|Maggid ben Yoseif / Jerusalem Torah Voice in Exile|
(left, Rabbi Abe Raich affixes a mezzuzah to the front door of the Griffin home in Pueblo, CO).
Abe Raich, 84
"Working together in an imperfect world." That is engraved on the marble burial stone Abraham Raich, 84, now shares with his wife, Adelyn
The rabbi emeritus at both the Conservative United Hebrew Congregation and Reform Temple Emanuel in Pueblo, CO., died on October 27, 2006, a year to the day that he attended a peace rally at Pueblo's Vietnam War Memorial noting and mourning the 2000th U.S. military death in Iraq.
Described by those who knew him best as "peace-loving, community-minded and ecumenical," Abe, as he preferred me to call him, was all of that and more. He also was the best friend the children of Joseph could have.
He became a rabbi at age 56 after retiring in 1980 from a career as a statistical quality control specialist at Pueblo's steel mill. Four years of study later at Yeshiva University in New York, he returned to Pueblo an Orthodox rabbi to walk the tightrope of leading both Conservative and Reform congregations. Pueblo Chieftain columnist Marvin Read phrased this diplomatically:
He also worked extensively with converts, especially Anusim or Hispanic Jews whose heritage included forced conversion to Catholicism in earlier generations. And his conversions -- because they were done Orthodox -- were recognized by the Reishut Rabbonim (chief rabbis) in Israel, an honor he shared with only 12 other rabbis in the entire United States.
I first learned of Rabbi Raich from my attorney in Jerusalem, former Puebloan, Jack Golbert, who had attended UHC before making his aliyah to Israel. We met for the first time at a Kol Nidre service during Yom Kippur in 2001. Shortly afterward I moved my family to Pueblo.
Here was the first Orthodox Jewish rabbi I had encountered in the U.S., who accepted me as a "Joe," and part of the family of Israel, without obligating me to convert to Judaism. While he bar-mitzvae'd my Jewish son and converted his Anusim mother back to Orthodoxy, he also recognized that a "bat kol" (voice from Heaven) overruled Jewish Law. And the bat kol I had heard and shared with him convinced him that these curious "Joes" showing up at UHC to learn Torah and Halachah (Jewish Law) and worship with their Jewish brothers were not to be turned away from a United "Hebrew" congregation.
He often departed from mesorah (the acceptable customs), and gave non-Jews the right of aliyah to the bema where the Torah scroll was unfurled and cantillated. Non-Jews also were allowed to perform other duties in his synagogue. And a few of these had adopted Hebrew names that ended "ben Yoseif." Unfortunately, not everyone at UHC was of a similar mind, and to keep peace in the congregation, I agreed to refrain from making aliyot to the bema and eventually left the synagogue to sanctify Hashem's Name privately.
That was a sad day for both of us, but it was evident as in the case of Joseph and his brothers. When Joseph sanctified Hashem publicly, he aroused the enmity of his brothers, but so long as he did so privately, there were no problems.
But the two of us had earlier studied the entire book of Hosea, his favorite, in some detail, researching numerous Hebrew commentaries and responsa. He became convinced that a remnant from this non-Jewish House of Joseph would eventually return and be reunited with the House of Judah and assisted me with the petition submitted to the revived Jerusalem Sanhedrin court toward that end. He also often commented on this spiritual move of "Joes" returning to Hashem and the Torah and did his best to accommodate it.
We especially enjoyed our trips together to visit his sister in a Denver retirement home and purchase Passover supplies, which continued despite my absence from the synagogue. And I accompanied him to some of the peace protests and public forums in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was an issue. At times, we simply agreed to disagree, a strategy Rabbi had often used to keep peace. Also, he was a sailor in WWII and his salty wit and charm and Popeye-like mannerisms, complete with a corn-cob pipe, were enduring to all.
He spoke most fondly of his beloved, Adelyn, who had been his debate opponent at a rival high school in Pueblo. Their "debates" continued through 53 years of marriage, until Adelyn, a noted peace activist in Pueblo, died in 2000.
His ecumenical involvement and "activism" endeared him to many in the community who were not Jewish yet regarded him as a wise rabbi and teacher. "Or," as Marvin Read of the Chieftain wrote of him, "if somewhat foreign to his religion, saint."
The Hebrew equivalent of a saint, which is not as foreign to Judaism is that of a "tzadik" or "bridge" to the World to Come. The work of a tzadik "bridging man with God" continues from the World Above after his/her death.
"Abe and Adelyn" true to the inscription Rabbi had engraved years earlier on the marble stone that bridges their graves, are together again and working to help perfect an imperfect World Below.
Maggid ben Yoseif