Longtime BJBE Rabbi Mark S. Shapiro

Mentor to generations of Jewish leaders

Mark Shapiro image

Rabbi Mark S. Shapiro's love for Judaism was unconditional, and only intensified in the face of its complexities and seeming contradictions.

His love for people was that way, too.

Shapiro, who served as rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim, in Deerfield, from 1962 to 2000, and then rabbi emeritus for the remainder of his life, died Aug. 28 at age 85.

He was an adored teacher and spiritual leader who left his mark mentoring scores of students who went on to become rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators, synagogue leaders, and Jewish communal professionals.

"Talmud Sanhedrin says that if you teach a child Torah, you are considered as if you are that child's parent," said Reb Irwin Keller, spiritual leader of Ner Shalom in Sonoma County, Calif. "And in that sense, we are all Mark's children."

No matter how hectic his schedule, Shapiro always made time to stop and listen - really listen - to his congregants, especially young adults. He was uniquely insightful, often appreciating qualities in people that they had not yet discovered in themselves.

"He could see you; he knew who you were," said BJBE Senior Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar. "He'd tap you on the shoulder and say: 'You need to be a teacher," or a rabbi or a cantor.

Rabbi Alan Rabishaw of Sacramento's Temple Or Rishon was a teenager attending a BJBE rally for Soviet Jewry when Shapiro "tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Will you read this paragraph [about Natan Sharansky]?' My commitment to the larger Jewish people and to making this world better began with that tap."

When former BJBE President Patti Frazin was a young mother, she was grieving the loss of her father and had little interest in intensive Jewish involvement. But Shapiro remembered that she was a social worker and asked if she would help make sandwiches for people in need. That engagement sparked her lifelong involvement in Jewish life.

"Rabbi Mark Shapiro had a way of seeing that pintela yid , that divine spark, in each of us," Frazin said. "For me, asking me to make a sandwich illuminated my path forward in the Jewish community. And what he did for me, he did for countless others."

Another of Shapiro's gifts was his ability to provide solace and counsel to people in times of crisis.

"He was a [true] pastoral rabbi," Kedar said. "You'd hear his voice and you'd breathe a little easier."

Renowned for his powerful sermons and readings, Shapiro took on provocative subjects he thought were important to view through a Jewish lens, such as the Vietnam War, and was humble enough to share when his perspective evolved on issues, such as LGBTQ rights.

In addition, Shapiro broached very personal topics from the pulpit, including his own struggles with depression. He had the singular ability to make each congregant feel like he was speaking to them personally.

He and Hanna, his wife of 61 years, shared a longtime love for the State of Israel and traveled there many times during their life together.

Shapiro also was devoted to social justice, active in the movement to free Soviet Jewry and proudly marching with other religious leaders in Selma, Alabama with Dr. King in 1965.

An ardent White Sox fan, Shapiro grew up in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago and attended Hyde Park High School. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Chicago and received his ordination from Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

In addition to Hanna (nee Raunheim), he is survived by his sons Stephen (Rachel), Eliot (Ellyn), and David; grandchildren, Natalie, Noah, and Rose; and brother, Benjamin (Barbara) Shapiro. He was an uncle, great-uncle, cousin, and friend to many. Memorial contributions may be made to Congregation BJBE, Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, or Yad LaKashish-Lifeline for the Old in Jerusalem.


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