Congregation Beth El Celebrates 90th Birthday of Rabbi Morris Gordon

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Fifty years after helping a group of Montgomery County, Maryland families build Congregation Beth El, Rabbi Morris Gordon will be honored in the synagogue’s new sanctuary to mark the occasion of his 90th birthday. Rabbi Gordon, a highly decorated World War II veteran, called members of Beth El to the Torah more than 300 times during his six years leading the Bethesda conservative synagogue. For his 90th birthday, Rabbi Gordon will himself be called forth at morning services this Saturday, August 28.

Fifty years after helping a group of Montgomery County, Maryland families build Congregation Beth El, Rabbi Morris Gordon will be honored in the synagogue’s new sanctuary to mark the occasion of his 90th birthday. Rabbi Gordon, a highly decorated World War II veteran, called members of Beth El to the Torah more than 300 times during his six years leading the Bethesda conservative synagogue. For his 90th birthday, Rabbi Gordon will himself be called forth at morning services this Saturday, August 28th.

“They were a bunch of geniuses,” Rabbi Gordon remembers of Beth El’s original members who have since grown into 900 families. “Some were world renowned doctors and scientists from the nearby National Institute of Health,” he recalls.

Rabbi Gordon led the fundraising campaign that brought ten founding families into their first building, a two-story, red brick Colonial on Old Georgetown Road.

After leaving Beth El, Rabbi Gordon was instrumental in launching six other synagogues in the greater metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, including: Mishkan Torah (Bethesda, MD), Olam Tikvah (Greenbelt, MD), Har Shalom (Potomac, MD), Beth Shalom (Columbia, MD), Beth Tikvah (Rockville, MD), and the Gaithersburg Hebrew Congregation (Gaithersburg, MD). In more than four decades of leadership in the community, Rabbi Gordon served ten other area synagogues, including Adas Israel, becoming widely recognized for his guidance of young congregations and work to promote interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

During World War II, Rabbi Gordon took the first trip of any Chaplain up the Burma Road, surviving constant enemy sniper fire while ministering to Catholic, Protestant and Jewish troops. His bravery won him the Bronze Star and Chinese Medal of Honor. He returned to the United States after the war and soon became rabbi of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Minneapolis, MN before moving to the Washington, D.C. area in the early fifties. Rabbi Gordon became nationally known for his success inspiring teenagers to deepen their connection to Judaism, helping launch the national United Synagogue Youth movement.

“Each of my synagogues were beloved children,” Rabbi Gordon says. Nevertheless, he singles out Beth El, his first in the area, as unique “because of members’ enormously high level of intellectual and spiritual capacity.”

Rabbi Gordon, an avid dancer and tennis enthusiast, was widowed in 1978. In 1982, he married marriage and family therapist Lori Heyman Eisenberg. Together, they launched a campaign to bring relationship skills training to teens and marriage education to couples around the world. Known as PAIRS, their classes have been taught to tens of thousands by nearly a thousand therapists and lay leaders personally trained by the Gordons.

Following morning services at Beth El, family and friends from as far away as Tel Aviv and Los Angeles will join Rabbi Gordon and his wife at their Falls Church, VA home to celebrate his birthday and the recent marriage in Israel of his grandson, Guy Bar-Yosef to Inbar Ofir.

In a recent note of congratulations, Richard and Nancy Marriott of the Host Marriott Corporation, wrote, “[Morris Gordon] has been an inspiration to both of us. He has worked throughout his life to make this world a better place for everyone. His leadership in the Church has been excelled by none, and his efforts on behalf of the PAIRS programs have had a significant impact for good in the lives of thousands … He is an outstanding example to all of us husbands and fathers of what a true Patriarch should be.”

Morris Gordon is Recognized for Seven Unique Firsts for an American Rabbi

1. Took the first trip of any Chaplain up the Burma Road under constant sniper attack. Served Catholics, Protestants and Jews over that historic route. Receive the Bronze Star, Chinese Medal of Honor, and three additional decorations for service beyond the call of duty.

2. Created the first double service for High Holy Days while serving as Rabbi of Adath Jeshurun in Minneapolis. This format went on to become a model for services nationwide.

3. Helped co-create United Synagogue Youth, USY. He instituted the first camp program for USY teenagers in 1948 and served as both Rabbi and Head Counselor of that first camping experience.

4. Established the first USY Havdallah Program in Minneapolis. His congregation received the Solomon Schecter Award for the best Jewish Youth Program in the country.

5. Joined Professor Mordechai M. Kaplan is launching the Leadership Training Fellowship for Teenage Youth. He served as its first national chairman.

6. In 1978, Congregation Har Shalom rededicated its sanctuary as “The Rabbi Morris Gordon Sanctuary.” This is the first time in American history that a living Rabbi has been so honored.

7. Founded seven congregations in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area and served ten others. This is a unique contribution towards enhancing the religious dimension of the Greater Washington Area.

For additional information or to schedule an interview with Rabbi Gordon, contact:

Seth Eisenberg

Eisenberg Communications

(954) 389-2296

Fax (954) 337-2981

EisenbergComm@aol.com

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