Lewis Takes Well-Deserved Bow at Westin
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Lewis Takes Well-Deserved Bow at Westin

300 people gathered for Congregation Etz Chaim’s gala honoring Rabbi Shalom Lewis and his transition to emeritus after serving 40 years as the first spiritual leader.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Photo by Bernice Isaac // Man of the hour, Rabbi Lewis takes center stage. Behind him are his portrait and a plaque announcing a new rabbinic suite in his honor.
Photo by Bernice Isaac // Man of the hour, Rabbi Lewis takes center stage. Behind him are his portrait and a plaque announcing a new rabbinic suite in his honor.

Congregation Etz Chaim’s gala tribute to Rabbi Shalom Lewis May 19 began, appropriately, with an intimate Ma’ariv service at the lake behind the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North. Inside, a black-tie crowd of almost 300 gathered to celebrate the rabbi’s upcoming transition to emeritus status after serving about 40 years as the congregation’s first spiritual leader.

Photo by Jon Marks // Rabbi Lewis grew emotional discussing his wife Cindy and how she contributes to his joy and happiness.

Event co-chair Ellen Spandorfer summed it up, saying, “Rabbi Lewis has been our pillar of stability through the ups and downs of life. He is part of the family, and we are here to celebrate him.”

The cocktail hour was a vegetarian/pescatarian bounty with two made-to-order quesadilla stations, smoked salmon rollups, three varieties of hummus, a cheese and berry display, and multiple open bars. Rabbi Lewis was “manning” the entrance to individually greet the effervescent crowd.

During the reception, congregant Alan Shectman reminisced that Rabbi Lewis’ father, Rabbi Albert Lewis, was his own (bar mitzvah) rabbi growing up in Cherry Hill, N.J. “Rabbi Lewis and his family are more than a rabbi to me.”

Photos by Marcia Caller Jaffe // David Lewis and wife Nikki are looking forward to more grandparenting time with Poppa Shalom.

The rabbi’s son, David, said that he was looking towards the next phase of his father’s life so he can spend even more quality time as a grandparent. “During my own youth, he was very supportive, attended my sporting events and planned wonderful family vacations.”

Stepson Hadley Klein, with fiancé actress Taissa Farmiga, flew in from Los Angeles to say, “Tonight is a very big deal. Rabbi Lewis deserves a great send off!”

Hadley Klein flew in from California with fiancé Taissa Farmiga for the big send off. Klein recalls that Lewis was also the rabbi at his bar mitzvah.

Longtime Cobb County residents, Phil and Elise Goldstein were with son, attorney and new Marietta City Council member, Joseph, 25, who said that Lewis was present at his bris. In the reception area outside the ballroom, Dr. Stan Fineman commented on the rectangular column of old photographs. “There was a time when Lewis had dark black hair. We all looked so very young.”

Bob Bachrach, synagogue past president and former executive director, was a lively emcee. There was a seated dinner/dance after a rousing horah.

Rabbi Lewis is hoisted above the crowd during the horah.

During the program Etz Chaim’s first president, pediatrician Stephen King, spoke of the original 10 families who started the congregation in 1975. “We continued to climb the mountain to get where we are today. We were initially impressed with young Rabbi Lewis’ brand of ‘pediatric Judaism’ …where he was so innovative in dealing with our kids.”

Former state Attorney General Sam Olens read a state proclamation, which he wrote himself, and a personalized congratulatory note from Sen. Johnny Isakson. Rabbi Dan Dorsch, now senior rabbi, spoke of the oddness of being asked if he could fill Rabbi Lewis’ shoes. “I can’t fit into his shoes or his kittel. … Rav Lewis has taught us all to stand in our own shoes.”

Dr. Raime Tritt, one of Etz Chaim’s generous benefactors, celebrates with Rabbi Dorsch in their elegant tuxedo vests.

Etz Chaim president Allison Saffran spoke of Lewis’ “many trips to Israel, ability to shed a tear, challenge us to think, and dish out his especially bad jokes.” With the help of Bachrach, dramatically unveiling an original portrait of Rabbi Lewis and a plaque, Saffran explained that the items will be displayed in the new Shalom J. Lewis Rabbinic Suite at the synagogue.

Admiring the old photographs on display are co-chairs, from left, David Lieberman, Suzanne Rivchun, Bonnie and Neil Negrin.

Rabbi Lewis took command of the stage to explain that his main address will be on June 3 at a sendoff tribute in his honor. He spoke of his five-minute limit for comments, but joked, “It takes me five minutes for me to just say I will speak for only five minutes.” He gave thanks to all his colleagues and especially his buddies from the Jersey Shore with whom he grew up. He grew emotional discussing wife Cindy and her role in his joy and happiness.

All part of the Etz Chaim “family” are co-chairs, from left: Michael and Linda Weinroth and Ellen and Pip Spandorfer.

Not veering from his tradition of corny jokes, Lewis ended with a rap about being “Jewish and cool and walking to shul” freezing his tuchas off in the winter. There were some Carnac the Magnificent (à la Johnny Carson) jokes thrown in, a bit of Percy Sledge and a reference to flanken meat. Yep, pure Lewis, a giant of a legend on and off script, looking back on a life well-lived with many more jokes, congregant interactions, and family occasions to come. With him, being corny is cool.

And just in case they should forget the evening, guests left with a goody bag of chocolate treats to recall the rabbi’s sweet tooth at a later date.

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