By MYRON LOVE
In 1970, Temple Shalom was still in its early years and the Winnipeg’s fledgling Reform Congregation was meeting on Friday evenings at a building on the corner of Pritchard and Salter owned by the National Council of Jewish Women. The building, which happened to be just a block from my home, also housed the Golden Age Club.
In 1970, my zaida, Sam Pearlman, was 80 years old and recently retired from the grocery business. With time on his hands, the old Socialist began attending daily morning minyans at the Lubavitch Shul on Magnus and also Friday evening services at Temple Shalom. There was one family at the Temple, the Boyces, who looked after him very well on Friday evenings there.
I went with my zaida to services a couple of times because I was interested in meeting the rabbi, a local fellow, sort of, by the name of Jerry Steinberg. Steinberg was Temple Shalom’s first rabbi, but he wasn’t here long. His has been a life of spiritual quest which has led him into other disciplines while he maintained his solid Jewish faith.
Now, Steinberg has written a book encapsulating his life’s journey. “Rogue Rabbi, A Spiritual Quest – from Seminary to Ashram and Beyond” is quite a detailed – over 400 pages – which, while interesting in many parts, could have used considerable editing.
Unless you grew up in Regina in the 1940s and ‘50s – or have an interest in what life was like in that era on the Prairies, I would recommend skipping the first 70 pages of the book. Same goes for the next chapter, Steinberg’s reminiscing about being a volunteer on kibbutz in Israel in his early years.
Winnipeg (and former Winnipeg) readers of a certain age will find interesting tidbits on the third chapter – Steinberg’s first go around in Winnipeg. He moved here in the mid 1950s to attend university. His family followed him a short time later and opened a men’s clothing store in St. Boniface.
While at university, Steinberg became part of Rabbi Zalman Schachter’s circle. Schachter (now Schachter-Shalomi) was the Hillel director at the time and had a huge influence on the students who came in contact with him. Steinberg shares several anecdotes concerning Rabbi Schachter. It was in fact Schachter who steered himself toward the rabbinate and the Reform Movement.
You see, Steinberg’s lifelong goal to that point was to become a doctor. He was accepted into the program but found after just a few weeks that he was – as he puts it – “in over his head”. He reached one of several “what now?” points in his life. Having dropped out of medical school, he approached his rebbe for counseling as to what to do next. Schachter suggested he become a rabbi.
As Steinberg recalled, he was somewhat leery of the suggestion. He grew up in a traditional Conservative Jewish home. Orthodoxy was not his way and he couldn’t see himself being a Conservative rabbi. He knew nothing about the Reform Movement which was non-existent on the Prairies.
Schachter gave Steinberg a lot of information on the Reform Movement and arranged for him to visit the Hebrew Union College, the reform seminary in Cincinnati. Steinberg liked what eh saw and was accepted into the program.
Although he enjoyed the intellectual aspects of the program, what he found lacking, he wrote, was any sense of spirituality. So, after his second year, in one of many detours in his career path, he took a year off and went to Montreal. His original idea was to find spirituality through study with a Chabad Rabbi. Again, while enjoyed studying with the rabbi, he didn’t find the spirituality he was looking for. He found that sense of spirituality studying with a yoga and meditation teacher in Montreal.
It was in Montreal that he also met his first wife (and the mother of his two children), Shula.
After returning to Cincinnati and receiving his ordination, he took another detour. He and Shula moved into an ashram in the interior of B.C. for two years in Steinberg’s continuing quest for spiritual enlightenment.
Temple Shalom was to be Steinberg’s first and only pulpit. He arrived here in 1967 for what turned out to be a five-year stay. He writes at some length about his second time around in Winnipeg. He shares some of his differences with his congregation. For example, he wanted to attend a rally in Toronto to free Soviet Jewry and felt that the congregation should have paid for the trip. The congregation refused and he flew on his own dime.
Then there was his bring-a-prisoner-home-for Shabbat program which also didn’t go over well with the board of the congregation. Because Steinberg’s position was only a part time role, he had to find other ways to supplement his income. One of his additional jobs was Jewish prison chaplain. (He also taught a course at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.) He began bringing Jewish prisoners home for Shabbat dinner and bringing them to the Temple for Friday evening services. When he proposed making this a program of the Temple, the board flatly rejected the idea.
When his contract was up, he and the board mutually agreed to a parting of the ways. Once again, he was faced with what to do next. The answer came though an invitation to go to work for the Federal government as a yoga teacher. The idea was to see if addicts could be taught to use yoga and meditation to overcome their addictions.
Steinberg was on the government payroll for three years, but not much came of the program despite his best efforts and he was eventually dropped.
Now he faced a triple dilemma. He was unemployed, his marriage had unraveled and his soon-to-be ex-wife was offered a job in Toronto and wanted to move there with the children.
Most of the last hundred pages of the book chronicle Steinberg’s move to Toronto and his new career as a psychotherapist.
While Steinberg did come back here from time to time to see his parents, he did make one professional return to Temple Shalom a few years ago to lead a weekend workshop on meditation and dream interpretation.
You have to give the man credit. He has never been afraid to push the bounds of knowledge and try new avenues in his ongoing quest for spiritual enlightenment.