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Rabbi Glazer loves serving Colorado Springs Jewry

Rabbi Mel GlazerAt age 16, when Rabbi Mel Glazer was in 10th grade, he received a letter at Camp Ramah from his mother, marked “special delivery.”

The letter read, “Rabbi [the late Harry H.] Epstein has been looking for a school to send you to. It’s a yeshiva, a Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia. You can go there and the tuition will be covered, but you’ll have to go early to take a test, find a place to live, and take care of some details ahead of time.”

Also: “You need to decide by tomorrow, so call me tomorrow! Love, Mom.”

Rabbi Glazer remembers spending about two minutes to decide, partly because all of the kids in his bunk went to the Hebrew Academy. “It wasn’t like I was moving to a new place. It was just like coming home.”

In 12th grade, he received another letter, this one directly from Rabbi Epstein encouraging him to apply to the joint program between Columbia University and The Jewish Theological Seminary. Once again, the tuition, books, dormitory expenses and fees would be covered. In addition, he would receive $25 every week to use as spending money, as instructed by Rabbi Epstein, “to go out on Saturday night and find a wife.”

Today, Mel Glazer, DD, DMin, is the rabbi of Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs, where he has served since 2007.

A native of Atlanta, he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah and confirmation at Ahavath Achim Synagogue.

In the joint program he earned a BA in 1969 in philosophy, and a bachelor of Hebrew letters. In 1973, he received an MA followed by rabbinic ordination in 1974.

In 1995, Rabbi Glazer earned a doctor of ministry degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary. In addition to his certification as a grief recovery specialist, he has conducted both individual and group grief recovery seminars.

In March, 2001, he was awarded the honorary doctor of divinity degree by JTS as a tribute to his quarter century of service to the Jewish people.

In addition to serving pulpits in the US, Rabbi Glazer has served in Canada and South Africa.

His wife Ellen is a life skills coach and behavioral specialist, with a particular interest in Asperger syndrome, autism, ADHD and learning difficulties. Rabbi Glazer recently sat for an interview with the IJN.

How do you feel about living in Colorado Springs where Jews are a minority?

I really love it here in Colorado Springs. I enjoy being a minority here in this community partly because it’s such a unique place to be a rabbi.

Temple Shalom is busy with things like the Men’s Club, Sisterhood, preschool and religious school. Our seniors play bingo and have lunch together every week. The renovation of the kosher kitchen is almost complete, which is a dream come true.

Since Temple Shalom is dually affiliated (Reform and Conservative), this has allowed me to create different things to meet the needs of our diverse congregants. Some congregants grew up with very little formal Jewish education, and others are fluent in reading Torah. Some are intermarried, others are single young professionals, while still others are seniors whose adult children grew up in Colorado Springs. I realize that people are going to be Jewish in different ways and I respect that as much as possible.

We love being with each other, so we schmooze and talk with other Jews around the community. It’s a relatively small Jewish community so it doesn’t take long for Jews to get to know each other. Basically, I try to bring them closer to our “big tent.”

Honestly, when we moved here seven years ago, I thought I was moving to a Jewish wasteland. I am so glad to be wrong, because our community has so many groups, organizations and networks for different kinds of interests.

We have an active BBYO chapter, a successful Hadassah chapter, and Jewish students at the Colorado College Hillel. We are proud to support the Greenberg Center for Learning and Tolerance, which has organized successful events through the Pikes Peak Library District.

For example, one of the exhibits was about the Holocaust, and it attracted the largest attendance of any exhibit at the public library system.

Our community has two synagogues, and rabbis at several of the military institutions from the Air Force Academy to Fort Carson.

There are community women’s seders, chavurot and potluck groups, Israeli fairs and of course, plenty of food everywhere we’re together. It’s fun being a rabbi here partly because “time doesn’t do anything unless you fill it with meaningful actions.”

I’ve been in larger Jewish communities whose members didn’t care as much about being Jewish as they do here in Colorado Springs. That’s one of the benefits of being a minority. I really believe that we take care of you. We love you (and we feed you!). That’s why we call this place “Your Jewish Home in Colorado Springs.”

What is your involvement in the local community?

I’ve tried in different ways to reach out to the various segments of the community, from the religious and clergy, to the school system, to the political arena throughout Colorado Springs.

For example, I was involved for several years with my colleague, Rabbi Howard Hirsch, who founded and led the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue. He is the rabbi emeritus of Temple Shalom, and has helped to build bridges in our community between clergy from different religious organizations and backgrounds.

I was honored to co-chair several of the annual dinners. I’m proud of the sensitivity and mutual respect that was always present at these events.

Each year, we ate together with our friends who were Jewish and gentile, and that aspect of the evening didn’t make any difference to those of us who participated. We broke bread together.

When there have been a few acts of anti-Semitism in Colorado Springs, I get involved in whatever way is needed. When a swastika was painted on the outside of Temple Beit Torah, the gentile neighbors organized a peaceful walk from the nearby park to the temple for Friday night services.

I was part of the evening, speaking to others, talking with people of all faiths and backgrounds, walking outside with everyone and speaking to the media. The community came together in support of the synagogue during a difficult time.

Years later, when graffiti was painted on the Chabad menorah, many members of our Jewish community joined Rabbi Liberow for Sabbath services. Some were young members and families in the community, while others were leaders of Jewish organizations here in town. Men and women, we came together to worship and show our support for the Chabad community.

We’re also fortunate that many members of our local Jewish community speak up when incidents like these occur, whether it’s in the school system or the larger community. We all come together and support one another in whatever ways are needed.

I’m proud that we can all work together as part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network four times each year. We enrich ourselves when we serve food to our neighbors, and we sit and eat together as one.

That is a powerful reminder that G-d created us all in the Holy Image. And we truly are one.

What are your favorite things about serving as the rabbi of this synagogue?

I really enjoy creating different paths and options for families in the local Jewish community. I’ve worked hard to address the wide variety of interfaith lifecyle challenges so that families have choices for themselves and their families.

For example, I enjoy serving as the rabbi for anyone who is planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a wedding or any type of celebration that hey want to hold for a family member or something in the community. I’m honored when Jews ask me to officiate at lifecyle events such as weddings, funerals or B’nai Mitzvah.

Besides it’s fun being a rabbi partly because time doesn’t do anything unless you fill it with meaningful actions.

I also enjoy connecting with lots of young Jewish professionals around town. Sometimes, we just sit and chat about things that are going on in their lives.

Other times, we invite the Jewish young professionals to our home for Passover seder or a Tex-Mex Havdalah evening on the patio.

When they come to services or events at Temple Shalom, they know that I care about them and the friends and family that often join them in the synagogue.

If they want to talk with me, they know I’m available in my office and of course on Facebook, so they know they can easily connect with me.

When Jewish cadets come to the Air Force Academy, we welcome them to services any time and it’s a pleasure to meet them during the years that they’re part of our community. It’s similar with members of the Ft. Carson Army base or any of the other military organizations in Colorado Springs.

It’s gratifying to see them at High Holiday services, Shabbat potlucks and services, and picnics or potlucks sponsored by the synagogue. Local Jewish families invite them to their homes and welcome them to our community.

What are your biggest areas of satisfaction?

I’m proud of how much the kids love me. When I joined Temple Shalom seven years ago, one of my first goals was to meet with the teenagers right away to get to know them. Some of the teenagers were surprised at first to meet with me, but over time they came to respect and trust me. 

During my first year here, I also visited each grade in the religious school and the preschool so that kids of all ages would know who I was and begin to feel comfortable with me.

I established adult Bat Mitzvah classes here. The women became very close-knit since they spent so much time studying and learning together on a regular basis. It was so gratifying to see each individual moving along their own path towards Judaism, especially since they came from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Our next adult Bat Mitzvah class starts after the High Holidays and I plan to continue teaching one class each year.

I re-established the weekly Torah study class which is in now its seventh year. There are generally about 15 people who participate every week, including new and longtime congregants.

The class draws men and women of all ages. Basically, they join the Torah class, reconnect in many ways, getting to know one another while they learn Torah together.

I’ve also established a chevra kadisha, which is the group of devoted women and men who prepare Jewish bodies for burial. The chevra kadisha, or kavod v’nichum, provides honor and comfort for the family and for those who love and cared for them throughout their lives.

In addition to our commitment to this at Temple Shalom, I participate in this important process nationally as well as internationally.

What professional career paths have your adult children pursued?

My oldest son, Avi, is an Orthodox Jew who lives in Spring Valley, NY. The majority of the community is ultra-Orthodox. Avi and his wife have seven children, including one girl and six boys.

My second son is Rabbi Ilan, who trained in the Jewish Renewal movement. Recently, Ilan married Rabbi Chana Leslie who is ordained in the Jewish Reconstructionist movement. Chana Leslie is changing her last name to Glazer, so now I think I’ve been lucky to create a rabbinic dynasty.

They’re moving to Memphis, Tenn., to a Conservative congregation where they will share the position of rabbi.

My only daughter, Shoshi, lives in Teaneck, NJ. She’s a businesswoman and owns a dessert business called “More than Just Desserts.” She really enjoys running and managing the business and of course, when we visit, we like to eat and nosh together.

My youngest son, Rafi, lives in Silver Springs, Md. Rafi works for a Jewish non-profit organization in Washington, DC. He was selected as one of the Jewish leaders under 30 in the Washington, DC, area.

Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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