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August 11, 1989 - Image 47

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-08-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I Know I Am The Best I Can Be . . .
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Individual As You Are —
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are moving toward that in the
Reform movement."
At the same time, he recom-
mended that the synagogues
offer Shabbat family dinners,
to give Jewish families an op-
portunity to meet each other.
"The synagogue today . . . is
the single most under utilized
program facility in the
American Jewish communi-
ty," he said. "For many of our
parents, certainly our grand-
parents and great-grand-
parents, the synagogue was a
center of prayer, of study and
of meeting and it responded
to the rhythms of the lives of
an essentially nuclear family.
"Today we have two-income
families, divorced famiies,
singles, all of whom want to
be part of the synagogue. So,
we're going to have to develop
a whole new constellation of
programming that makes the
synagogue as much their
home as it was the- home of

'

was saved for a reason. The
doctor said I should become a
rabbi. I have lived with his
words in my ears. I do have a
sense of mission. I have a
sense that there's something
I have to do."
What he has done is gone
on to a meteoric rise through
the ranks of the Reform move-
ment. In 1972, he was the
assistant director of the Na
tional Federation of Temple
Youth. The next year, he was
appointed assistant national
director of education for the
UAHC and assistant director
of the Commission on Jewish
Education for the Reform
movement. In 1977, he was
named director of both bodies.
At the same time, he was for
five years rabbi of the-Stam-
ford Fellowship for Jewish
Learning, a chavurah in Con-
necticut. In 1981, he was
named director of the UAHC
television and film institute,

W hen you have an impact on

kids it will be reflected
in reality within three hours.
When they buy into something,
it changes their life.

their parents, -grandparents
and great-grandparents."

Born in Sharon, Pa., Syme
came to Detroit with his fami-
ly at age 8. He was graduated
from the University of
Michigan, where he was
elected to Phi Beta Kappa
honorary society, and was or-
dained in 1972 at the Hebrew
Union College — Jewish In-
stitute of Religion in
Cincinnati.
He also holds a doctorate in
education from Columbia
University Teachers College.
Married to the former
Deborah Shayne, he is the
father of a son, Joshua.
Syme didn't start out to be
a rabbi. He wanted to act, and
appeared in theatrical pro-
ductions at Mumford High
School and at U-M. However,
at age 20 a bout with cancer
inspired him to change his
tune. When the cancer was
detected, his doctor scheduled
exploratory surgery. The
surgery showed the cancer
had miraculously disap-
peared and Syme figured, "I

then executive assistant to
the UAHC president. He was
elected vice president in 1985.
He has published numerous
articles, several books and
wrote a series in the UAHC's
national newspaper, The
Jewish Home. With Detroit
funeral director David
Techner, Syme is working on
a book about the Jewish view
of death and dying to be
published within the next
year.
Although New York City is
home base right now, Syme
still feels a special attach-
ment to Detroit. "I consider
Detroit my home!' he said.
"Temple Israel is my temple."
His local ties came to the
fore in May when he gave the
eulogy at the funeral for
Detroit native Gilda Radner.
Syme and the late come-
dienne had been friends
through public school and
college.
Asked if he gave advice on
choosing the rabbinate as a
career, Rabbi M. Robert Syme
said he did not. "I told the im-

portant thing is, what we are
we are. We are Jews first and
foremost:' He lauded his son's
accomplishments. "He's the
kind of son who brings
nachas."
Albert Vorspan, senior vice
president of the UAHC, gave
high marks as well to the
younger Syme. "He has strict
leadership qualities!' Vorspan
said. "He doesn't feel com-
pelled to grab center stage
and stay there. He involves
groups!' Ruth Popkin, im-
mediate past national presi-
dent of Hadassah and current
national chairman of the
Hadassah Medical Organiza-
tion, concurred. "He's ex-
tremely articulate, knowl-
edgeable and very resourceful
. . . When he speaks, he
makes an impact. He makes
sense."
The greatest threats to
Jewish education today, ac-
cording to Syme, are the lack
of a Jewish teaching profes-
sion and the shortage of
Jewish religious school
teachers. To stem the tide,
Jewish communities "will
have to try and work through
federation grants, founda-
tions and through greater
allocation of both individual,
synagogue and communal
resources to elevate both the
compensation package,
benefits and, franky, also the
stature of the Jewish teacher
in synagogue life."
Alan D. Bennett, executive
vice president of the
Cleveland Bureau of Jewish
Education, credits Syme with
reshaping Reform Jewish
education. Not only did he
devise new curriculum ideas,
but pushed for adult educa-
tion, teacher training, text-
book publishing, and he en-
couraged teachers to study in
Israel. "He pushed the
Reform Jewish education
enterprise in new directions,"
Bennett said
According to Syme, the best
part of teaching is hitting the
mark, making a student
understand the subject at
hand. "It is when you see that
look in someone's eyes that
lets you know they unders-
tand what you just said, that
it has a transforming effect on
some aspect of their life!'
Syme said. "The reward is
when people realize their
Jewishness."
Syme finds teaching youth
particularly exciting. "The
payoff is immediate. When
you have an impact on kids it

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

47

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