Congregant and longtime Temple Beth-El volunteer Howard J. Herman, a retired lawyer who spent most of his career with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, will be the first monthly honoree at an enhanced Shabbat morning service at Temple Beth-El on Saturday, November 11, at 10:30 a.m.
The community is welcome to attend the worship service, hear the honoree present the d’var Torah, and enjoy the kiddush luncheon that follows.
“There is no one quite like Howard,” noted Temple Beth-El Rabbi A. Brian Stoller. “His love for and dedication to Temple Beth-El come from the deepest part of his soul. No matter what the moment requires—whether it’s coordinating volunteer prayer leaders for our daily minyan, serving on a leadership task force, setting up chairs or offering insight into temple history or guidance on policy—Howard is there for our community. He is a true sage, and our leadership relies on him for his wisdom and counsel. He always has his finger on the pulse of the congregation, so when Howard speaks, we listen. He is an incredible blessing to Temple Beth-El.”
Herman and his wife, Barbara, felt it was time to join a synagogue in 1982, when their oldest child, Amy, was five years old.
“There were reasons why we might be a fit at any of the four major synagogues in Great Neck at that time, so we attended services at all four,” explained Herman. “It was evident immediately that Temple Beth-El was the place for us. The nature of the Judaism practiced at TBE, its egalitarianism and its outstanding senior rabbi, Jerome K. Davidson, made it the obvious choice.”
His family quickly became connected to groups within the TBE community.
“Amy and I attended Shabbat eve services, while Barbara stayed home with our younger son, Benjamin, so I came to know the Friday night regulars,” said Herman. “I became active in Brotherhood, and the older guys quickly recruited me to chair our monthly Bible Breakfasts that typically attracted crowds of 200 people. Throughout our years, I have remained a proud member of Brotherhood. The many activities our Brotherhood engages in, within and beyond the Beth-El community, are impressive and inspirational.
“Barbara became involved with Sisterhood and came to volunteer in or lead many Sisterhood activities over the years,” he continued. “The Couples Club enabled us to form friendships that have lasted to this day. Each month, I looked forward to receiving TBE’s print magazine, the Bulletin, so I could read about the many services and programs that were open to us.”
In those early days, he never could have imagined that about 20 years later, he would become editor of the Bulletin—and continue contributing to its current iteration as Shema magazine.
“Howard is an invaluable contributor to our award-winning Shema magazine,” noted managing editor Sheri ArbitalJacoby. “His historic knowledge of Temple Beth-El and its members has given the publication much-needed perspective over the years. We are incredibly grateful for his participation.”
About 18 years ago, then temple President Nina Koppelman saw Howard as a potential leader and recommended him for the temple board of trustees. He began to view himself that way, too, became chair of the Worship Committee and chaired or cochaired two assistant rabbi search committees. As secretary to the board of trustees, he served on the temple’s Executive Committee and later as an at-large member of the Executive Committee.
After being the Bulletin editor, he left to become both webmaster of TBE’s website and its first Facebook page administrator. He also chaired the Shiva Minyan Committee for many years.
More recently, Herman was elected as honorary vice president of TBE and cochaired the Succession Committee. Behind the scenes, he happily proofreads many of the temple’s communications, sets up the electronics for some Zoom meetings, attends Executive Committee meetings, serves on ad hoc task forces and offers valuable advice whenever asked. He even organizes daily morning minyanim on some days when Rabbi Stoller cannot be present and leads shiva minyanim when the clergy is unavailable.
Temple Beth-El enriches Herman’s life as much as he enriches the lives of those around him.
“Even if I had not benefited from all the services, programs, educational opportunities and volunteer activities I have engaged in, and I had merely gotten to meet the incredible array of accomplished, caring, talented and friendly people I have come to know at TBE over the past 40-plus years, getting to know those members of our community alone would have been worth the journey,” expressed Herman.
He receives a great deal of satisfaction from trying to make the experiences of his fellow members more meaningful and illustrates why being involved is so important to him with this example.
“Several years ago, during morning minyan, a congregant asked Rabbi Meir Feldman ‘why 10 Jews had to be in attendance in order to engage in certain prayers—why didn’t God hear those prayers regardless of the number of people present?’ After Rabbi Meir gave his answer, I gave mine: ‘I don’t know whether there is a God, whether God hears our prayers or whether the presence of 10 Jews is necessary; but as long as I can do my part by being one of the 10, I know I’ve helped the other nine observe the mitzvot in a way that matters to them.’”
But he cautions: “It’s important for volunteers to adhere to the Oxygen Mask Rule. Air travelers know that if the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks drop, we are expected to place masks on ourselves before trying to help others with theirs. Volunteers at houses of worship need to remember that when they come upon hard times or become fatigued, they need to tend to their own mental, physical and spiritual health first—and maybe even allow others to help them.”
During the Shabbat when he will be honored, the community is welcome to hear him discuss the weekly parashah, Chaye Sarah.
“While it is translated as the Life of Sarah, the parashah is actually an account of certain events that took place after Sarah’s death,” Herman explained. “I plan to talk about the very human reactions of our ancestors to Sarah’s death and to the death of Abraham—and what we can learn from their actions.”
Herman’s own actions have been a powerful example for the entire congregation.
“There is a phrase in Jewish tradition, Lamed Vavnick, which roughly translates as a ‘righteous one’ in English. It is used on rare occasions to describe a person with unique leadership who is focused on having vision and doing good for the world, without the great fanfare that might accompany it. These are considered very special people,” expressed Temple Beth-El’s Executive Director Stuart Botwinick. “In his work at our Temple Beth-El, Howard reveals to be just that–a Lamed Vavnick in our community.”
Founded in 1928, the peninsula’s first synagogue is located at 5 Old Mill Road in Great Neck. To learn more, call 516-487-0900, visit www.tbegreatneck.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.