Rabbi Emeritus Frank M. Waldorf
It is impossible to capture the contribution that Rabbi Emeritus Frank Waldorf has made to Temple Sinai over the past 30 years. He would be the first to say that there is not a flashy sound bite that defined his tenure; and, in a paradoxical way, that sentiment perfectly defines his tenure. For many in the congregation, he was the only Rabbi that they had known, but for others, he was the Rabbi who took over in a time of crisis for Temple Sinai returning a sense of stability and order to the congregation.
His path to Temple Sinai began in Baltimore, Maryland, where he grew up in the Reform Movement. He studied chemical engineering and sociology at Johns Hopkins University. He was ordained on the Cincinnati Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1964. For four years he was an Army Chaplain including three years in Frankfurt, Germany. He was an assistant to Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn at Temple Israel of Boston, and served at Reform congregations in Winchester and Staunton, Virginia, and Kokomo, Indiana.
When Rabbi Waldorf started at Temple Sinai in 1974, he set about the task of teaching torah, in synagogue services, in adult education, and in the religious school. His calming and reassuring nature has served families well through both joyous occasions and trying circumstances. When he came to Temple Sinai, he was looking for a smaller congregation where he could really get to know the congregants on an individual basis; and it would be very hard to find one member or even the occasional visitor to the synagogue who could honestly say that Rabbi Waldorf didn’t make the effort to get to know them. Over and over again, people say that their attachment to Temple Sinai is due in large part to the personal connection that they have made with Rabbi Waldorf.
It is readily apparent that Rabbi Waldorf cares about individuals. He makes a point of greeting every one in the corridors of the school and at an oneg, or acknowledging a birthday or anniversary during services, counseling members through important life cycle events. He has always made the effort to understand the individual and the context so he could provide something more than doctrinaire, one-size-fits-all answers. In a similar way, Rabbi Waldorf has sought to make Judaism accessible and meaningful to the children in the congregation so that they make a lasting connection to Judaism. Whether it was the regular inclusion of children of all ages in the weekly services or working with children in the religious school, the emphasis was on making Judaism relevant to children of all ages. He notes with considerable pride the outstanding Boston area Jewish educators that began their distinguished careers at Temple Sinai including Marjorie Berkowitz, Jane Taubenfeld Cohen, Rim Meirowitz, Leann Shamash and our current education director Heidi Smith Hyde.
While his contributions to Temple Sinai have been numerous, Rabbi Waldorf has also made an impact in the community at large. He has served as president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis and of the North East Region of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; chairman of the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council and of the CCAR Chaplaincy Committee; convener of the Brookline Clergy Association; and a panelist on the WBZ-TV A Show of Faith. He has also served on the executive committees at the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. He is currently president of the Association of Jewish Chaplains of the Armed Forces of the United States, an association of active, reserve and retired chaplains who mobilize support for the military chaplaincy.
Rabbi Waldorf has been married for forty-three years to the former Beth Ruttenberg. They have three adult children and four grandchildren. In 1989, the Rabbi received an honorary doctorate in divinity from his alma mater, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
Of course, his thirty year tenure has not been without challenges ranging from the very dramatic (theft of the Torah scrolls and the fire in the school) to the persistent problems of a physical plant that is almost ninety years old. However, through it all, Rabbi Waldorf’s imperturbable exterior has enabled the congregation to maintain a sense of proportion and to approach all the crises as manageable. With a background in science, he has maintained a very rational and pragmatic approach to religion. He urges Jews to bring into their lives on a regular schedule the symbols and rituals of Judaism so as to inspire teachable moments when values can be shared and discussed in a meaningful context. He doesn’t believe in the literal miracles or revelations, but is moved by the way that Jewish religious texts – written at a time when physical survival was anything but guaranteed – exhibit a wise understanding of human nature. Rabbi Waldorf sees the pursuit of a just and compassionate society as one of the primary roles of religion even if, by doing so, it makes people a little bit uncomfortable. He admires the Prophet Amos who passionately spoke up for the need to actively pursue justice, and not turn a blind eye to the ills of society just because you are personally comfortable.
As Temple Sinai moves into the future, the values that Rabbi Waldorf has instilled in the Sinai community will undoubtedly endure.
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