My journey began when I was a 6-year-old student at Temple Rodef Sholom in Pittsburgh during Sukkot 1940. While standing on the building’s front steps, Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof, the congregation’s senior rabbi, handed me a bright red apple to commemorate the fall harvest holiday.
I proudly took the rabbi’s gift home, where it was treated as a sacred object, sitting on our mantelpiece as long as nature would allow.
The following year, my father was called to active Army duty and stationed at Fort Belvoir near Alexandria, VA, where we joined Temple Beth-El, the local Reform congregation. But Rabbi Freehof’s influence remained strong in our home, because Rodef Sholom regularly sent us printed texts of his sermons and book reviews.
Even as a youngster, I appreciated his beautifully crafted phrasing, his command of Jewish sources, and how his love of Shakespeare was woven into many of his writings -- and during the darkest days of World War II, Rodef Sholom’s rabbi always ended his sermons with realistic hope. His public book reviews attracted audiences of both Jews and Christians, numbering between 1,500 and 2,000.