Bay Area traffic will improve ever so slightly this month, with one less car on the road. After 10 years as the on-the-go executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California, and 42 years in the rabbinate, Rabbi Marvin Goodman has announced he will retire, effective March 16. And that means an end to his frequent commuting across the Bay Area.
Of course, Goodman defines “retirement” loosely. He will remain rabbi emeritus of Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, where he served as spiritual leader for 19 years. And he plans to devote more time to social action nonprofits, such as his role on the the steering committee of California Interfaith Power and Light, which encourages faith communities to fight climate change.
Still, at 68, and with grandson Ayden turning 1 on Purim, Goodman says he is ready to clock out of the Board of Rabbis and his Federation-funded position as rabbi-in-residence.
“Two and a half years ago I ended up cutting back to three days a week to see how I would be able to do it,” Goodman says of retirement. “I just feel like it’s time.”
A native of St. Louis, Goodman was ordained in 1975 by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary. The summer before, he served as director of Camp Arazim, a now-defunct Conservative Jewish summer camp in Soquel. After ordination he became the S.F.-based regional director of United Synagogue and regional director for USY, the movement’s youth arm.
Goodman says he remains in touch with many of the kids he met while serving at USY, having years later officiated at several weddings and baby namings for former USY members.
“USY was the catalyst for wanting to get involved with Jewish life,” he recalls. “That has been a very satisfying part of my rabbinate, as much after as during.”
After 13 years with United Synagogue, in 1988 Goodman accepted his first pulpit assignment at Peninsula Sinai Congregation. It was a good fit for the next 19 years.
“What was wonderful about it was growing a community,” he remembers. “The synagogue almost tripled in size while I was there. The people allowed me to take risks. It was most of the time a lot of fun. A lot of work, but a lot of fun.”
In 2006 he made the decision to leave the pulpit to head the Board of Rabbis, which promotes collegiality among rabbis of all streams of Judaism, and acts as a religious resource for more than 100 dues-paying member rabbis. He also became Rabbi-in-residence at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, through which he spearheaded the Synagogue-Federation Partnership (SFP), which ramped up Federation involvement with local shuls, helping with outreach, increasing membership, exploring best practices when it comes to fundraising, and providing pro bono services to congregations in need.
“Marv was instrumental” in building up that partnership, says Federation director of strategic consulting Bab Freiberg. “This was his baby. He brought in Federation leaders to complement what he was hearing from the field, and built real partnerships. That took a lot of tenacity and patience.”
Goodman says that over the years the SFP has teamed up with 30 synagogues in the Federation service area, and has reached “a really good point, with a lot of trust.”
Among the partnership’s achievements, after three years of collaboration, is that partner synagogues and other local Jewish community organizations collectively raised more than $35 million in new planned gifts. The Federation’s plan is to assign a lead program officer liaison in June as the AFP point person, with program officers working directly with the synagogues.
As for his role with the Board of Rabbis, Goodman is stepping down, though he will temporarily oversee the transition to new leadership, a process that may include a new strategic plan to sustain the board for the long haul.
“We potentially risk the future of the Board of Rabbis if we don’t go through this process,” he says. “We have a $100,000 budget and about 250 rabbis on the mailing list, of which 100-120 pay dues. It’s predominantly a collegial organization to support rabbis and help them in their day-to-day lives.”
Goodman says he and his wife Debbie are looking forward to easing up, spending more time with their two grown daughters, Rena Mizrahi and Naomi Goodman, and with little Ayden. He says he will continue to do rabbinic tasks, such as weddings and baby namings (“when asked,” he quickly adds), but for now he is looking back on a gratifying 42-year rabbinic journey.
“It’s amazing to think what the [Bay Area] Jewish community was like in 1975,” he says. “It was in its infancy, and to see it grow and evolve, and with all the entrepreneurial innovation going on, it’s been a very exciting place to be.”