VANCOUVER — Philip Bregman decided to become a rabbi when he was just 13 years old. More than 50 years later he admits that although he was young to make such a major decision, it definitely was the right decision to make.
“My decision to pursue this path has truly led to a very fulfilling life,” says Rabbi Bregman.
In August, Rabbi Bregman will be retiring after 33 years as spiritual leader of Vancouver’s Temple Sholom. During this time, he has grown the Reform congregation from the city’s smallest synagogue to its largest, and in the process has connected hundreds of Vancouver Jews with their traditions, heritage and Israel.
Rabbi Bregman and his American-born wife, Cathy, arrived in Vancouver in the summer of 1980 from New Rochelle, N.Y., where Rabbi Bregman was serving as an assistant rabbi. The Vancouver appointment gave him the opportunity to return to Canada where he had been born and raised, first in Galt (now Cambridge), Ont., and then in Toronto.
In Toronto, Rabbi Bregman’s parents joined Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut’s Holy Blossom Temple and the rabbi became a mentor to their young son.
“Rabbi Plaut became the major rabbinic influence in my life,” Rabbi Bregman says. “He set a very high standard.”
Rabbi Plaut introduced Rabbi Bregman to the subtleties of Reform Judaism and to the discipline and dedication that it required.
Reform Judaism, Rabbi Bregman explains, demands extensive study of tradition and text, but also the desire and ability to go beyond what is written or proscribed in order to integrate observance with the contemporary world.
“I have tried to demonstrate this not only by my own personal practice of Judaism,” Rabbi Bregman says, “but also by what I’ve taught here at Temple Sholom and beyond.”
Longtime congregant Jack Lutsky says, “Rabbi Bregman is a ‘doer’ and makes things happen. His engagement with families to make the bar/bat mitzvah experience meaningful and his work with the sick and the bereaved are his greatest strengths.”
Ellen Gordon, co-chair of the committee planning a farewell event in his honour on April 28, says, “He is warm to everyone he meets. He has a brilliant sense of humour.”
Rabbi Bregman’s commitment to social action, interfaith initiatives and Israel have been cornerstones of his tenure at Temple Sholom.
He has initiated numerous social justice projects over the years, and has determinedly built bridges between his synagogue and all other Jewish denominations and faiths.
He is the co-founder and chair of the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, and enjoys a close relationship with the Orthodox Schara Tzedeck synagogue.
“We have something quite unique to Vancouver and to Canada, and that is a group of rabbis who honestly clearly respect and care for each other,” says Rabbi Bregman. “We have our differences as to what we believe and observe, but the line of differentiation is almost non-existent.”
Bregman’s interfaith relationships are similarly positive. He is a co-founder of the Metro Vancouver Muslim Jewish Dialogue and the Vancouver Jewish Christian Dialogue. Last year, he travelled to Israel with Christian clergy, one of dozens of Israel tours that he has facilitated over the years.
He has continuously advocated for Israel, and has always welcomed children from other faith communities into his synagogue to learn about Judaism.
Bregman’s rapport with children derives from the many years he has worked with bar and bat mitzvah students and taught at the Temple Sholom Religious School. Typically, he is quick to attribute the success of the school to former principal, Anne Andrew.
In fact, Bregman deflects much of the credit for Temple Sholom’s myriad accomplishments to his staff and to his wife’s support and advice.
“Cathy and I have worked together as a team,” Bregman says. “Cathy has an incredible ability to identify what needs to happen to enhance the life of our shul, and then she points me in the right direction.”
For three decades, Rabbi Bregman has been leading services, telling stories, sermonizing, mentoring, teaching, praising, counselling and consoling. It has meant instilling in his congregants a commitment to community, Israel, social justice, tolerance, tradition and change, and it has meant helping them become proud Jews and proud members of Vancouver’s only Reform congregation.