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From strength to strength – Rabbi Small and Rabbi Lazowski to be honored in West Hartford

By Cindy Mindell

WEST HARTFORD – It took an extra year, but with a major renovation recently completed, The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford can now properly fete its two rabbis on Sunday, May 19.

“Celebration of Leadership and Community” will honor Rabbi David J. Small on his (belated) 10th anniversary at the pulpit, and Rabbi Emeritus Philip Lazowski.

Rabbi David Small (left) and Rabbi Philip Lazowski

Rabbi David Small (left) and Rabbi Philip Lazowski

Small, 52, joined The Emanuel as spiritual leader in August 2002. A graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yale University, Small also studied in Jerusalem, at The Hebrew University, Yeshivat Hamivtar, and the Shalom Hartman Institute. Before coming to The Emanuel, Small served as youth director and assistant rabbi at Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle, N.Y. and as rabbi at Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield, Mass.

Small has served on the boards of several Greater Hartford organizations, including Solomon Schechter Day School, FoodShare, the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy, and Hebrew High School of New England. He is a member of the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Ethics Committee and leads the annual Interfaith Hunger Seder at the Connecticut State Capitol. He is also involved in the University of Hartford Hillel and the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford and has taught throughout the community. Small has been active with the Jewish Theological Seminary Institute for Jewish Learning Context and teaches swimming every summer at Camp Ramah in Palmer, Mass. He is a regular commentator on the “Brad Davis Radio Program” on WDRC in Hartford. He has often been the spokesperson on local media affiliates regarding Jewish holidays and Israel.

Rabbi Philip Lazowski was born in 1930 near Vilna in Bielice, Poland (now Belarus), and survived the Holocaust by hiding for almost three years in White Russian forests.

Lazowski immigrated to Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1947. He earned a Bachelor of Religious Education degree from Yeshiva College Teachers Institute in 1955, a B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1956, and an M.A. from Yeshiva University Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration in 1960.

Lazowski joined Congregation Beth Sholom in Hartford as spiritual leader in 1955 and was ordained as rabbi by the Academy of Higher Jewish Learning (now The Academy for Jewish Religion) in New York in 1962. In 1969, Beth Sholom merged with Beth Hillel Synagogue in Bloomfield, where Lazowski was spiritual leader until 2000, and then became rabbi emeritus of the congregation. He earned a doctorate of divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Lazowski is a member and past president of the Capitol Region Education Council and a member and past chairman of the Rabbinic Fellowship of Greater Hartford. He serves as chaplain for several organizations, including the Connecticut State Police, Hartford Hospital Institute of Living, and the Connecticut State Senate.

A certified Hebrew school director, Lazowski has taught modern Hebrew at the University of Hartford, where he serves on the Maurice Greenberg Center of Judaic Studies Board of Visitors. Rabbi Lazowski is a member of Jewish Education Service of North America and the American Association for Jewish Education, as well as the Bloomfield Commission on Aging, and Interfaith Homes in Bloomfield. He is on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, the Mandell JCC of Greater Hartford, and the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford.

He is the author of six books: Reflections on Faith (Globe Printing Co.,1983); A Home Guide to Jewish Rituals, Holidays, and Prayer (1986); Passover Haggadah: From the Depths to Redemption (1991); Rediscovering the Prayer Book: The Daily Service (1995); Understanding Your Neighbor’s Faith (Ktav Publishing, Inc., 2004); and a memoir, Faith and Destiny (Goulet Printery, 2006). He is currently writing Why a Rabbi?

Small and Lazowski first met in 1988 when Small came to West Hartford to marry Deborah Chaimeides. In 2009, Lazowski became interim rabbi of The Emanuel when Small took a sabbatical year, and remained as rabbi emeritus after Small returned to the pulpit.

“Rabbi Lazowski is a rabbinic mentor, father figure, mischievous uncle, good friend and comrade, and a deeply authentic Jew and human being all rolled into one,” Small says. “He’s so generous with his time, energy, and wisdom, and he is very much about the people. Being around him always reminds me that that’s the most important thing.”

Emanuel’s president, Gail Weinstein, says that Small came to the synagogue with a clear vision of what he thought the congregation could be.

“The first part of my approach was to build on the many strengths already present at the synagogue when I arrived,” Small says. “We wanted to present a warm and inclusive tone, and that was not a difficult thing to achieve with our congregants. For example, we’re all really happy that our sanctuary has front and center high-priority seating for people in wheelchairs and that, after establishing a lift that made the bimah accessible in the early years, we now have a permanent ramp to the bimah in front. We try to be inclusive in other ways and talk about the Emanuel family as a big extended family.”

Small has helped the congregation build on its other strengths, which he describes as: being a community of chesed, or caring; t’filah, participatory prayer; talmud Torah, learning for all ages and abilities; tikkun olam, local and global advocacy; ahavat Yisrael, love of Israel and the Jewish people; kavod habriot, respect for all creatures and the idea that human beings are created in God’s image; the ideal of the mishkan, building of the tabernacle, where everyone has something to contribute; simcha, creating and celebrating joy; and derekh eretz, responsible conduct.

“There are larger trends in the wider community and the world that propel people toward entropy and greater fragmentation, and while the trends challenge the synagogue and community models, they also demonstrate why the synagogue model is needed more than ever,” Small says. “I hope that, as a congregation and as a rabbi, we can be very helpful to people in cultivating a real sense of meaning and connection in their lives, as individuals and families as well as on the congregational, communal level. I hope to help promote a genuine sense of strength, wholeness, and resilience to help us face the challenges that will be coming our way, because I anticipate that they will be profound and broad, but with God’s help, I believe we’re equal to the task.”

The “Celebration of Leadership and Community” honoring Rabbi David J. Small and Rabbi Philip Lazowski” will be held on Sunday, May 19, 6 p.m., at The Emanuel Synagogue. For information call (860) 236-1275 or email  jeff@emanuelsynagogue.org.

 Comments? email cindym@jewishledger.com

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