True star born in midlife crisis - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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True star born in midlife crisis

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Sunday, May 6th 2007, 4:00 AM 

Dan Sikowitz sat as a true star of real life as he chatted with a friend on a park bench on Friday, by chance across from the palatial home of two famous movie actors. 

"Somebody was referring to them, even mentioned their names, and I had no idea who they were talking about," Sikowitz remarked. 

As maybe everybody in Park Slope save the 50-year-old Sikowitz knows, the actors are Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany. Sikowitz has been staying just down the block from them for four years, but he has had no time to follow the movies. He has been too busy in a midlife quest that makes him a hero of the spirit in this era of money and celebrity. 

Back before the day in 2001 when the whole world seemed to change, this father of two informed his wife that he wanted to quit a job as an MCI project manager in Maryland. He was going to heed what he had come to feel his true calling. 

"I want to be a rabbi," he said. 

His wife, Ruth Stuart, responded with the spirit that would help make it possible. 

"Let's do it!" she said. 

At the age of 44, Sikowitz told his 8-year-old son, Gabriel, and his 4-year-old daughter, Sarah, that Daddy was embarking on a new life. 

"At first, I thought, 'What lesson was I teaching my kids, that I can just up and do this?'" Sikowitz recalled. "Then I thought it is a great lesson: It doesn't matter what age you are if that's the right path. Follow your heart." 

Sikowitz was completing his application to the Hebrew Union College in Manhattan on 9/11. He decided the attack gave him only more reason to proceed. 

"Your life could end at any moment," Sikowitz said. "You've got to do what you're supposed to be doing." 

The first of the five years of study was in Jerusalem, and one expression the family learned was pigua, a terror attack. The worst of the piguim during their stay was a suicide bus bombing. 

"As I write this, I can hear the rescue helicopters and the ambulances going to the scene," Sikowitz said in an e-mail. "L'shalom and say a prayer." 

At least in Jerusalem, the family was together. They had four years after their return with Sikowitz, spending the week in New York in a room provided by his friends Bruce and Rosalee Lovett. Ruth and the kids lived in the house they still owned in suburban Maryland, where many of their neighbors worked for the government. Other kids replied with acronyms like EPA or FDA when Gabriel's teacher asked who employed their parents. 

"When it came to Gabe, he said, 'G-O-D,'" Sikowitz recalled. 

Gabriel told his father that his friends' dads responded to midlife crisis by buying a motorcycle or a sports car. 

"And his dad became a rabbi," Sikowitz noted on Friday. 

Sikowitz was reminded every day at his own school how much easier it would have been to buy a sports car. He found studying at his age required considerably more effort then when he was a kid at Canarsie High. He also had to work as many as four jobs while he labored to master Aramaic, along with both biblical and rabbinical Hebrew. 

Yet as he completed his five years of study Friday, Sikowitz was only more convinced that he had made exactly the right decision. He sat with a friend on a park bench after his last class so deeply happy that he and the sunshine seemed one in the same. 

"Who I am and what I do are now one in the same thing," he said. "A wonderful feeling." 

He gave thanks aloud for all those who helped him in his quest. 

"So many people helped make it happen," he said. "It's such a miracle, such a blessing." 

Sikowitz's wife and children will be there for his smicha, or ordination, at 9 a.m. today at Temple Emanuel on Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, which is on the route of today's Salute to Israel parade. 

As if with a smile from above, the parade will commence just as Dan Sikowitz officially becomes a rabbi. He and his family will return to Maryland, where he has begun to build a congregation, borrowing space in a Unitarian Church for services and using a dentist's office. 

"After he quits for the day, I take over his office," Sikowitz said. 

Back in Park Slope, we will remember the true star who lived four years in a room just down the block from the movie actors' mansion. 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.