Category Archives: Rabbi Steven Lebow

Rabbi Steven Lebow has served as Kol Emeth’s dedicated spiritual leader since 1986, when he first came to Cobb county to join the fledgling congregation of only 60 families.

Ordained in 1983, Rabbi Lebow has brought his vision, inspiration, enthusiasm, and social consciousness to Kol Emeth. These properties are among the primary reasons for the growth of the congregation to over 500 families. He has also brought a unique ability to help people personalize their own religious beliefs, so that members feel free to express their own interpretations of their faith. He is a skilled teacher and speaker whose talents and charm attract listeners of all ages and all persuasions.

In 1987, Rabbi Lebow began to offer “Introduction to Judaism” classes that have been attended by hundreds of people, Jews and non-Jews alike. His courses, sponsored by the Atlanta Bureau of Jewish Education, were ultimately broadcast by the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcast Network (AIB), in an effort to reach out to the entire Atlanta community and to dispel myths and prejudice about Judaism. Because of the success of his original broadcasts, Rabbi Lebow began to broadcast Kol Emeth’s holiday services five years ago on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcast Network. These broadcasts, a first in the nation, have helped to open up the synagogue service to both Jews and non-Jews.

Using the medium of television, Rabbi Lebow has tried to communicate the humanistic values and openness of Judaism to the Atlanta community. In 1990, Rabbi Lebow was among a group that helped found Atlanta’s first Reform Jewish Day School, the Davis Academy. He served on its first interim Board and remains active in the school. Because of his advocacy for abused children, Rabbi Lebow was selected clergyman of the year in 1993 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In 1994 Rabbi Lebow organized and was the keynote speaker at a mass rally in protest of an anti-gay resolution passed by the Cobb County Council. He was also instrumental in the erection of a plaque to mark the spot, here in Cobb County, where Leo Frank was lynched by a mob after having been falsely accused and convicted of murder. For his human rights activities, Rabbi Lebow has received awards, citations and honors from the Cobb Citizens Coalition, the Clergy and Laity Concerned, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Rabbi Lebow is married to Madeline Sable. They have two daughters, Shira and Julia.

Tales of the Blue Wizard

Rabbi  Steven J. Lebow,
Temple Kol,Emeth
Marietta, Atlanta Georgia

December 21st, 2012.

Tales of the Blue Wizard

Or… How I hated Hebrew School and why you can, too!wizard_crystal_ball_c190660_s_0

In a town, not so long ago. In a place not so far away…. There lived a people who were blue. Or, at least, they were blue-ish. The people wanted their children to learn to be “blues”, but they had no idea how to begin to lead a blue-ish life, so they approached the wizard and asked him to teach their children the blue-ish ways.

“I’ll try,” said the wizard, sheepishly. And he took on the blueish children as students. They came to him and to his assistants every week for blueish instruction.

He tried to teach them how to levitate, but they were only fair. He tried to teach them how to turn invisible, but that was almost a complete disaster. They never quite got the hang of it and only their heads would disappear. The rest of their bodies were completely visible. He taught them how to cast spells, but they almost always got the words wrong and the spells turned out to be, well, at best interesting.

He taught and taught magic all day and all night long, but the blueish students just looked at him and yawned.

“Will this be on the test?” one of them asked. “Life is the test” the blue wizard grumbled.

“My mother says I have to be excused early today,” said another student, as he broke his concentration on his spell.

“I don’t like wizardry school,” said a third student. “My father says he hated it when he was a kid and that’s why I have to go now. But he also said, ”she continued, “that when I pass my introductory wizardry test that I don’t have to go to wizard school anymore!”

The blue wizard grew more and more frustrated.

Until one day, a delegation of parents approached the blue wizard.

“Our children are not learning wizardry the way we thought they would,” said the president of the delegation.”

“Yes,” mumbled the blue wizard, “i can see that. But let me ask you something, he turned to one of the parents.

“What else do your children study, besides wizardry?”

“Oh, my child practices the clarinet for four hours every day,” said one parent.

“Ah well my child studies rhythmic gymnastics for 6 hours a day,” beamed one proud parent.

“Well, we had to give up band and gymnastics,” admitted one parent, “but now my child is on a traveling softball team for 32 weeks a year.”

“Ah yes,” said the blue wizard at last, “I think I see a pattern emerging. You want your children to learn how to become wizards, or at least how to use wizardry in their lives. But it seems like everything else comes first. And yet, you know that one day, they’ll no longer play the clarinet, one day they won’t be in gymnastics and one day they won’t care that they ever played on a traveling softball team!

But they’ll always be blueish,” said the wizard. “And  I only get them at the end of the day,  when all else is said and done, I only get to teach them wizardry for an hour or two every week…

“Look,” continued the wizard in his most  jovial manner, “Let me ask you a question. “Who here practices wizardry at home, with their children? You know, instead of just dropping them off for an hour here or there, expecting me and the other wizards to teach them. Who here, actually talks about being blueish in front of their children, at the dinner table?”

A few of the parents sheepishly raised their hands.

“Well,” said the blue wizard, “ I would venture to say that yours are the children who will see the connection between what we teach in wizard school and what really happens in real life.

“After all” concluded the wizard, “my teacher used to tell me, the dinner table is the greatest classroom of all…”

The parents were quiet for a moment. They drunk in the wizards lesson that they were a team. That wizards and parents had to work together. That wizardy had to be taught in the home. That if parents practiced wizardry, then the children would learn by watching them, instead of just being shipped off to wizardry school.

Some of the parents understood the implicit wisdom of training their own children in wizardry. Some of the parents got it and they determined to become better skilled at being bluish.

Some of the parents got it and some never would.

“Are you sure you’re a wizard?” Asked one parent. “you know, you don’t even look blueish,” said another.

“And are you sure we have to practice wizardry too?” Asked one angry  parent. “I thought we were hiring you to teach our children everything they need to know!” 

“Ah,” said the wizard, with a twinkle in his eye, ““It isn’t my job. It’s your job to make sure your children turn out blueish.”

“I can’t do it all myself,” said the wizard, with a twinkle in his eye. “After all,” said the old man, “I told you I was a blue wizard, but I never told you I could do magic!”


Superman and Batman, You and Me

Rabbi Steven Lebow

Temple Kol Emeth 

Superman and Batman, You and Me


As everyone who has ever studied super-heroes knows, almost every super-hero (with the notable exception of the Fantastic Four) has a secret identity. An alter ego. As the poet T. S. Elliot would say, “They prepare a face to meet the faces that they meet…”

The traditional reason for having a secret identity is that “My enemies will strike at the ones I love!” Hence, Superman doesn’t want Lois Lane hurt and Peter Parker is defensive of his elderly Aunt May.

In examining Superman and Batman, it is clear that the concept of a secret identity is different for these two archetypes. Bruce Wayne is the REAL person. It is Batman who is his alter ego. Bruce Wayne, burdened by the Oedipal loss of his parents, takes on the guise of a mystic creature of the night.

Superman, however, is the REAL person. He came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. He has always been Superman and always will be. It is Clark Kent that is a disguise, a made up persona. Clark Kent, wearing geeky glasses and always stooping is supposed to fool you into thinking that he is a wimp, when in fact he could bench press… well, he could bench press an entire planet, should he choose to do so!

Bruce Wayne is real. Batman is a disguise. The inverse is true; Superman is real. It is Clark Kent that is the disguise.

And as I was saying about the High Holidays… Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is all about the faces that we wear each day, in order to meet the faces that we see on the street. One hopes that the face we wear is the true one, but then, different circumstances and conditions can elicit a change in face, or personality, at least temporarily.

In fact, the Hebrew word for prayer, “tefillah”, means quite simply “to look at one’s <face> in the mirror…”

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur call us to look directly into the mirror of our lives and to ask ourselves “Am I the person that I was meant to be? Am I the best father/mother/child that I could be? Where have I erred and where have I gone off track?”

It is not necessarily a pleasant task to look intently in that mirror, particularly if we find something in our souls that is wanting. We don’t always live up to our own best intentions.

Maybe we could have done better this past year. Maybe we should try harder in this coming year?

This difficult soul-work is what makes Judaism more a philosophy than a Western-style religion.

Christianity is a western style religion. It has happy holidays; Christmas and Easter. Judaism has somber Holy Days; the Days of Awe and the Days of Judgement.

In English we use the phrase “People celebrate Christmas.” Imagine fitting Yom Kippur into that phrase. No one I know “celebrates” Yom Kippur!

Christians, it is said, celebrate their holidays. Jews observe theirs. One isn’t better than the other. It is just that they have a different emphasis.

For this reason, no one that I know looks forward to Yom Kippur. Who wants to spend the day beating their breast, looking into the mirror, and wondering how they might have done better?

And yet, every Jew I know feels cleansed after the Holy Days have come and gone. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we stand revealed, no mask and no disguise to hide us from our Creator or ourselves. On the holidays we are most assuredly neither Superman, nor Batman.  We have no Bat Cave and no Fortress of Solitude to which we can escape.

The Jewish Holy Days- no mask, no cape.  Just us. Just you. Just me.

And all that we can do at the Holidays is sit in the synagogue for a few hours, stripped of all disguises and secret identities and we ask ourselves, “If I leave my disguise behind… who do I want to be this year?”

Bar Mitzvah Preparation for the Learning Disabled Child of an Interfaith Family

Rabbi Steven Lebow

Temple Kol Emeth 


Bar Mitzvah Preparation for the Learning Disabled Child of an Interfaith Family


The first time I heard Michael Graner read Hebrew I knew I was in for trouble.

 As a congregational rabbi it is my job to make sure that every child is adequately prepared for the bar/bat mitzvah.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutoring is not the most prestigious or glamorous part of my job. Nevertheless, I pride myself on being sure that every child can read the Torah blessings and Parsha (Torah portion) fluently.

When Michael came to my office that fall to have his Hebrew fluency evaluated I had no reason to expect that he would be any different from my other students. I had observed Michael during Mid-week Hebrew over the years and I remembered him as a normal, boisterous twelve year old.

“Go ahead and read the Torah blessings,” I said to him.

“O.K.,” he said. “Rabku at Edonee…” He stopped and looked up sheepishly.

“What?” I said. “Read it again.” It was late in the afternoon and I assumed that fatigue was affecting my hearing.

“Rabku at Edonee,” he read once more.

I winced at Michael’s mispronunciations and seeming disregard for the Hebrew vowels and even its consonants.

“No,” I said gently. “The first word of the Torah blessing is ‘Barchu’, not Rabku. You’re reading it backwards. Try it again.”

“O.K.,” Michael said agreeably. “Rabku at Edonee Haboregard…”

We were in deep trouble. Michael had been in Hebrew School for three years and had somehow managed to escape learning any Hebrew. In truth, he seemed to know some Hebrew, but he persisted in confusing one Hebrew consonant for another.

It was now October and his Bar Mitzvah service was seven months away. Faced with the almost insurmountable task of teaching Hebrew to Michael in seven months I took a deep breath.

“Try it again,” I said to Michael.

It was going to be a long afternoon.

For a moment I began to wonder why I had never applied to law school…

To add one more wrinkle was the fact that Michael came from an interfaith family who desperately wanted him to have a Bar Mitzvah but who lacked any ability to reinforce Michael’s Hebrew studies at home.

“Rabbi,” said Michael’s mom, “I’m not from a Jewish background, so I can’t really help him prepare for his Hebrew studies.”

“We know he can’t read Hebrew well, if at all,” said his father, but I’ve already forgotten most of the Hebrew I learned thirty years ago when I had my bar mitzvah.”

“What should we do?” the mother asked me.

“Well,” I suggested, “We could arrange for a private tutor for him.”

“Rabbi,” said the mom, “It’s expensive to be Jewish. We would hire a tutor for him, but our budget is already stretched tight.”

“If it were for summer camp,” said his Methodist mother, “I could probably get my parents to chip in and help with the expenses. But my parents are Protestant and they have no clue about the importance of this day in Michael’s life!”

“Rabbi, we know how important it is for interfaith families to affirm their child’s Jewish identity. But we just can’t afford the additional Hebrew tutoring. What should we do?”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, in that case, I will tutor Michael privately, at no charge.”

“”How hard could it be?” I wondered to myself.

Two months went by, very slowly. His reading of the Torah blessings was still deeply flawed. Close, as they say, but no cigar.

Michael’s Torah and Haftarah portions were in even worse shape. Michael could barely make his way through the first couple of words. How would he ever learn his parsha? How would I ever be able to train him to read directly from the Torah?

I honestly did not know how to teach Hebrew to someone who learned differently.

Law School was looking better all the time.

That October I had lunch with a friend who is an educational consultant. I described my frustration over Michael’s inability to grasp Hebrew.

“He’s obviously got Dyslexia or some kind of Language Processing Disorder,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know,” she said to me. “His brain is not processing language in the way same way that you or I do. He’s probably very bright,” she said. “But he’s got to learn a language in a different way.”

“Put the Torah blessings on YouTube, and let him listen to them over and over. Have him write the Hebrew out phonetically in English. See if that helps jumpstart him.

“He’ll get it eventually,” The consultant said to me. “He is going to learn the parsha a little differently than other kids. Just have faith.”

I went home that afternoon thinking about learning disabilities and wondering what else I didn’t know about teaching Hebrew. The weeks went by and I tried new techniques every week.

I posted the blessings on line and made Michael listen to them every day. I recorded a sound file of his parsha and downloaded it to his iPod. Michael listened to the sound files every single day, as if they were the newest lectures from Tony Robbins or some other motivational speaker! I taught Michael to recognize syllables, instead of just words. I had Michael whisper the prayers and then I experimented with having him shout them at the top of his voice.

I tried at every Hebrew lesson to have faith in Michael. And even on the days that he faltered and failed to recognize any of the Hebrew I tried to just put my faith in, well, You-Know-Who..

Keep trying,” I told him as we were struggling with the Torah portion one day. “Never give up,” I said to him. “Never give in.”

A month later when he learned to sing the Torah Trope Michael’s face brightened. My educational consultant had suggested that this might happen. Some kids with learning disabilities do better when they sing, than when they read.

“Go and figure,” I said to myself. “I’m a congregational rabbi, not a neuropsychologist!”

One day in February Michael walked into my office. He opened his siddur and without a word of introduction he sang in a clear voice “Barchu et Adonai…”

“What?” I asked incredulously.

He then again repeated the Torah blessing fluently and without a mistake. Just like that. One week he couldn’t do it and then the next week he did it flawlessly. Michael had gone from not knowing it to getting it. I couldn’t credit my inspired teaching or even the advice from the consultant I had used. It was almost as if a miracle had happened.

“How did you finally learn it?” I asked Michael.

“I just practiced like you told me,” he replied. And then Michael looked down and began to chant the “V’ahavta”.

A few months after that Michael came to the bima and chanted the entire service effortlessly. He then chanted his aliyot, without a mistake. Only a few people in the room could truly know what a triumph that moment must have felt like for Michael.

Of course Michael’s Jewish grandparents were moved by the bar mitzvah of their grandson. But even Michael’s Methodist grandparents were touched by the importance of Jewish values their daughter had helped give their grandson.

I learned many lessons from tutoring Michael that year.

Learning disabled kids are just like other kids. They need help and they need love. And interfaith families are the same as all Jewish families. They need to know that their rabbi will support them in what can be the difficult task of raising Jewish children when one parent isn’t Jewish.

As Michael was chanting his haftarah I caught a glimpse of his parents, their faces bathed in pride. I looked away, my own eyes starting to mist. We were watching a young boy begin the long odyssey from ignorance to literacy, from confusion to commitment.

Watching Michael that day I marveled at the strength that God gives us to overcome whatever flaws or deficits we may have. Having conquered his inability to read Hebrew, Michael was now over the hump.

I guess I was, too.

The legal profession was safe from me, at least for the time being. The rabbinate had suddenly become fulfilling again.

Sleeping and Awake

Rabbi  Steven J. Lebow,
Temple Kol,Emeth
Marietta, Atlanta Georgia


“I always take a nap, just before I go to sleep…”

I am dreaming and here I am.

I am 8 years old and my parents, Doc and Rita, have driven 12 hours from South Florida to Cleveland, Georgia.

(I had driven to Georgia only once before this and that is a story for a different memoir. The story of my first trip to Atlanta, in 1963, is a sad tale, full of sand and tears. That story will simmer on the stove for some other time.)

We pull into Camp Coleman and there is no sign at the entrance. In 1965 the Klan was still bombing synagogues and churches. There is no UAHC Camp Coleman sign and there are no Jewish stars. No visible signs at all, except for the mile markers my father instructs me to count.

We drive down a dirt road and there it is. Just the Ad Building- what is now called the Misrad. The Administration Building (Misrad) of the camp sits by a lake. I had never seen a summer camp before.

If truth be told, I had never seen a lake, either.

As a child I was fascinated by that lake. I sat by it, dreaming and daydreaming, for hours. Only years later did I discover it had a name, “Lake Shalom”.

And then, it was many years later, when I looked down at the lake from the Ulam Gadol (Elishva), that I realized that the lake was shaped, vaguely, like the state of Israel.

I was only 8 years old the first time I sat by that lake. It could have been shaped like Rhode Island for all I knew.

But that lake was not shaped like Rhode Island. The lake was signified, like so many other things at Coleman, Jewishly.

Everything at that camp, outside Cleveland, Georgia, was signified as Jewish. I see that looking back, awakening from the dream of the middle of my middle age.

The food at Coleman was Jewishly significant. It was blessed in Hebrew. I had never heard Hebrew songs before. In fact, I had never heard the Motzi, the blessing over the bread, either.

I had been the only Jewish 3rd grader at Sunset Elementary School, in Ft. Lauderdale. No one at the school cafeteria in 1965 blessed their lunch room meals. And no one, I am sure, sang the Motzi at my gentile school.

But that first summer at Coleman everyone in the dining hall was Jewish. As I looked up and down the lunch room bench, at Coleman, it suddenly occurred to me that everyone was Jewish. And everyone that first summer I spent at camp sang the motzi.

Looking back, I guess that hearing that Motzi must have changed my life, in ways germane, but ineluctable and inchoate to me then.

Looking back, I see that 8 year old who returned home from that first summer at camp. I see him, small for his age- in fact, small for any age. I see that young boy, now in the fourth grade, singing the Motzi at every lunchtime, for many years to come. Singing Jewishly wherever he went.

Jew-less in Gaza, as the poet sings.

That young child sang the Hebrew blessings out loud and unashamedly during the final years of elementary school. He sang off key, but at least with gusto.

For fifty years, that little boy has sung the same Hebrew melodies that he learned fifty years ago. Now he is 58, but yen he was only 8 years old.

And now, both late at night and early in the morning, dreaming and awake, the melody of those Hebrew songs come back to him.

I know those Jewish melodies still sound on and on and on. I know, because I hear them still.

No matter whether I am dreaming, or awake.