Norman Koch has long been an important part of the fabric of life in New Milford and neighboring communities.

Koch came to town in 1979 and became the young rabbi at the fairly new Temple Sholom on Kent Road.

He and the temple have grown up together symbiotically, and it will be a difficult, emotional parting of the ways when the rabbi retires on June 30 after 35 years at Temple Sholom.

Temple members had met from 1959 to 1971 in the parish hall of the First Congregational Church on Main Street in New Milford before opening their own synagogue and for eight years at the new temple before his arrival.

But it was Koch who "solidified the community," according to Marilyn Lieff, a temple founder.

One of Koch's most significant contributions over the years, Lieff adds, is that he has "given strength to the Jewish community."

The rabbi has also solidified relationships between the temple and other religious groups in town and done much to strengthen the larger community through his lasting contributions.

In addition, Koch's influence went beyond Greater New Milford, as he reached out to the regional, state and national Jewish communities.

Locally, Koch has been active in the New Milford Clergy Association and on the Medical Ethics Committee at New Milford Hospital, as well as with numerous other organizations.

His compassionate community works have also included helping the movement to provide affordable housing in New Milford and playing an early role in the establishment of the New Milford Homeless Shelter Coalition.

Those who have benefited the most from Koch's lifelong dedication to others have been the members of Temple Sholom, and they are quick to praise their rabbi.

Former New Milford Mayor Liba Furhman, who joined the temple with her family when they moved to town three decades ago, remembers the rabbi "was a very welcoming presence.

"He's devoted 100 percent-plus of himself and his time to the temple," Furhman said. "He is a passionate, caring and very giving person."

We believe Temple Sholom and the Greater New Milford community have been fortunate indeed that Norman Koch decided to devote himself to his life's work here.

He will certainly be missed when he retires, but he and his good works will not soon be forgotten.