Rabbi Eugene Lipman is 65 years old and has finished nearly a quarter-century as spiritual leader of one of the major synagogues in Washington, but that doesn't mean he is ready to put his feet up.
"I'm NOT retiring," Lipman said firmly. "I've finished my work at Temple Sinai. Now I'm moving on to other things."
His list of "other things" is fairly formidable. First, there's the job he was elected to last summer as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which will require a certain amount of traveling and attending meetings for the next two years.
Then, if things go according to plan, he will become president of the professional organization of Reform rabbis and will face a lot more traveling, meetings and speeches.
There also are the four books he's planning to write, "but I've already thought about them," he said. And he will also spend half a day a week as a volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I've always wanted to do some volunteer work," said Lipman. "I think it will be great fun to spend half a day a week stuffing envelopes -- and not serving on the board, making decisions."
Since retiring after 24 years at Temple Sinai on July 1, he has served a two-month stint as acting director of the Interfaith Conference, filling in while the Rev. Clark Lobenstine completed a study sabbatical.
Ready at last for a rest, Lipman and his wife Esther have headed for New England even before the start of the high holidays this weekend -- "to wander" for a couple weeks, he said.
The trek this month is merely dress rehearsal for six months of travel abroad, around Europe, the Middle East, and maybe Australia, early next year.
"In 1945, I took responsibility for seven displaced persons, all women, from Czechoslovakia," Lipman said. "Six came to the United States. One went to Australia. If we could get to Australia, that is important to us."
Lipman, a native of Pittsburgh, studied at the universities of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and did his rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College.
After a year as a rabbi at Temple Beth El in Fort Worth, Tex., he became an Army chaplain, and served in the European theater. He stayed there when World War II ended in 1945, to work for three more years with Jewish displaced persons. He said his experiences there will form the background for one of the books he wants to write -- a novel.
Returning home in 1948, Lipman went back to Hebrew Union to teach. After a slight detour back in the Army Chaplains Corps during the Korean War, he served a 10-year stint in the New York office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
It was 1961 when he arrived at Temple Sinai, taking over from a part-time New York colleague, Rabbi Balfour Brickner. The years since have been made up of a lot of 70- to 80-hour weeks, he recalled.
"There were always at least two sermons a week, sometimes three," he said. "It takes a lot of time to prepare sermons." Lipman said he has averaged 15 to 20 converts to Judaism a year, every one of whom he tutored individually, instead of in classes. Why?
"I had an experience. When I came there were 15 or so lined up, so I organized a class."
"In this class there was a woman with a PhD who taught at a local university. There was also an 18-year-old who quit high school to get married. I don't think she had a brain in her head.
"I couldn't figure out how to devise a class that would be meaningful for both those people." So he began individual instruction.
"When he teaches, he is at his best," observed Millicent Judith Summers, a member of Temple Sinai.
She described the rabbi as "a forceful personality" who "radiates energy and drive . . . . He has answers. He also has many questions."
Throughout his years at the synagogue, Lipman has taken the position that a synagogue should be a place where ideas can be exchanged. It is a viewpoint that got him a lot of criticism both from his own congregation and the Jewish community at large five years ago, when he permitted the social hall of the Northwest synagogue to be used as a forum for Palestinian mayors of two West Bank towns.
An appearance a few months later by the controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane stirred up almost as much controversy.
"We really believe in lending the hall to people we don't agree with," Lipman said of the controversies.
The taste of freedom from the daily demands of his former schedule has whetted his appetite for more, Lipman said.
Meanwhile, Esther Lipman, a psychiatric counselor, is just now hitting her stride in the career she trained for only a few years ago, and, according to her husband, "has no intention of quitting."
As for himself, "I've made an incredible discovery," Lipman said, his dark eyes wide with wonder. "It's something called a weekend . . . a marvelous invention."
"For 24 years, I never had a weekend."