A dear friend, Rabbi Albert Plotkin, passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 3. Here are some announcements of his passing, which refer to his longtime service to the Phoenix community since his 1955 arrival at Temple Beth Israel. These news stories describe him very well.
Here is also a YouTube interview
I met Rabbi Plotkin when I taught college classes in Arizona in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The religious studies department often called upon him to visit classes and explain Judaism, and he visited my class, too. He and I hit it off. He was about the same age as my mother, and of course was a different faith. But we always enjoyed chatting. As these tributes indicate, he was a character and very fun to spend time with. I visited him at Beth Israel when it was still located on (if I remember correctly) 10th Avenue in Phoenix, rather than its eventual location in Scottsdale. I took confirmation classes to Saturday morning services there for "interfaith experiences," as well as to a mosque and a Native American congregation.
My wife Beth and I visited him during the summer of 2008 when we were in Phoenix. He was staying at a Scottsdale hotel because he had had a minor house fire which required repairs to his home. I called him on his birthday, September 8, each year, and last fall he seemed particularly touched that a Gentile colleague remembered. With Rosh Hashanah upcoming, he prayed that my and my family’s names would be written in the Book of Life. I still mist up when I think of that.
Two personal responses to Rabbi Al. One is that my interest of Judaism, which had begun years before, were definitely enlivened by my acquaintance with him. I read books about Judaism for pleasure; in my work I’ve struggled to understand the Gospel in ways that are not anti-Jewish; and in my writings I’ve frequently cautioned people about the implicit and explicit anti-Judaism that we find in the New Testament writings. I think I purchased my copy (which I use often) of The Torah: A Modern Commentary at the Beth Israel bookstore.
Another is the sense of validation that Rabbi Al gave me. At that early point in my own career, I kept feeling pigeonholed by Christian colleagues: surely I wasn’t a good clergy if I was interested in academic work, and surely I wasn’t a serious scholar if I worked in the parish. I shouldn’t have let this kind of nonsense hurt my feelings as badly as it did. But, of course, for Rabbi Al my vocation was not at all surprising or off-putting and was, in fact, an exciting combination of passions for serving God and neighbor. He, too, loved caring ministry and scholarship, as well as the "prophetic," socially concerned aspects of both. More than many Christian clergy in my "younger days," he helped give me confidence in my sense of multi-track calling. I expressed my gratitude to him while he was alive and now I’m thinking about ways I can honor his memory.
In the meantime, I appreciate this prayer of praise by which Jews can hold to faith amid the bitterness of grief: http://www.yahrzeit.org/kaddish_eng.html. I also found the honorific for rabbis who have died: זכר צדיק לברכה, zekher tzadik livrakha, “may the memory of the righteous be for blessing.”