Three blue storage bins have been gathering dust in my garage for decades. They are among a total of twenty-four bins that cover most of the wall above my workbench. Several containers are regularly accessed. They have wrenches and drill bits, nuts, bolts, and nails; or paraphernalia associated with one Jewish holiday or another. Some of the boxes rarely get opened. These three bins haven’t been accessed since I filled them—that is, until last week.
Thirty-six and a half years ago, November 1974, I rescued the contents from incineration. My father had died suddenly and unexpectedly of heart disease. My mother was ridding herself of his accumulated possessions, including his files. Almost all of the papers ended up in flames in a rusty barrel in the Brunswick, Georgia dump. For some reason—mostly unknown to me then as now—I decided to hold onto his sermons, most of them dutifully typed on his Royal portable typewriter virtually every Thursday night for the better part of thirty-six years.
Dad received his ordination from The Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1938. I don’t think he had a pulpit that first year, but it’s possible he performed services somewhere. It must have been in 1939 that he arrived as rabbi of the Reform Jewish Tree of Life congregation in Columbia, South Carolina where he began his weekly preaching.
The exact contents of these boxes are still unknown to me, but his words, his voice beckons. Anticipating the centennial of Dad’s birth a year and a few weeks from today I have decided to embark on a challenging marathon of perusing this collection and selecting significant samples of it to publish in his memory. I hesitated jumping right into the project until I heard back from the archivist of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In response to my query he informed me that the CCAR would indeed be very interested in receiving the collection when I completed my task. There were few if any admonitions about how to handle the documents—mostly words of encouragement.
The little I have observed of the sermons so far makes the project very enticing. There are many manila folders with his familiar penciled handwriting with such topic headers as High Holy Days, Marriage, Family & Home, Sermons 1972-73, etc. It’s an adventure—like traveling to a distant land in search of a treasure, or better yet a lost loved one. I can’t anticipate what I will learn about my father or myself, what lessons in Judaism or ethics or social action will unfold. I don’t know how many I will be able to read or how much he will repeat his pet themes over the years. So much to discover!