Sandy Ragins

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Sandy Ragins

After a half century as a rabbi I have many memories and great gratitude for the people who sustained me and challenged me to be better than I am: my teachers, especially Ellis Rivkin (z”l) and Ezra Spicehandler; my mentors, Leonard Beerman and Arnie Wolf (z”l); some  colleagues; my Jews; and especially my wife, Masayo Isono (we were married the day after ordination in what was then called the chapel in the presence of a number of my classmates and teachers; she was also an HUC student, quite rare in those days).


What have I gained over time? Calluses, bruises, and wrinkles in abundance of course, but also experience, a modicum of skill, some insight, a better understanding of people and Judaism and, eventually, even of myself (God still eludes me).


When I retired from Leo Baeck Temple I struggled to put into words what had happened in my 33 years as their rabbi. Here is part of what I said to the congregation at that time:


“On certain lonely nights and in dark moments of depression, I have wondered, almost despaired, about what my life and my work here have meant. At this hour I am still not sure I understand what has gone on between us lo these many years, but tonight I know, and you know, that enough of it was good and decent and important, and that we have managed – not all the time but often enough—to bring out the best in one another…

…you …gave me the space to discover myself as a person and as a rabbi. Those two have somehow become more harmonious of late than they were when I was just beginning. It has taken a long time, but, ironically, just as I am hanging it up, the robe finally fits.”


What were my ‘professional highlights’?

  • Getting my Ph.D. as ‘life insurance’ at Brandeis after ordination because I wasn’t sure congregations would accept a rabbi in an interracial marriage
  • Discovering that the world was changing and that my marriage was not an impediment to the rabbinate but a plus (she’s nicer than I am)
  • Serving over the long haul, across generations, in a supportive congregation where I was privileged to witness many profoundly moving human dramas
  • Acting as a midwife for the birth of Beth Chayim Chadashim
  • Serving as chair of the CCAR Committee on Ethics and Appeals for five difficult years (that taught me about the terrible power of the yetzer hara with which we all have to contend)
  • Teaching German Christians in Berlin about Judaism and learning from them


What’s next? I continue to teach Judaism as an adjunct professor at Occidental College.  I visit my kids (3) and grandkids (4). I struggle with limited success to play Bach on the classical guitar. I also know the Malach Hamoves is waiting for me and will come one day, sooner rather than later. I hope that when he arrives I will still have some of the equanimity I feel right now.