Obituaries are updated regularly and archived on JN Online:
A Life Of
Temple Israel's M Robert Syme touched
generations of Detroiters.
SHELLI LIEBMAN DORFMAN
abbi M. Robert Syme "had
the unique ability to make
you feel he really, really
knew you — like you were
truly special," said his Temple Israel
colleague Rabbi Paul Yedwab.
"He was a wonderful, charming, sil-
ver-tongued orator, but his real talent
When Rabbi Syme of West
Bloomfield died March 11 at age 82,
after a long illness and home hospice
care, he left behind a legacy touching
thousands of lives and turning his
congregation at Temple Israel into the
largest of families.
"He was a universalist," said his son
Rabbi Daniel Syme of Temple Beth
El. "He loved and respected all people
— both non Jews and Jews of all dif-
ferent levels of observance — and
always looked for the best
in everyone. Everyone he
touched has a story:"
"His life was dedicated to
reaching out to people, and
they, in turn, reached out
to him," said Jerome S.
Kaufman of Bloomfield
Hills, national secretary of
the Zionist Organization of
America. "People would
never stop greeting him
and reminding him of how he was of
such great help to them at some diffi-
cult time in their life."
Ida Nathan's career path was guided
by Rabbi Syme. "I don't think he ever
realized what an impact he had on so
many people," said Nathan of
Bloomfield Hills. "I never went to
Sunday school or religious school, but
as an adult, I took all the wonderful
classes he taught. One day he came to
me and asked, 'Would you like to
teach second grade?' He was my men-
tor, and I ended up teaching at
Temple Israel for 41 years."
"He was a man of action who could
cast a giant shadow and take some-
thing he believed in and make it hap-
pen," said Rabbi E.B. "Bunny"
Freedman, executive director of Jewish
Hospice and Chaplaincy Network in
"He was the one who helped estab-
lish a Jewish presence in hospice in
Detroit. When I first started working
in hospice care, he came to me and
asked what he could do to make
Jewish hospice a reality. If not for
Rabbi Syme and his energy and formi-
dable support and belief, there would
be no Jewish hospice today."
Rabbi M Robert Syme
Zionist And Interfaith Links
Rabbi Syme "was active in virtually
every inter-religious and Jewish organ-
ization in Detroit," Rabbi Daniel
Syme said of his father, who was presi-
dent of the Family Service Society of
Metropolitan Detroit, and a member
Doctor of Divinity degree by Hebrew
Union College-Jewish Institute of
Religion in New York.
A Zionist since his youth, he
remained a staunch supporter of Israel
and made introducing his congrega-
"We have all been blessed by
his warmth and wisdom."
- Rabbi Irwin Groner, Congregation Shaarey Zedek
of the Rabbinical Advisory Council of
the United Jewish Appeal and the
Commission on Jewish Education of
the Union of American Hebrew
He marched on Washington with
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was
the first rabbi to speak at Royal Oak's
Shrine of the Little Flower (the former
church of Father Charles Coughlin,
the anti-Semitic radio priest).
Among his many honors, Rabbi
Syme was a recipient of the Jewish
National Fund's Keter Shem Tov
(Crown of the Good Name) award
and was bestowed with an honorary
tion to Israel a primary goal.
"Rabbi Syme was an ardent Zionist,
a past president of the Zionist
Organization of Michigan, a past
recipient of the Louis Brandeis Award
[and] a proud Jew who reveled in his
heritage," Kaufman said.
• Rabbi Syme received the ZOA's
Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award in
1991, later earned by his son, Rabbi
Daniel. The family commitment to
Israel also was passed down to Daniel's
son, Josh, 24.
"My strong commitment to Israel
came from my grandfather," said Josh,
who has been to Israel on seven occa-
sions, including twice as a youth
leader. "My love for Judaism and my
connection with interfaith groups also
came from him."
Also a patriotic American, the rabbi,
born in Winnepeg, Canada, on June
25, 1920, began celebrating his birth-
day on July 4 instead when he became
an American citizen.
Rabbi Syme's involvement in inter-
religious issues earned him the
Southfield-based Ecumenical Institute
for Jewish-Christian Studies' first
Dove Award in 1994.
Introduced to the rabbi through
interfaith work, Frank D. Stella of
Detroit, a friend of 30 years, said, "I
learned so much about the Jewish
faith from him. I also learned about
life from watching his unselfish and
simple way of caring and giving to the
poor and his understanding of what
people needed. He had a sense of
when someone needed help before
they could ask for it."
Rabbi Syme left the legacy of the value
and appreciation of family to his sons,
Rabbi Daniel and David Syme. Rabbi
Syme lived his last year in the home of
David and his wife, Victoria.
"I was so proud to be his son," said
SYME on page 124