During my MBA studies at Northwestern University’s J.K. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, I read an article titled, “Everyone Who Makes It Has a Rabbi.” The gist of it was that we all stand on the shoulders of caring teachers and mentors who invested in us when they didn’t have to. They defended us when we needed them, and they molded us into what we are today. Career rabbis help us discover our sense of purpose and joy. They give us direction and make us feel whole.
I have been shaped by many rabbis, but Rabbi Albert M. Lewis, rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanuel in Grand Rapids, Mich., is my real-deal rabbi.
Albert and I served together on the founding board of directors of Hospice of Greater Grand Rapids, the first operational hospice care program for terminal cancer patients in west Michigan. With our board and patient care colleagues—Dr. Robert Gillies, Mary Jo Sturm RN, Judith Baker MSW/MSN and Richard Hauskamp DSW—we fought the good fight for four years to make hospice care available in Grand Rapids. At that time many hospitals and care providers resisted, even fought against the hospice care philosophy and patient/family care model. My board colleagues did most of the patient care while Rabbi Lewis championed the cause with Grand Rapids clergy. I wrote funding proposals and grants, and I raised the startup money to launch our demonstration project.
I was an intentional Reformed Christian, Albert was an intentional practicing Jewish rabbi. Though our faith commitments were very different, we were brothers, then and now.
My work with hospice and Albert taught me the value of partnering with likeminded people and groups who share a common mission and purpose. Partnering is the cornerstone of my personal practice theory of leadership.
Rabbi Al had charm and charisma. He could speak and write in Hebrew, talents I totally lacked, and the guy could really preach, especially in English! Albert’s leadership of our board of talented professionals succeeded in establishing the first hospice care program in the city. Exhausted after four years, we turned the program over to new leadership, June Hamersma (of January Series fame). June put hospice on the map during her leadership journey.
Rabbi Lewis was also a writer for The Grand Rapids Press. His column was published for 12 years. Like my friend, Rev. Jim Kok, Albert wrote from the heart. He shared joys and pain with his readers, who responded in kind.
Recently when The Grand Rapids Press canceled Albert’s column, he and his readers grieved the loss. Class act that he is, Rabbi Lewis shared in his final column the wisdom of Henri Nouwen, who once asked, “Can you see yourself moving from resentment to gratitude?”
Nouwen’s question is probably the very same question the oldest son struggled with in the parable of the prodigal son. It is a question we all struggle with in various relationships in life and career. Think about it: Can you see yourself moving from resentment to gratitude in your journey? The oldest son in the prodigal story had extra alone time with his father before his brother returned. Perhaps that time helped him eventually move from resentment to gratitude? My rabbi, Albert Lewis, is moving, with difficulty, from resentment to gratitude. So am I.
Thanks, Albert, for being my rabbi in times of light and times of unanticipated darkness. You are my rabbi and my friend.
Stay in touch, and shalom,