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Thank you, Rabbi Joe

Posted: February 26, 2014

Today I attended the funeral of Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz in Stamford, Connecticut, where I grew up.  Rabbi Joe, as he liked to be known, lived life as if every day and every encounter mattered.  And to him, it did.  I learned so much from this very wise and very zestful man, but today a few rememberances stood out:

  • Laura, his daughter, said her children told her they learned from him that “LIFE IS GOOD.  Don’t make it bad.”
  • He attended the March on Washington in 1963 with Jackie Robinson (how did I not know that?).  They actually planned and organized the Stamford contingent to the march.
  • One day his son Bart asked him, “You always say life is good every day.  Today you officiated at 2 funerals, made a shiva call and visited sick people in the hospital.  What was so good about today?”  And Rabbi Joe replied: “at these moments in people’s lives, they need guidance, spirituality or just a listening ear.  What a privilege that I am in a position to give those things to them.”
  • He loved Torah.  He was especially excited that each passage could be read/understood differently by each person, and by the same person at different moments.  His niece said that they loved to argue about passages.  And after sometimes hours discussing, she would agree to disagree with him and he would agree that she needed to change her mind.
  • Right up until his last hour, he was learning and changing.  He was never afraid to have his ideas evolve and was proud when his learning today changed his conclusions from yesterday.
  • He advised people who expressed interest in becoming rabbis that they must LOVE people, truly LOVE people.  Otherwise, they can never consider being a rabbi.
  • When he mentored young rabbis, he told them, “no job is beneath you and no person unworthy of your full attention.”  This was while setting up chairs and picking up trash from the floor.
  • He believed that when rules or Jewish practice conflicted with a person’s feelings, go with the person’s feelings.

These are only a few of the gems from the numerous eulogies.    What I most remember is Joe’s Judaism as joyous, open-minded, loving and all-empowering while at the very same time understanding that this Judaism compelled him to work for better relations with folks of other religions and cultures.  Despite a life-long commitment to Judaism as a way of life, there was never a hint of chauvinism.  When JCHE says it is an organization based on Jewish values but open to all, Joe Ehrenkranz provides a beautiful embodiment of it.  Thank you, Rabbi Joe.



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