When Congregation Gates of Prayer, Metairie’s sole Reform temple, gets ready to celebrate the retirement of its senior rabbi, they do so in a very big way. As Rabbi Robert Loewy prepared to retire and move on to the revered status of emeritus rabbi, the congregation turned out in big numbers for the Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services and other activities including a gala on Saturday night and a picnic on Saturday afternoon.
Rabbi Howard Laibson, a friend of Loewy’s since their days as young leaders of the Reform movement and an assistant rabbi to Loewy in Houston at Temple Emanuel, used the opportunity on Friday evening to extol the virtues of his colleague and mentor.
“Let me make it clear to all of you here that your rabbi became and remains one of the most outstanding and respected rabbis throughout the Reform Movement,” Laibson said, himself an emeritus rabbi out of Temple Shir Chadash in Lakewood, CA.
“Bob (Loewy), as you were probably aware,” Laibson added, “was born to be a rabbi. Even as a young child, he had that rabbinic neshoma, that rabbinic soul.”
In referring to the weekend, titled “Shalom Rav,” Loewy pointed out it had many meanings to him, including the song he learned as a young man and a version of it he and Cantorial Soloist Victoria Cohen May sing at Shabbat worship services. It also can mean a goodbye and a reference to a job well done after 34 years on the pulpit, he admitted.
Earlier in the evening, the congregation honored the rabbi by naming the lobby in his honor. “The Loewy Lobby? I like the alliteration,” he began. “I’m truly appreciative that our Board of Trustees has chosen to name the lobby in my honor, recognizing not only my rabbinate, but the congregation. I love this particular expression”
Loewy continued: “Our lobby is where we welcome all who enter,” pointing out that it is the place where congregants first assemble to pray and to connect with one another.
Loewy estimated that he had officiated at 430 baby namings and brisses, 172 weddings and 607 funerals during his term of office.
But lifecycle events, while important, he said, are a way for him to connect with the members. “In truth, I love the rabbinate as a profession,” he explained. “It has allowed me to be a fulltime Jew and placed me in position to try and make a difference. And I have loved being rabbi for this kehilat kedoshah, this holy congregation.”
The theme carried over into a picnic on Saturday afternoon at Lafreniere Park and a “Jerusalem Under the Stars” themed gala at which Middle Eastern fare was on the menu and Panorama Jazz Band performed. Loewy was further honored that night with the performance of a specially-commissioned song by Jewish songwriter Julie Silver of the Oseh Shalom prayer derived from the Kaddish. A choir sang the song for Loewy as he, his wife, family members and friends looked on.
Loewy will continue to perform as senior rabbi for the next few weeks, leading the congregation in worship until the end of May, whereupon he will retire as incoming Rabbi David Gerber ascends to the pulpit on July 1.