By day he is the president of a construction firm, but after 5 p.m. and every weekend Rabbi Morris Gordon turns his full attention to the latest cluster of Jewish families who have come to seek his help in starting a synagogue.
In the last 25 years that rabbinical moonlighting has resulted in the evolution of seven now-thriving Conservative Jewish Congregations in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. In addition Rabbi Gordon has helped out at least a dozen other established congregations when they faced a crisis of some sort.
One of the congregations he helped establish 13 years ago, Har Shalom in PotomacM honored Rabbi Gordon this weekend as a part of its own "Bar Mitzvah year" celebration, by rededicating the sanctuary to him.
(In Jewish tradition, a youth marks his coming of age - 13 with the Bar Mitzvah rite: Har Shalom has adapted the tradition to its won corporate coming of age.)
Seated in the living room of his Chevy Chase home, Rabbi Gordon recalls with a sort of fatherly affection the congregations he has helped launch in his 25 years here: Congregation Beth E1 in Bethesda, Mishkan Torah in Greenbelt, Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, Har Shalom in Potomac, Beth Tikvah in Rockville and the Gaithersburg Hebrew Congregation.
Only a fortnight ago he installed Rabbi Noah Golinken as the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom in Columbia, thereby formally setting that congregation on its own path.
While Washington has had a small Jewish community since its earliest beginning, it was not until the post-World War II era that Jews began flocking here in sizeable numbers. Most of them settled in the suburbs.
"When the newcomers, particularly those with young families settling in the suburbs, he continued, "I saw that if you want them to remain (active in their faith) you have to build synagogues where the people are. You can't expect them to come into town."
Thus he was sympathetic when a group representing some 30 couples in Bethesda came to him shortly after he moved to the area and said "You're a rabbi; Will you help us get a synagogue started"?
His essent led not only to the founding of Congregation Beth E1, but to a way of life the rabbi-businessman has followed ever since.
He estimates that it takes about five years on the average for new congregation to get off the ground. "While I'm dealing with one (fledgling congregation) there's another group waiting in the wins," he remarked.
"You start with a board of directors and the first thing you do is to get a school going for the children," he said. Rabbi Gordon himself functions as the acting rabbi to conduct services for the evolving congregation. "The money that it would cost for a full-time Rabbi would suffocate them," he explained. With him available, these resources can instead get the school and congregation organized.
With a board of directors, the school, sisterhood, men's group and youth groups operating, "I help them raise money for the building," he said.
Rabbi Gordon helps the new congregation find its own permanent rabbi and then, like the good parent whose children mature and establish their own lives, he retires from the scene. "When we build the building I say now you've got to walk on your own feet," he said.
After Beth E1 was launched, "we moved out of Bethesda so were no longer within their grasp," he recalled. "We joined Adas Israel" - A large, established congregation in the city - "as our home base. My son was Bar Mitzvahed there: and my daughter was confirmed and married there."
Adas Israel, which he had joined in part because he wanted an established congregation he could relate to as a layman, unexpectedly lost both its rabbis shortly after he joined and Rabbi Gordon filled in as rabbi for two years. His tenure there ended when he urged the congregation's officers to visit his former synagogue in Minneapolis, Adath Jeshrun, to scout the bright young rabbi there who had succeeded Rabbi Gordon when he moved here.
Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz was engaged to lead the influential Washington synagogue and Rabbi Gordon could go back to helping new congregations or filling in at old ones.
All the while, Rabbi Gordon was president of the Roberts Company of Washington, a building supplies firm, the job that originally brought him to Washington.
He is quick to acknowledge that "I couldn't have done all these things without a long suffering partner - my brother-in-law" who heads the Baltimore home office of the firm.
Rabbi Gordon has had some unique preparation for his role as an itinerant Rabbi. As an Army chaplain during World War II he was the first, and for a time the only, chaplain to make it up the embattled Burma Road to minister to troops fighting in the bitter jungle war.
In those circumstances the finer points of theological barriers largely were ignored and the Jewish chaplain ministered to Protestants, Catholics and Jews alike. "I would see as many as 1,000 men a day," he recalled. "I gave them a good solid biblical service and they thought it was great. I preached from the Old Testament and brought them right to the heart of their tradition."
While he was in the jungle he recalls "the monsoon came, but the men still came for the services and they stood there for an hour without moving in the driving rain. Our only problem was that we were under constant sniper attack." He was finally evacuated by air and ultimately was awarded the Bronze Star.
Robbi Gordon keeps fit today for his dual career life by jogging two miles every morning and by playing a weekly tennis game. "I play religiously," he said with a smile. "For 10 years, we've had the same foursome - two rabbis and two laymen - every Tuesday evening at the Arlington Y."
Rabbi Gordon believes that the pattern for his role as an itinerant rabbi who earns his money from secular employment is rooted in the Talmud. "Why not go back to the ways of the Talmud, when the rabbi was shoemaker or a carpenter?" he said.
He acknowledges that given the organization of society today that is not the way rabbis could function, but in his circumstances it has brougth great satisfactioin.
"I have felt the hand of a higher destiny in my life," he explained. "It is as if God said: 'Look man, I put you here, make the most of it!"
For Rabbi Gordon, it has been a fulfilling life. "I am very grateful to God. You don't always see the results of your effort," he said of his work in planting synagolues. Then he added: "Even Moses never saw the fruits of his efforts."