Rabbi Groner's book of sermons o ers stories and insight from nearly 50 years in the pulpit.
Special to the Jewish News
ut first, a story"
That's the way Irwin Groner, rabbi
emeritus of Congregation Shaarey Zedek,
has started many of the approximately
2,000 sermons he has delivered in his almost 50 years
as a rabbi. So, first a story.
Just before surgery, a patient asks: "What are my
chances, Doc?" The doctor smiles and says: "100 per-
cent — not a worry in the world." The patient per-
sists: "How do you know?" The doctor replies: "Easy.
Nine out of 10 die as a result of this operation. My
last nine patients died, so that means you'll be just
Story humor is sprinkled throughout a
collection of 24 of Rabbi Groner's best ser-
mons assembled in a 228-page book titled
Renewing Jewish Faith (University of
Michigan Press; $30). It's a moving and
insightful collection, offering observations on
Judaism and the values of Jewish life.
"It was my goal to strike the proper balance
between tradition and modernity so that we
could travel together the path that leads to the
renewal of Jewish faith in our time," Rabbi
Groner wrote in a letter that accompanied copies
of the book mailed to about 2,200 Shaarey Zedek
A. Alfred Taubman of Bloomfield Hills, the
shopping center developer and Jewish philanthro-
pist who is a member of the congregation and a
longtime friend of Rabbi Groner, financed the pub-
lishing of the book and made the High Holiday gift
to members possible.
"I'm glad I was able to do it," said Taubman. "It's
an important collection of sermons that everyone
The book's jacket has a star-studded cast of
endorsements, from such luminaries as Sen. Carl
Levin, D-Mich., Gov. Jennifer Granholm, U.S.
District Judge Avern Cohn, Federal Appeals Court
Judge Damon Keith, Shaarey Zedek past president
and industrialist-philanthropist William Davidson and
Detroit's Cardinal Adam Maida. The cardinal praises
Rabbi Groner as having "the special God-given talent
of being such a spokesman for God's word."
The rabbi points out that the focus of many of his
sermons has been the central importance of the syna-
gogue in the renewal of Jewish life — it's the institu-
tion in which Jewish values achieve permanence,
"where a Jew feels the awareness of the Divine
Presence, celebrates life's sanctity and observes rever-
ence for hallowed seasons and sacred moments."
"These affirmations are conveyed as a sermon,
which is not simply a speech delivered from a pulpit,
but rather a distinctive kind of discourse, a spiritual
ideal validated by sacred texts that proclaim its tran-
scendental truth," the rabbi said.
The book is divided into six sections — or the six
"F's" — Folk, Faith, Family, Freedom, Forgiveness and
Future. Leading off the Folk section is "Why Be
Jewish," which is actually an essay with subtitles, and a
"defining statement" among all of the sermons in the
book, Rabbi Groner explained. "It's one of my
favorites and it was a good way to start, but it
doesn't really answer the main
and began shouting frantically: "Mary, Mary!" That
was the mother's name and she came running. "Son,"
she said, "you shouldn't call me Mary. I'm mother to
you." The lad said: "Yes, I know, but this store is full
of mothers, and I want mine."
Rabbi Groner can't recall the subject of the first ser-
mon he ever delivered — in 1957 at his first pulpit,
Agudath Achim Congregation (150 families) in Little
Rock, Ark. But it must not have been memorable, he
points out, because he didn't include it in the book.
He joined Shaarey Zedek as an assistant rabbi in
1959, and became senior rabbi in 1967, a year after
the tragic death of Rabbi Morris Adler, who was
gunned down during a Sabbath service by a deranged -
youth. He assumed emeritus status last year.
Rabbi Groner cites two sermons as definitely mem-
orable and probably the toughest he ever had to give.
"We Are All Israelis Now" was delivered on the
Sabbath after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,
and discussed how those terrible events left Americans
with feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty — the
same plight that Israel has experienced for ages.
He gave the sermon "When Life Is Not Fair" short-
ly after the death of his daughter, Debbie Groner, 46,
of a rare muscle disease three years ago. In it, he asks
the philosophical questions: "Why do the righteous
suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people?"
His daughter's death and the untimely passing of
his good friend and longtime congregant, former
ambassador to Norway David Hermelin of Bingham
Farms, four months earlier "was the darkest period of
our lives," he reflects, speaking for his wife, Leypsa,
to whom he has been married for 50 years and to
whom he dedicates the book. He keeps a picture of
Hermelin close to him on his desk.
The Groners have two sons: Wayne County
Circuit Judge David Groner, and Joel, a clinical
psychologist in Chicago.
Asked whether it has been difficult to come up
with new sermon topics throughout the years —
current events aside — because rabbis largely talk
about the same Bible and holiday subjects year after
year, he answers: "Yes ... and no."
explores all of the possibilities
It's the type of remark that has come to be known
and asks a lot of other tough questions along
as a "Gronerism," always keeping congregational audi-
ences smiling. Another is: "Before I speak, I want to
He plans to deliver at least three of the sermons on
say a few words."
Kol Nidre night or Yom Kippur day. Those sermons
He warns young rabbis just getting into the "ser-
are "Grant Honor Unto Thy People," "The
mon business" to be wary of political topics. He dab-
Everlasting Covenant" and "The Miracle of
bled in politics as chairman of the Stop Anti-Ballistic
Dialogue." The latter tells of a youngster who became Missile Committee in the 1970s, when the United
separated from his mother in a crowded supermarket
GOLDEN WORDS on page 72