SHERMAN – Rabbi Harvey M. Tattelbaum may be among the few Jewish spiritual leaders who has ever blessed a motorcycle, faced down two thieves while conducting a wedding ceremony, or been contacted by an alleged kidnapper.
For 30 years, Tattelbaum served in New York City as rabbi of the uptown Temple Shaaray Tefila and Congregation B’nai Israel in Greenwich Village. His new book, “Tales of the Village Rabbi: A Manhattan Chronicle,” explores life in these two very different places, from 1960 to 2001. Tattelbaum will discuss his book at the Jewish Community Center in Sherman on Sunday, July 10.
A native of Boston, Tattelbaum graduated from Boston Latin School and the Hebrew Teachers’ College high school (now Hebrew College Prozdor High School), before going on to Harvard University and Hebrew Teachers’ College, graduating with honors from both in the same week in 1955.
“I HAD to become a rabbi in order to help in whatever way I could, to help rebuild the Jewish people after the murderous devastation of World War II,” Tattelbaum says. He received a traveling fellowship to study at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem for a year, after which he returned to the U.S. and enrolled in Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He was ordained after three years of rabbinic studies, and then was drafted by Central Conference of American Rabbis to serve as a U.S. Navy chaplain, assigned for two years to the U.S. Marines at Parris Island Marine Corps Recruitment Depot in South Carolina.
When he returned to civilian life, Tattelbaum first served at Temple Shaaray Tefila as assistant rabbi for three years, and then as rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel of New York, known as “The Village Temple,” for six years. “There, I went through some amazing, profound, and delightful experiences that never left my mind,” he says.
In 1971, Tattelbaum was asked to return to Temple Shaaray Tefila as senior rabbi, and served for the next 30 years, until he retired in June 2001. He wrote “Tales of the Village Rabbi: A Manhattan Chronicle” in his study in New Milford, where he resides when he’s not in Manhattan.
“Tales” is a collection of essays on Tattelbaum’s experiences serving both congregations, and paints a picture of Greenwich Village in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when it was still, in the author’s words, “the quirkiest, most charming, jazzy, eccentric and urban of environments, the center of all that was both quaint and ‘cool’: brownstones and beatniks, coffeehouses and college students, folksingers and freethinkers, poets and ‘prophets.’” It was also the place where Tattelbaum cut his teeth as a rabbi.
“My training hadn’t exactly prepared me for the bikers, thieves, ex-cons, eccentric old ladies, drug-users, cleavage-baring brides, and other Village denizens I encountered while serving the congregants of my spirited little temple,” he says.
Tattelbaum wrote the book to share some unusual and engaging experiences in a now-bygone world, and to reveal the common humanity among “uptown” and “downtown.” But he set out with another intention as well – to describe his own deep personal struggle with some of the more profound philosophical problems of ancient and modern religious life, and his quest to understand God.
“The Village Rabbi” will discuss his book on Sunday, July 10 at 11 a.m. at the Jewish Community Center in Sherman, 9 Route 39 South, Sherman, as part of the JCC’s “World We Live In” series. RSVP: (860) 355-8050 / Info: www.jccinsherman.org