By Stacey Dresner
SPRINGFIELD – When Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro retired as spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Springfield in 2016, he stayed in Longmeadow, the town that he and his wife Marsha had called home since 1988.
After 28 years at Sinai, Rabbi Shapiro said he was still inspired by his vocation, but thought it was better for the congregation to have a fresh change in leadership.
“I think it would be really good for the congregation to turn a page. A new rabbi would be good, I think, for the congregation. I have been the rabbi for a generation, so it is good for there to be change,” he told the Jewish Ledger back then.
“I still love this job and I love what I do. And I love the opportunity to be creative with programs and to be present with people and to visit with them and to innovate… I’m still excited and enthusiastic about the whole area of Jewish living, Jewish leadership and what rabbis can do to advance Jewish living at this time.”
Rabbi Shapiro passed away on Tuesday, July 21 in Longmeadow at the age of 70. He was buried on July 24 in his hometown of Toronto. He is survived by Marsha, his wife of nearly 48 years and his sons, Daniel and Jordan.
“Rabbi Shapiro was beloved by the members of this community for his leadership, his kindness, and his wisdom,” said Rabbi Jeremy Master, Rabbi Shapiro’s successor at Sinai Temple. “He was there for congregants in the happiest times and in the saddest times. It was very painful for congregants to hear of the death of someone who was part of their families’ most significant lifecycle moments. Personally I felt warmly welcomed by Rabbi Shapiro when I moved here to be his successor. We met regularly and I very much enjoyed having the opportunity to get to know him.”
Ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1977, Rabbi Shapiro was a social work intern for Jewish Family Service in Cincinnati as part of his rabbinic studies. He also graduated from the Pastoral Counseling Program at the Post Graduate Center for Mental Health in New York City.
He began his career in the rabbinate as an associate rabbi for Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto from 1977 to 1982. He served as rabbi of Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, N.Y. from 1983 to 1988, before arriving at Sinai Temple in Springfield in 1988.
Rabbi Shapiro was very involved with Sinai’s Religious School and Youth Groups. He loved interacting with the children of Sinai – he would often read stories to them wearing fun costumes.
One of his greatest pleasures was the time he spent with Sinai’s 10th grade Confirmation class, taking them each year on a retreat to places like Washington, D.C. to visit Capitol Hill and in 2007 to Atlanta, Georgia and Selma, Alabama on a civil rights journey.
He also taught an adult Torah Study Group that still meets every Saturday morning. He led several groups of adults through the process of becoming Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
Rabbi Shapiro also changed the way Sinai’s services were conducted, coming down off the bimah to lead services on the floor of the sanctuary to be closer and more a part of the congregation.
He liked to try new things in terms of the service. Several times a year he lead “Visual T’filah” using power point slides at the front of the sanctuary. The slides showed not just the prayers, but artwork and photographs that help to illustrate them. In his bid to offer a variety of worship styles to his congregants, he helped to create four different prayer pamphlets for use in Sinai’s Shabbat services.
“Rabbi Shapiro understood the many hats a rabbi must wear,” said Rabbi Amy Katz in a message she sent out to the community. “He knew how to convey ideas to his congregants, engaging them with his love of Torah, Israel and the Jewish people. When his congregants needed a compassionate presence, Rabbi Shapiro knew how to be present, supportive and loving. He held the stories of so many Sinai Temple members.”
As a result of Rabbi Shapiro’s keen interest in social action, Sinai received national recognition from the Reform Movement for its extensive social action programming. In 2007, he was was honored by the National Conference for Community and Justice with its annual human rights award.
He was a member of and chaired the Convention Program Committee for the CCAR from 1996 to 2004. He has been president of NER (Northeast Reform Rabbis), a region of the CCAR, and also served on the executive board of the CCAR as its recording secretary.
In the interest of outreach, he chaired the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) Committee on Conversion from 1982 to 1987. He was a member of and for several years chaired the Commission on Outreach for the Northeast Council of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). He was also a member of the National URJ Commission on Outreach for several years and was president of the Interfaith Council of Western Massachusetts from 1996 to 1998. He was also Treasurer of the Interfaith Council.
For years he led the annual “Sinai Temple Institute for Christian and Muslim Clergy and Educators” a series of interfaith clergy learning sessions which Rabbi Herman Snyder founded many years ago.
“Rabbi Shapiro built bridges,” said Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz of Temple Beth El in Springfield in a note to the community after his passing. “He understood that his role as rabbi was to represent the Jewish community to the larger world in which we live. That is why he regularly wrote opinion pieces for the Republican, attended countless civic events, taught at local churches throughout the area and organized study opportunities for clergy of all faiths. Interfaith dialogue was an integral part of Rabbi Shapiro’s rabbinate.”
Rabbi Shapiro was an adjunct professor at Springfield College for a number of years. His publications include the book, Gates of Shabbat, and several articles such as “Defining Our Religious Message,” “Rooting the Religion of Freedom in History: An Assessment of American Reform Judaism,” “The Unfolding of Comfort: A Commentary on the Haftarah Cycle,” “Becoming Jewish Through the Jewish Information Class,” “The Second Book of Jeremiah: From Doom to Destiny,” and “The God Survey.”
“The memory of Mark Shapiro will always be for blessing to this community,” said Rabbi Devorah Jacobson. “I knew Mark for over 20 years, and always thought of him as a skilled, fun-loving and very wise rabbi and a very kind friend. Over the years, I watched him in action, at meetings, during study sessions, leading programs, and observed that everything he did, he did well, in a high quality way, with so much thoughtfulness, care, grace and whenever appropriate, a good amount of humor.”