Farewell Tribute to Rabbi Shalom Plotkin
I had penned this message at Lag B'Omer time, enlivened by picnic celebrations recounting the heroic exploits of inspired teachers like the ancient Talmudic great, Rabbi Akiba. Akiba, in storied days of yore, braved cruel oppression to teach enlightened Torah in opposition to the accepted Roman party line. Thankfully, today as weIl, do we benefit from the courageous free-thinking of supremely talented teachers such as the proud feminist, Anna Quindlen, who is heroically stepping aside - at the top of her journalistic game - to make room for a newly budding generation of word smiths and aspiring social critics.
My tenure of more than two decades has witnessed a goodly number of other colleagues of immense ability rotate in and out of the town. Why then do I single out Rabbi Plotkin for special mention? Primarily, I believe, because one to whom much is given, much is owed. Since our two shuls are near neighbors - both proximate to the newly refurbished JCC - following my serious heart attack, several years back, Reb Shalom persistently cajoled me into the gym I had never set foot into for more than a dozen years. He then acted as a patient and painstaking physical trainer and motivational coach for crucial rehabilitation exercises I might very probably never have undertaken on my own. Ever since, we have grown close together, as personal and professional confidantes, undertaking a slew of joint projects, both Jewish and ecumenical, from building an Indian Orphanage - due to a deadly tsunami - to the projected A.C. Boardwalk Holocaust Memorial.
As a result, we have been dubbed by some JCC regulars as their rabbinic dynamic duo. Because just as Reb Shalom's boundless energy, unflagging enthusiasm, and undimmed idealism have continually provided the spiritual wind beneath Beth El synagogue's wings, so has he invariably fanned and stoked my own rabbinic sparks. In many instances I've simply emulated Rabbi Shalom's remarkably modest personality and naturally forgiving neshama. Especially the rare attribute I can only label principled genuineness. With little or no pretense and showmanship - from the depth of his yiddishe heart and kishkes, Reb Shalom says what he means and means what he says.
So, fare thee well, precious friend, along with your vibrant children and haimish rebbitzin, as you now bring your wondrous touch and willing heart to build a new tabernacle in another comer of our People's vineyard. Your grateful congregation and community-at-large collectively wish you their heartfelt mazel and bracha. We shall not soon see your like again.
Dr. Gordon L. Geller, Rabbi