Remembering Rabbi Baskin

Jan. 19, 2023
Laura Wolfson

When I first met Rabbi Baskin in 1998, he had already been “retired” for 11 years. Not one to let retirement prevent him from continuing to serve his community, he still came to the Temple every day, still filled in to lead Shabbat and holiday services from time to time or gave sermons as a special guest, still conducted weddings, b’nai mitzvah services and funerals, lectured regularly at the Temple’s Breakfast Club, gave advice to the Temple's leadership, still found resources to share with the religious school, and still gave his popular book talks on Wednesdays. Those book talks! For over 40 years, an audience of 200 or more people would come to the Temple, many of them not Jewish, just for a chance to hear Rabbi Baskin speak. Whenever I had time, I stopped in to listen and thoroughly enjoyed watching him engage his audiences with his wit and wisdom, week after week. 

On the day in 1998 when I first arrived at Temple Anshe Sholom to start my new job as the Temple’s educator, I was taken on a tour of the building, and then brought to see my new office. I looked around the office and then went to sit at my desk. “Don’t sit down yet”, I was told. “It wouldn’t be right for you to get started before going up to meet Rabbi Bernard Baskin. He is our rabbi emeritus and it is essential that you meet him first and greet him properly.” Such was the k’vod harav, the respect for the title, learning, and position of this rabbi. I learned from this first day that he was truly respected and beloved in our community. And this remained true for the rest of his days.

Although I was told that some were so in awe of his breadth of knowledge that they were nervous to approach him, I found Rabbi Baskin to be approachable and witty. I remember my first visit to his home, when he showed me a room entirely filled with books. “Oh, so this is your famous book room?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “not really”. Then he took me into another room in which there were not only wall to wall books but also retractable stacks of books that pulled out from what I thought was a small closet. “This isn’t the book room either,” he chuckled. And then he took me into the basement, where I was sure I had slipped through time and space into a magical library, where there were thousands of books. Of course, I had to ask: “Rabbi, have you read them all?” He answered, “Well, I may have skimmed a few paragraphs in that one, but otherwise, yes.”  I asked him, half-joking “After reading all of these books, do you think there is any such thing as an original idea?”  Without skipping a beat, and in his booming voice, Rabbi Baskin smiled and answered “Kohelet taught: there is nothing new under the sun”. 

Rabbi Baskin was generous with his knowledge. Through his writing, his entertaining book reviews, inspirational sermons, his thought-provoking public lectures, and all his thousands of interactions with his community, no one could fail to feel enriched by his words. 

Rabbi Baskin passed away earlier this week, on Jan 18, 2023. He leaves behind not only his loving family, of whom he was very proud, but also his grateful community, who loved and respected him. How lucky we were to have him for so long. May his memory be always a blessing to all of us.

If you'd like to share a memory of Rabbi Bernard Baskin with the Hamilton Jewish News, please email the HJN editor.