Back in about 1955 or thereabouts, my employer Meyer who was CEO of a printing firm called Diamond Press (see I was destined to have diamonds several years later in 1959) was trying to establish with about 6 other men a new house of worship in the Jewish faith. There was no lack of synagogues in the area; there were dozens of them. These men wanted to start a new one with the idea that children were welcome even if they cried during services, ran about and talked a lot, old people would be comfortable in their padded not hard wood seats, and the Rabbi would be smart enough to know all the congregant\’s names and would be available to all in need. They interviewed several men and they toned it down to one. This man was at another smaller house of worship and was looking to use his talents and personality for a larger environment.
I was a confidant of Meyer in this search and I did a little forced volunteer work when Rabbi would come in and needed some printing work done for free and some secretarial work. I liked him, he was full of charm and personality and not stiff like some clergymen are. Finally, Meyer said to me, a 23 year old young woman \”what do you think?\” I said \” I am knowledgeable in lots of things but not so much in religion though I was brought up it and knew lots about it as a layman.
I spoke with the Rabbi and he treated me like I was a big shot and he tried to impress me how he would be to the regular congregant of even older ages, married with children instead of a young inexperienced office worker. Meyer said \”well what do you think?\” I said \”I think he would make a friendly and eager type of clergyman who would benefit the congregants.\” With my approval and their competence, he was voted in to become the first and long staying clergyman. The ladies loved him, his kindness, his charm ( all of us girls and ladies fall for manly charm) and the male members adored his manner and his knowledge and his perfect way of giving sermons. I went to services every Saturday just to listen to his great sermons on daily matters, his interpretation of Jewish literature and the Holy Scriptures etc. I joined his Bible class and every Tuesday morning I was pleased to hear his views etc.
I offered to edit his sermons for a forthcoming book and he made me editor. All this about ten years after being part of the committee who chose him, I got married in 1960 and we joined the synagogue and so every thing I thought he would be; he was and even more. He met with me every Friday morning after I came home from the hair salon. I stayed up for hours many weeknights and edited this and that out of selected sermons I felt would be fascinating in a book. We even ,my idea for the title, it was called Life and Also A Little More. One day he decided we had enough for a slim book and he made arrangements to meet with a publisher, not knowing it was what is called a vanity publisher. For them, they publish your book for a fee of about 10 thousand and they put certain amounts of copies in bookstores. Well, he was disappointed that it was not the regular publisher who would give you thousand ads or more just to print it. Harper Lee who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird is about ready to make 30 million for the publication of her first novel which they are calling a prequel, not a sequel to the Mockingbird book. She wrote it first and was rejected and then she wrote Mockingbird which was a famous book made into an award winning book and an award winning movie with Gregory Peck 40 years ago.
So Rabbi Herschel Leibowitz was disappointed on the vanity publisher and I felt I had had a fine experience being chosen to be his editor. One day before the vanity appointment, he had been on his summer vacation in the mountains of New York. I stopped by and caught the secretary giving out copies of his sermons from his office to a young and inexperienced clergyman who wanted to \”borrow\” his thoughts as if they were his own. I immediately called him up where he was on vacation because his sermons were possibly going to be published and here this guy had conned the secretary to let him borrow the Rabbi\’s words for his own. He immediately called her and she got the papers back where they belonged in my hands or in the office. He was joyous that I happened to be there at that moment. A bit of cheating had been in the making.
A year rolled by and he became ill and passed on, but I was always proud that I had been involved being his editor and even though they never got published in print; I enjoyed the experience because everything we accomplish whether it winds up where you want it to be and even if it does not, you have jumped a huge leap and plateau in your life.
Life and Also A Little More was that, an important and solid endeavor and even more Elita Sohmer Clayman July 17, 2015