Rabbi Shimon Paskow, 68, let down his guard the other day and began to reel off a few of the jokes he had told at his retirement dinner on Sun., June 25, honoring his 31 years of service at Temple Etz Chaim of Thousand Oaks.
One goes like this: "You've heard the saying 'Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.' Well, old rabbis never die, they just daven away."
For those who know Paskow, the jokes, the warm voice, the compassionate manner are all part of the man who has given "the shul his life." And now the shul is giving back.
On Fri., June 16, there was a tribute for the rabbi and his wife of 40 years, Carol, dedicating the sanctuary in their name. A commissioned portrait of the rabbi was also presented. On Shabbat morning, 500 to 600 people were in attendance to give more accolades and presentations.
The final tribute on Sunday had Thousand Oaks' Mayor Dennis Gillette on hand to say a few words, as well as representatives of Congressmen Gallegly and Sherman; members of the congregationspoke as well. "I didn't need all these honors." the Rabbi says jokingly, "but I guess it's better to be honored then dishonored."
After a moment, he grows serious. "The best part of it ... is to see so many Jewish people in the house of Israel."
When Paskow came to Temple Etz Chaim in 1967, there were only 100 Jewish families; today, the temple has more than 700 member households, with 400 children in the Sunday School. "He built the community up," says his wife.
As a new rabbi at TEC, Paskow focused on involving Jews in the temple through education, "because when Jews aren't involved, their children won't be involved, and then you'll have a congregation that's just auditing." Paskow taught the adult learner as well as the young learner, the convert as well as the Jew that had been away for too long.
"Yiddle by yiddle," Paskow says modestly.Last September, Temple Etz Chaim broke ground on a multimillion-dollar educational complex - one of the outgrowths of Paskow's devotion to education and the ever-increasing size of the congregation - to be built over the next couple of years.
After retiring, Shimon and Carol Paskow will still be involved in the temple and the Jewish community, although the rabbi is hoping to get some time off for family and travel.
As TEC's rabbi emeritus, he will be available to anybody who needs his help. He will officiate at High Holiday services for a small congregation in Valencia. And he's got a heavy schedule of weddings, not to mention he'll have conducted two trips to Israel by year's end. But basically, he says, he plans to relax. When he comes to temple, "I'll sit in the back and be a critic like everyone else," he laughs.What was his secret for success? "I know [every congregant] personally... I tried to involve everyone on a person level, by inviting them to do a Torah portion or to participate in some way."And how would he describe the congregation that he built?
"Flourishing, vibrant and dynamic." No joking.Rabbi Richard Spiegel of the East Coast and San Antonio, Texas, will begin his duties as the new rabbi for TEC in August.