Family members, fellow rabbis and 2,000 mourners filled Washington Hebrew Congregation yesterday for the funeral of Joseph P. Weinberg, recalling their senior rabbi as a man of boundless energy and compassion who loved being known as "Papa Joe."
Weinberg, who served Washington Hebrew for more than 30 years and was a prominent promoter of racial harmony, civil rights and social justice, died of brain cancer Friday at his Potomac home. He was 62.
At the start of yesterday's funeral service at the Reform temple in Northwest Washington, family members, including Weinberg's widow, Marcia, passed by the casket, and each placed a yellow rose in a vase on top of it. His three children took turns eulogizing their father.
"He loved being 'Papa Joe' and he absolutely loved being your rabbi," said Rachel Weinberg, her voice cracking as men and women in the congregation wiped tears from their eyes. "For Dad, life revolved around family."
Among those attending the funeral were D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), D.C. Council members Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and members of the clergy from several churches.
Prior to the service, the Rev. Charles Harvey, representing Metropolitan AME in Northwest Washington, said that his church members "had a special love" for Weinberg, because in the 1980s he allowed them to use his sanctuary while their church was temporarily closed for structural repairs.
The Rev. Betsy Hague, of Luther Place Memorial Church, said Weinberg was "a longtime friend of N Street Village," a community service organization run by the church, for which his congregation has provided many volunteers.
Whether advocating emigration rights for Soviet Jewry, taking his congregation on visits to Israel, praying with the sick in hospitals or going on his morning jogs, Weinberg was a role model, said Rabbi Steven Mason, who once served at Washington Hebrew.
"Joe personified energy," Mason said. "He was, excuse me, the Energizer Rabbi."
Mason's observation provided a rare light moment during the somber service. The crowd nearly filled the sanctuary's balcony, and the lights were dimmed. Sunlight shone through a wall made largely of glass as the congregation recited the 23rd Psalm.
Rabbi Bruce Lustig, assistant rabbi at Washington Hebrew, the largest Reform congregation in the Washington area, called Weinberg "a tenacious soul who brought the best of Judaism to life."
Despite the March 1998 diagnosis of his brain cancer and two operations, Weinberg refused to stop working, Lustig said as he bid goodbye to his mentor: "May we dream your dreams. May we see your visions. May we bring them to fulfillment. To my rabbi, to my teacher, shalom."
The congregational cantor, Mikhail Manevich, chanted "Mechalkel Chayim," a favorite prayer of the Weinbergs from the High Holiday liturgy, and also sang "Standing on the Shoulders," a song about the links between generations. His last song was "Kaddish D'Rabanan," the Jewish prayer of mourning for a rabbi.
Then, for the last time, Weinberg left his sanctuary. He was buried at Washington Hebrew Congregation Memorial Park in Southeast, the cemetery of the temple.
"He was a fabulous man," Manevich said. "He was a father figure. He touched everybody."
CAPTION: Mourners carry the casket of Joseph P. Weinberg from Washington Hebrew Congregation, where he was senior rabbi and an advocate of social justice.
CAPTION: The funeral brought out Washington spiritual and political leaders, including the Rev. Reginald M. Green and D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz.