Kevin Riordan: Rabbi brings wealth of experience to post

Posted: November 17, 2011

Rabbi Richard F. Address is recharging his career at an age when many people retire.

Address, 66, became senior rabbi of M'kor Shalom in Cherry Hill in July. After 30 years in regional and national leadership positions in the Reform Judaism movement, he's leading a local congregation again, and loving it.

"There's nothing I'd rather do," says Address, who succeeds Rabbi Barry Schwartz. "Being a rabbi is the greatest thing in the world."

A proud Philly native and longtime Mantua Township resident, the charismatic, energetic Address says M'kor and its membership of 750 families "took a chance on me."

A chance?

"I am not 35 years of age, with a young family. I'm at the senior end of my career," the grandfather of three observes, sitting in his book-lined office in the Evesham Road synagogue.

Senior or not, "we're very fortunate to have him," says Stuart Alperin, who with his wife, Marylee, was a founding member of M'kor more than 30 years ago.

Address "has spent most of his life as a rabbi's rabbi, helping others do their jobs better," Alperin adds. "He has really become a national expert on the family. He brings us all that expertise."

Now, Address says, "I want to see if I can put into practice in my own congregation what I've tried to teach other congregations to do."

Ordained in 1972 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Address served as an assistant and in 1974 a full-time rabbi at a synagogue in Southern California.

He took a position with the Union for Reform Judaism's regional office in Philadelphia in 1978, beginning his relationship with M'kor - as a member of the congregation - not long after.

As a regional director serving 60 congregations in five states, Address founded the URJ's Department of Jewish Family Concerns in 1997. He developed model programs to help families deal with aging, addiction, homosexuality, and other concerns.

And in 1999, after earning a doctorate of ministry from Hebrew Union's postgraduate Center for Mental Health, he says he fully recognized why he became a rabbi.

"It had to do with my own personal family history," he says. "I came from a family of divorces and remarriages. . . . I realized my rabbinate was a way of trying to recreate what I felt I had never had.

"I call it a theology of relationships. The most powerful thing we have as human beings are the relationships we have with other people.

"A congregation has to be, and is one of the last vestiges, where interaction of human beings takes precedence."

Speaking softly, but with palpable passion, Address says he hopes to build on the programs at M'kor to create a culture that is fully "holistic, organic, and built on relationships," including those among the generations.

One challenge: Jews can now enjoy at least some of the benefits of affiliating with a synagogue without actually doing so.

"In the 1970s, the competition, quote unquote, was other congregations," Address says. "Now the competition is the fact that people can get their Judaism without joining a congregation. Our competition is websites and fee-for-service, freelancing rabbis."

Hence his focus on human beings - rather than pixels on a screen.

Address "has got this combination of creativity and compassion," says Stefanie Cohen, president of M'kor.

"When he talks about building relationships and making sure no one is excluded, he's genuinely passionate about that. I can't imagine a more fun and exciting colleague to work with."

A rabbi's work "is fun. Never boring," Address says.

"The real kick is when you are with people and you know you've touched them at a place where their heart and soul is. That's priceless. That makes it all worthwhile."


Kevin Riordan:

To view a video of Rabbi Richard F. Address, go to www.philly.com/

rabbiaddress


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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