RA's Oldest Member to Turn 100

Posted on: Monday December 19, 2011

By Arthur Lavinsky, Beth El Congregation of Phoenix
Excerpted from a sermon delivered on December 17, 2011.

Pictured below: Rabbi Louis Barish in uniform.

Rabbi Louis Barish, a long time member of Beth El Congregation and a long time inhabitant on earth, will be celebrating his 100th birthday this week, December 22. What a wonderful occasion. The fact that he is a role model is indisputable.

In addition to a distinguished military career, characterized by his sense of duty and service, Rabbi Barish is a Mensch, a man of great wisdom, generosity, and kindness. He is a man of letters and immense accomplishment including writing and editing several important books of note, and we are all indebted to him.

I’m going to share a few thoughts based on my contact with some of our colleagues in the Rabbinical Assembly, the International association of Conservative Rabbis as well as a few thoughts of my own.

The first one is quite coincidental, but just last week, on our rabbinic listserv, one rabbi asked for reccommendations about sources for a class on Jewish theology, and Louis & Rebecca Barish's Basic Jewish Beliefs, published By Jonathan David in 1961, was recommended.

Think about that. Most books written 50 years ago end up on being thrown out or recycled. Rabbi and Rebecca Barish’s book is still out there, and are recommended by respected rabbis even to this day. (And even though I only knew Rebecca for a short period of time before her passing, I miss her dearly. She was certainly one of a kind).

One correspondence from a colleague, I believe, will have special significance to many of you. Let me read it in its entirety:


I am one of your predecessors at Beth El, Phoenix, serving in the mid 70's.

Once, I invited Lou, who had just arrived in Sun City, to drive with me to one of our Palm Springs RA retreats.

Having left Phoenix, while cruising westward through the desert, Lou asked me to stop and pull over. Not fully understanding the reason, I agreed

To his suggestion. We got out of the car and he asked me join him in a stroll. After five minutes among the brush, he bent down to show me some incidental plant. As we crouched over it, he explained its various parts and its inner unnoticed beauty. Then, he said, "This we find in the middle of the desert. Beauty waiting to be discovered. Perhaps we should make this effort in our human relationships as well."

This, his private d'var torah, something I will never forget.

I later realized that he possessed along with his semikha from JTS, Phd's in Mathematics and Botany. Here was a man who had the unique ability of learning, integrating and finding meaning of God's world.

My b'rakhot to him upon this milestone in his life.
Baruch Gold
Metar, Israel

That’s a hard one to follow, and I’m not going to try to “one up” that tribute, but even though I have only known Rabbi Barish for about 8.5% of his life, I continue to enjoy Rabbi Barish’s presence and influence. While he may have me by a few years, I have identified with him on several levels. First, we are both rabbis ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Second, we are both retired U.S. Military Chaplains. Rabbi Barish retired from the Army, and I retired from the Navy. He was active duty and served in wartime, and I was but a weekend warrior in a time of peace. But I have also seen his love and devotion to Beth El Congregation and that has been an inspiration to me. I know that in addition to coming to services with great regularity (certainly as often as he can), he has also made Beth El his spiritual home. He travels many miles to get here on Shabbat and holidays from Sun City, and passes many synagogues along the way. But we are his Beth El family, and he is part of our family and we love him for that. 

When a fellow Jew celebrates a birthday, it’s customary to greet him or her Ad Me'ah V’esrim or in Yiddish, Biz Hundred UnTzvantzik – may you live to be 120! Here at Beth El, a multi-generational congregation where we are privileged to have in our midst many “seasoned citizens,” I’ve learned that if you tell someone approaching 100 “May you live to 120,” you are likely to hear “What? You don’t like me?”

So Rabbi Barish, I’m not going to risk insulting you by telling you how long you should live. May it be a good long time, and may you be blessed with good health, vigor, continued wisdom, and the love of your family and friends. We don’t generally sing Happy Birthday in Shul, but today, we’ll make an exception -- but it’s got to be in Hebrew: Yom Huledet Sameah!

Note: The following bio is excerpted from the book entitled Recognizing Over a Half a Century of Service, edited by Eric Yanoff, which honored 50 year RA members at the RA Centenial Celebration on March 27, 2000.

Throughout his rabbinate, Rabbi Louis Barish has lived a life of exemplary scholarship and service. He studied at Yeshiva Isaac Elchanan from 1925 to 1935, and was ordained by his Rebbe Schulman. He also earned his B.A. from the City College of New York and his M.A. from Teachers College at Columbia University. Rabbi Barish was also ordained at J.T.S. in 1942, where he later received his D. H.L. and D. D. ln addition, he holds a Ph.D. from St. Louis University. His doctoral dissertations are entitled The Role of the Jewish Chaplain and The Role of the University Professor based on Faculty Self Perception and Student Expectation: Quantifying Consonances and Dissonances on the Campus

In addition to these works, Rabbi Barish has published the works High Holy Day Liturgy, Basic Jewish Beliefs, and Varieties of ]ewish Belief, and served as Editor of the book Rabbis in Uniform. His commitment to military chaplaincy is evident, as he served Jewish personnel in the United States, Europe, Korea, and Vietnam for twenty-three years, retiring in 1966 due to blindness. From 1946 to 1950 he also was Assistant Advisor on Jewish Affairs to the Commanding Generals of the United States in Europe on matters affecting the welfare of survivors of the Holocaust in the D.P. Camps and in the German Jewish Communities.

Having accomplished such meritorious service and commitment to learning, Rabbi Barish now lives in Sun City, Arizona. 

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