Judea Reform rabbi to retire

Rabbi John Friedman will retire in 2015
Aug. 08, 2013 @ 06:41 PM

Rabbi John Friedman, a leader at Judea Reform Congregation and in the Durham faith community, announced his retirement Thursday. He will officially retire during the summer of 2015, but will take a sabbatical from August 2014 until the next June, making this next year his last.

In 2015, Friedman will have served Judea Reform for 35 years. He turns 64 this December. Much has changed during his tenure. When he arrived at Judea Reform in 1980, being Jewish in Durham was exotic, as it was for Catholics then, too, he said. Neither is true now as Durham has grown. When Friedman began his job in Durham, the congregation included 130 families. Now the synagogue has 630 families and is part of a campus that includes the Levin Jewish Community Center and Lerner Jewish Community Day School.

“When I came here, the congregation had just elected a woman to be president of the congregation. Now gender is not noticed in that role,” Friedman said. Theological issues have changed, too, he said, like questions of Jewish families and who is a Jew. Nationwide Reform Judaism has gotten smaller, like mainline Christian denominations, though not in Durham. But the biggest two changes over the years have been in the role of women and technology, he said.

Technology has made a sea change of difference, Friedman said. What clergy do all day changed because of the Internet and cell phones.

“People have a tremendous increase in access to clergy,” he said. Instead of arranging a meeting through his secretary, people can just email him. “It means we can do a tremendous amount more, and we do a tremendous amount more because of access,” Friedman said.

His specific plans for retirement are to be determined, as it is still two years out. His sabbatical year will likely be in a university setting. He previously spent sabbaticals at Harvard University.

Judea Reform’s associate rabbi, Leah Berkowitz, left the congregation this summer for a job teaching at a Jewish high school in Boston, Friedman said, so the congregation is searching for two rabbis. Friedman will not be part of the search for his replacement, but after his retirement plans to remain part of Judea Reform and be a help to his successor if the new rabbi chooses.

The long notice of his departure, Friedman said, is to allow time for a national placement service to find a new rabbi.

“I’ll go away on sabbatical mid-August [in 2014] and hope another is in place, and will mind the store, then be installed after I leave,” he said.

What is sure is Friedman and his wife, Nan Friedman, will remain in Durham.

“I love Durham and plan to keep living in Durham. My wife and I are very sewn into this community and love being here,” he said.

Friedman’s retirement announcement follows the retirement of friend and fellow Durham faith leader Rev. Joe Harvard, who retired in May after 33 years leading First Presbyterian Church in Durham. The two men frequently worked together on interfaith projects, like Durham Congregations In Action, which both have led.

“I value his friendship and our relationship as colleagues,” Harvard said Thursday. “He’s been a dear friend and contributed so much to the life of Durham.”

Friedman said when he retires, he will have spent 43 years as a rabbi. The 35 years alone at Judea Reform, he said, are a long career by any measure. Events at Judea Reform Congregation around Friedman’s retirement will be determined later.