Rabbi celebrates milestone alongside his synagogue
Congregation Bene Shalom is celebrating it's 40th anniversary along with the 40th anniversary of the ordination of its founder, Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer. His favorite biblical text is engraved in the synagogue ceiling. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media
WHO: Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer
WHAT: Rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom for the last 40 years.
CELEBRATION: The rabbi and the synagogue will both be honored in a 40th anniversary celebration.
WHEN: 5 p.m., cocktails; 6 p.m. reception, June 10
WHERE: Chateau Ritz, 9100 Milwaukee Ave., Niles
TO BUY: (847) 677-3330 and (224) 534-0029 vp (for the deaf).
Updated: July 8, 2012 8:20AM
If you’re planning to sing happy 40th anniversary to honor Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie, make sure to sing it twice.
Happy anniversary to the synagogue at 4435 Oakton St., yes, but happy anniversary, too, to the engaging Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, who is celebrating 40 years as a rabbi.
Looking much younger than his age of 67, Goldhamer says that reaching 40 years as a rabbi gives him pause for reflection.
“It’s a milestone in the sense that I came here when I was 27,” he says. “It makes me say, ‘Wow, I’m 67 now, three years short of 70, 13 years short of 80.’”
Although not many would share this opinion, Goldhamer says he feels he’s accomplished too little in 40 years.
“I feel that 40 years have gone by and I didn’t do that much.”
But many people would disagree — people who have seen the synagogue he helped create grow and the people who have been part of it benefit.
Goldhamer formed his synagogue before the building was even built in 1972, the only deaf synagogue in the United States. He founded and is president of the Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf, which is now housed in the same Skokie building.
His life changed when he was a student at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.
Watching a television program, he heard a minister mention a large community in America of deaf people with no rabbis for them.
“That minister changed my life,” he said.
Before the pastor’s statement, the rabbi had never met a deaf person. Afterward, Goldhamer pursued his rabbinic thesis on the status of the deaf and the Talmud.
Goldhamer came to Chicago as a student rabbi to lead the Hebrew Association for the Deaf, which included 11 families at the time. He wasn’t paid, and there was no permanent home where his small congregation could worship.
“We prayed in people’s homes and basements of synagogues for the first year,” he said. For the second year the new Congregation Bene Shalom Hebrew Association of the Deaf used Emanuel Congregation in Chicago until the permanent Skokie building opened around 1974.
Times have been few when the synagogue was on the verge of not making it, but somehow, some way, there was always intervention and the synagogue survived. The Skokie synagogue has changed since it was first created; it has undergone expansion and an increase in services and activities.
About 75 percent of the 210 to 215 members can hear, but the synagogue’s Constitution mandates that the president and executive vice president be deaf. All sermons and other presentations must be delivered in sign language under synagogue rules.
Goldhamer also teaches and studies kabalah, which explains the relationship between an unchanging, eternal and mysterious Ein Sof (no end) and the mortal and finite universe (God’s creation).
Inside the synagogue, he works with his wife and their sweet dogs who have become great friends to children and adults. He often paints to relax, and becomes contemplative and eloquent when discussing his passions such as kabalah or religion and science. Most importantly though, he has touched many people’s lives during both good times and hard times.
Whether the rabbi thinks so or not, that’s a life with a lot of meaning over the last four decades.