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Death of My Teacher Bonia Shur

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroSeptember 05, 2012

One of my dearest teachers died last Thursday. His name was Bonia Shur, and he was Director of Liturgical Arts at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Bonia and Ellis Rivkin were my gurus during my five years of rabbinical school. I met both of them in Jerusalem in 1976 when I was in my first year, and studied with them every year until I graduated in 1981.
Bonia was supposed to teach me Jewish music, and though I did sing in HUC’s Jerusalem choir, that never took. He composed the score for The Russians are Coming, wrote amazing Jewish compositions for the synagogue, and did his best to teach me to appreciate music. But what he really taught me was how to be myself. Bonia was unique. From his eyebrows that seemed to have a life of his own to his Zorba-the-Greek existentialism, he challenged me to be myself in a professional setting that begged me to be someone else.
Bonia created an off-the-books course at HUC called Standing Naked on the Bima (altar). It was a blend of improvisational theater and spiritual teaching designed to teach us to read our congregations and speak to their needs. He taught us to speak truth to power, to take a prophetic approach to our rabbinic roles, and to find and articulate our most authentic selves. Only four students took the class. It was perhaps the most life–changing course I ever took.
Bonia and his equally dynamic and wonder wife, Fanchon, visited my congregation in Miami, Florida several times. Each time I tried to empress him with the music I had written. Each time I failed. He loved me, but he knew my limitations when it came to musical composition.
I loved this man, and will be forever grateful to him for having taught me how to be the rabbi I became. I wouldn’t be me if not for him.

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Author and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro will lead “Walking Without, Journeying Within”—a trip to the Holy Land with S&H in fall 2018.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, "Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler," addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more.

His newest book is The World Wisdom Bible.

He has this to say about religion: "To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence."

To comment on this installment of One For the Road or submit a question, email the editors. Questions may be edited for length and clarity; all are published anonymously.

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