Rabbi Tzvi Porath of Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase was ready for his 25th anniversary celebration. He had received commemorative messages from world leaders: "congratulations" from President Carter, admiration from President Ephraim Katzir of Israel, "Mazel tov" from Vice President Walter Mondale.
The program was printed for the festivities beginning Nov. 23. As luck would have it, they would include "Rabbi Porath's 1,000th bar mitzvah," on Parshat Vayishlach the Sabbath on which the story of Jacob is read - the same biblical story read at his first bar mitzvah 25 years ago.
David Freyman, Porath's first bar mitzvah and son of the temple's founder, was scheduled to make a special presentation.
But chance dictated a change in the program.
"A man came in the week before to give a name to his granddaughter. In talking with him, it developed that he had never been formally bar-mitzvahed," recounted the rabbi, his head turning to reveal the yarmulke hidden behind a crown of gray hair.
Porath was afraid the man might change hismind so he immediately scheduled a Torah honor, the core of the bar mitzvah ceremony. The main became the rabbi's 1,000th bar mitzvah.
Asked by he didn't postpone the ceremony so that his celebration would remain as planned the rabbi said, "1,001 is just as important as 1,000. After all it is the first of teh second thousand."
Rabbi Porath, 60, known for working 15-hour days has spent most of his time with individual congregation members "from birth to death to help them in leading a life according to Jewish law."
When he came to them in 1952, they wre called the Montgomery County Jewish. They "were moving in many directions, trying to encompass the whole Jewish community. They needed an identity," he said.
In 1956, after a hard fight, and with his encouragement, they became part of the conservative movement. "It was a major turning point in this congregation," he feels.
Conservative congregations require a lot of personal service, he says, because "we have troubles that are solved by keeping in mind our positive approach to Judaism. We accept traditional Judaism as our direction in life. We also recognize the need for change. We try to make our changes within the Jewish tradition."
This is done with the aid of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly in New York, which provides guidance in matters of Jewish law.
Modern life often most must be synchronized with Jewish tradition he said, but refused to discuss any personal circumstances of congregation members. Most recently, the question involved electric dishwaters.
"In keeping a kosher kitchen, we must separate the milk from the meat dishes. This requires to have two basins and two drainingboards. Does this mean we must also have two electric dishwaters?"
After many phone calls and a New York trip to search through files, the conclusion was arrived at: "If the (dishwater) racks are metal, then the dishwater could be used, provided there is a rinse cycle between (meat and milk dishes). This is a traditional principle in Judaism (brought) up to modern times," he said.
A 16th generation rabbi, Porath was born in Palestine, immigrated with his family to the United States at age 5, and began reading the Talmud, the Hebrew Bible commentary, with his four brothers at age 13. For fun, and to test their knowledge one would push a pin through a word on the top and ask the others what word the pin hit so many pages underneath. This game helped him develop a photographic memory, he said.
The boys received rabbinical training, but only Tzvi (meaning "deer") is now a rabbi. One brother heads Catholic college in Niagara Falls.
Of all the changes in his congregation through the years, his approach to adolescents has had to be altered most often. In the 1950s, he sponsored "cocktail parties" for groups named the Sabres, Tigers and Pirates. In the '70s, he says youth are more dedicated, more curious. The groups have changed from "just a place where young people meet, to meeting for a purpose. They are more searching, they want to find their roots."
His proudest accomplishment is a Jewish day school started 12 years ago with seven students. A new grade was added each year from kindergarten on up. Next year the school will add grade 12.
The Ohr Kodesh chapel, dedicated in 1953, was the first synagogue in Maryland south of Baltimore.
The rabbi and Mrs. Porath, whose rabbinical lineage goes back to the 10th century, collect art. This interest is reflected at the temple. Philip Ratner's five stained-glass windows express the theme "holy light" or Ohr Kodesh, the name adopted in 1969 "because a Jewish institution should have a Jewish name." Often, fund raising is accomplished by trading donated original lithographs for contributions.
A man with few hobbies, Porath has recently taken up golf and tennis but he talks of them would great enthusiasm.
He seems most excited when describing his congregation darting back and forth from photo photo in the anniversary exhibit they made for him called, "This is Your Life," Rabbi Porath.
"You must remember." said one congregation member "we are his life."