CHANUKAH EDITION 5776
SECTION A PAGE 8
When Rabbi Joseph Friedmans military obligations brought him to Denver earlier this year, the last thing he expected was to wind up back on a pulpit.
Yet call it synchronicity, serendipity, bashert or random chance thats exactly what happened. Since August, he has been serving as spiritual leader of Denvers DAT Minyan.
In the living room of the East Denver mid-century modern home he shares with his wife Melissa in which unpacked boxes illustrate the still-new reality of his being here Rabbi Friedman tells the story of how it all happened. An occasional expression on his already expressive face suggests surprise and amazement at how rapidly things have changed for him.
It is a story of two very different decades.
The first, from 1995 to 2005 was spent in Norfolk, Va. where the rabbi who had already held a pulpit in Omaha and served as a regional director of NCSY, the OUs youth movement led Congregation Bnai Israel, an Orthodox synagogue whose membership grew considerably under his stewardship. He also oversaw the establishment of a kollel and construction of an eruv.
While the rabbi says he loved leading Bnai Israel, other factors led him to pursue other pastures, far away from both the pulpit and the rabbinate.
Rabbi Friedman spent much of the second decade 2005-2015 without the title of rabbi in front of his name.
I wasnt looking back, he says about the huge transition he initiated when he moved from Norfolk to Memphis and embarked on what he hoped would be a successful business career.
The arrival of the Great Recession in 2007-08 certainly didnt help his prospects. He then opted for law, earning a law degree in 2012 and gaining admission into the Tennessee Bar.
But he had to pay for law school, which led to yet another curve in Rabbi Friedmans already variegated professional road. He joined the Tennessee Air National Guard as a chaplain, originally in a totally mercenary part-time capacity and later as he found he preferred military chaplaincy over civil law as a full-time chaplain with the 164th Airlift Wing based near Memphis.
In the spring of this year, Rabbi Friedman came to Colorado for a chaplaincy training program at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. He completed the program and planned to return to Memphis on a Friday, expecting to be home before Shabbos began.