I received a phone call last night, a rather unexpected one. I probably should explain. Go backwards about thirty-five years or so. My parents sent me to religious school at The Temple in Midtown. The head rabbi at the time was Rabbi Alvin Sugarman. I remember fondly during holiday children’s services he would tell us about K’TonTon, a little boy the size of your thumb. (Sadie Weilerstein wrote books about K’TonTon, I found out years later.)
I worked with Rabbi Sugarman when I had my bat mitzvah ceremony several years later. He was always kind and compassionate, and patient. I felt proud to be Jewish and hoped to one day visit Israel.
My father always told me that even though there were synagogues which were much closer to where we lived, he liked and respected Rabbi Sugarman, which is why we drove so far.
When I was in college, the movie Driving Miss Daisy came out in the movie theater. I went to see it. As the scene opened in which you can hear a rabbi speaking, I remember turning to a friend and saying, “That sounds like my rabbi.” His lovely soft Southern accent coming through loud and clear on the movie’s speakers. I was stunned to realized that it was my rabbi! I called my parents, all excited to share the news. They told me the synagogue had been handing out tickets to the movie.
Years later, after my husband and I became engaged, even though I belonged to a synagogue closer to where I lived, I wanted to get married in the Temple, where I grew up going to services, and I wanted Rabbi Sugarman to officiate at our wedding. He graciously agreed to do so.
In a Jewish ceremony, the bride and groom sign a marriage contract, a ketubah. There are two people, other than the bride and groom and the rabbi who witness this contract. My soon-to-husband and I were trying to decide who our witnesses would be. My husband wanted his twin brother to sign as his witness; I wanted my 91-year old grandmother to sign as mine.
Rabbi Sugarman encouraged us to select whomever we wanted as witnesses, despite some other clergy member’s objections. My grandmother passed away three years later. I can’t explain how grateful I am to have had her part of our wedding ceremony.
Fast forward several years to when I was pregnant with my children. At both times, I remember calling the Temple to ask a question of him.
Fast forward several more years to a month or so ago. I was in a quandary, trying to decide what to do about religious school and my son becoming a bar mitzvah in a year and a half. The traditional route didn’t feel right, and hadn’t for a few years.
What to do.
I put in a call to Rabbi Sugarman.
I noticed that over the years, regardless of where I am affiliated, no matter how lovely the other rabbis may be, Rabbi Sugarman will always be my rabbi.
Now, I’m asking a favor of all of you who have taken the time to read this. Please send your prayers and positive thoughts to this amazing man. He has been battling leukemia for the past few years. This has taken its toll on his body, but not his spirit, which is stronger than ever.