By Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway
Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, pioneer of the interfaith movement, died last night. He left us on Rosh Hashanah, a High Holiday considered a time of rebirth and new beginnings for people of the Jewish faith. He was 98 years young.
Ailing with kidney failure, he had been hospitalized, but was back in his home, surrounded by loved ones.
As founder of The New Seminary for Interfaith Studies and The New Synagogue, Rabbi Gelberman taught interfaith concepts in New York of 40 years. His was the first seminary devoted to the training of ministers who can serve people of all faiths. Also a devout Jew and modern Hassidic Rabbi, he had a deep love of Jewish traditions, mystical Judaism and was also a lifelong yoga practitioner. He coined the expression, “Never instead, always in addition,” to explain his interfaith philosophy.
He continued teaching courses in Kabbalah and offering a monthly synagogue service up until very recently. Rosh Hashanah services this year were beautifully conducted by Rabbi Roger Ross and Rabbi Stuart Paris, although Rabbi Gelberman’s presence was missed by all.
Rabbi Ross, associate rabbi of The New Synagogue for more than a dozen years and director of The New Seminary for Interfaith Studies, sent a message to the congregation and to former students of the Rabbi last night.
“Dear ones, a great Sage and loving human being has passed,” he wrote. ” Our beloved Co-Founder Rabbi Joseph Gelberman (Chiam ben David v’ Esther) left this earth at 7:33pm 1 Tishri 5771 (9 September 2010). His passing was gentle and painless.”
“Rabbi always said the only way to live is in Joy and he would want to be remembered with that joy rather than with sadness.”
Many of Rabbi Gelberman’s students and congregants today remembered Rabbi for his great wisdom, love and awesome sense of humor – and for the mission that imparted to so many of us.