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March 14, 2003 - Image 56

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-03-14

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

Spirituality

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RECONSTRUCTIONIST

STUDENT RABBI BLENDS

LIFE EXPERIENCES WITH

SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP

AT T'CHIYAH.

SHELLI LIEBMAN DORFMAN

StaffWriter

A

Steve Gutow talks
with T'chiyah
members.

fter a successful 20-year climb up
the political and legal ladder, Steve
Gutow found himself jumping off
the rungs and landing in rabbinical
school.
Referring to himself as "a recov-
ering Texas lawyer," members of
Congregation T'chiyah under-
stand what it took for Gutow to
make the career and life change
that, at age 54, brought him to
spend his sixth and final year as a
Reconstructionist rabbinical stu-
dent at their synagogue.
"In addition to his enthusiasm
and intensity about his rabbinic
studies, he brings to us such
diverse life experiences," said Mary
Ellen Gurewitz, T'chiyah presi-
dent.
Once a law firm partner prac-
ticing business and government
law with dreams of running for
political office — even of becoming governor
of his home state of Texas — Gutow is confi-
dent he has found his place as a spiritual leader
within the Reconstructionist movement.

The Road To Philly

In the early 1990s, Gutow had been living in
Washington, D.C., where he had organized
and was directing a new group built around
Jewish social justice values, American liberal-
ism and grassroots populist politics. At first, he
said the task sounded like "a pathway to
Nirvana." But as the organization grew with
success, he found himself questioning his
choice of political involvement. "I found
myself looking at people and thinking, "What
could I get from them? How much influence
does he or she have?" he said.

3/14
2003

56

About that time, he was able to fulfill a
longtime calling to visit Cambodia. "I saw
monuments to those who had died. I had an
English-speaking guide who had been afraid to
speak English because he feared his own broth-
er would turn him in to authorities, and I vis-
ited a high school in Phnom Pen that had
been turned into a torture prison," Gutow
said. "I felt such humility and such great anger
at what had happened to these people and I
questioned whether goodness and grandeur
could live side by side."
. The deep realization of the suffering that
had occurred there changed the focus of his
life. "Suddenly, the pursuit of power seemed
like a prison sentence," he said. "Nothing I
would want to spend my life doing. For me,
the idea of being governor, president or chang-
ing the world through political action encoun-
tered a timely and justifiable death."
After a visit to Israel, he returned to
Washington, D.C. "I started the move to turn
my life around," he said of a decision to look
into the rabbinate.
Raised as a Conservative Jew, Gutow says he
visited the Reconstructionist Rabbinical School
in Philadelphia "almost on a lark. I realized the
movement embraced a very spiritual compo-
nent but, even more importantly, I knew I
belonged there. I knew I wasn't doing this for a'
job — but for a life," he said.
Accepted to the college contingent on pass-
ing a Hebrew language test, he said, "I became
a Hebrew maniac." He spent three months in
Israel, living in an absorption center, studying
Hebrew.

The Reconstructionist Synagogue

Since arriving at T'chiyah in Sept. 2002,
Gutow has taken on all the roles of a rabbi at
the synagogue with 35-40 member families.
While services are held each Shabbat — on
alternating Friday nights or Saturday mornings
— Gutow is there one weekend each month.

He joins the congregation's lay leadership in
running services, using the Reconstructionist
movement's Kol Haneshamah prayer book.
"He is available to give advice about the
Torah portion and offer himself as a rabbinic
resource," Gurewitz said. "He also meets with
the children in the congregation on Sundays
and is available for pastoral care — even by
phone — when he is back in Philadelphia." ,
Gutow has become involved in the monthly
lecture series Gurewitz and the synagogue
board have sponsored on Jewish-Arab relations
titled, "Connections and .Conflicts: The
Complex Relationship Between Jews and
Arabs — Past, Present and Future." He helped
organize the classes that run February through
May, and led the first session, "The Golden
Age of Spain: The Rich Dynamic Community
Forged by the Connection of Jews and
Muslims," attended by nearly 60 participants.
• A former Democratic Party organizer, "he
was so intense at transferring his skills into rab-
binic Judaism," Gurewitz said.
Gutow also had incorporated Jewish inter-
ests into his legal and political life. He served
as regional director for Southwestern United
States, American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC), was executive director of
the National Jewish Democratic Council in
Washington, D.C., and was a founding board
member of Amos: National Jewish Partnership
for Social Justice.

Reconstructionist Judaism

One of more than 100 Reconstructionist com-
munities in North America, T'chiyah is joined
in the Detroit area by the Ann Arbor
Reconstructionist Havurah and the
Reconstructionist Congregation of Detroit.
Established by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan,
Reconstructionist Judaism is based on the
evolving religious civilization of the Jewish
people. Reconstructionist congregations look
to bridge the gap between tradition and

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