sold only in the past decade or so, and during that time many of Rabbi Gerard’s worshippers have been in prison.