I was nervous about coming to Tucson because I knew I would be a co-rabbi with Rabbi Thomas Louchheim. He seemed nice at my interview weekend, but how would this work in practice?! Would it be awkward? Would it be unclear who had rabbinic authority? What would be the nature of our relationship?
I should not have worried. Rabbi Tom has been nothing but gracious, welcoming, thoughtful, and open-hearted. He has been proactive in looping me into information I needed to know as a newcomer here. He cooked me a pie when I was sick and gently offered advice and counsel, not imposing his views.
We are told in the Jewish law book, the Mishnah, “עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר, make for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend (Pirke Avot 1.6).” What does that mean?
Make for yourself a teacher means that you must go out of your way to identify those people in your life who have abundant wisdom and who can offer knowledge and experience which can directly help you. As a congregational rabbi, I can sometimes feel lonely with a considerable burden on my shoulders. Connecting with a teacher like Rabbi Louchheim, someone who can empathize with that burden, lessens my isolation. Furthermore, no one knows the Tucson community like Tom, inside and outside the ranks of Jewish Tucsonans. He has links to clergy and leaders from all religions and charitable organizations. He understands the underlying history not just of Kol Ami but also of Or Chadash and Temple Emanu-El.
Acquire for yourself a friend? Just like me, Rabbi Louchheim engages with Jewish texts, teachings, and ideas from the secular world. Even if we read the same thing, his interpretation will likely differ from mine, expanding my understanding. The Hebrew word for friend is chaver. It implies connection and companionship but also someone who challenges you and asks you tough questions. Tom provides that for me.
I remember my family and I had dinner with Rabbi Louchheim at my interview weekend. He talked about how he had made relationships the center of his career and built a community that way. Having worked with him, I know that is true. On countless occasions, someone will walk into Kol Ami and give him a big hug because of a bar mitzvah or baby blessing, a wedding, or a funeral that he has conducted for their family. I also know that there are innumerable encounters that Rabbi Louchheim has had with people in times of crisis and great personal need. He has always stepped up with compassion and empathy.
Tom, my teacher and friend, this week when we are between your official retirement events on May 5 and 13, thank you. My thanks are proffered, not just for what you have done for me until now but, as you settle into revered emeritus status, also for your support and friendship in the future.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen