Memories flow about Rabbi Norman Koch
Few have the wisdom, energy and passion to have a lasting personal and professional impact on their community.
Rabbi Norman Koch was one of those few thanks to his efforts during a 35-year tenure as rabbi at Temple Sholom in New Milford.
"He was a friend, teacher, leader and advocate for justice," said Ray Maizel, a longtime member and leader at Temple Sholom, "in our community and in the world."
Koch died Feb. 6 at age 66, just eight months after his retirement from the temple.
He leaves his wife, Rosalyn, five children, five grandchildren and two siblings, as well as grieving congregants at Temple Sholom and many others in the Greater New Milford community.
According to those who knew him best, Koch was a patriarch to generations at Temple Sholom.
"He showed us how to live a Jewish life in a non-Jewish world," explained Maizel, the father of three adult children who grew up with Temple Sholom as a focal point of their lives. "His commitment to Jewish education and creating a new model for educating the children and parents of our community was innovative, and well regarded in the Reform Jewish world."
Among the precepts by which Koch lived, said Maizel, was to "bring Jews and Judaism together."
Koch was an active participant in the Greater New Milford community from the day he arrived to become the first full-time rabbi at Temple Sholom in 1979.
"I got to know Norman's dedication and compassion for all people," said Rev. Michael Moran, the longtime pastor at the First Congregational Church, "through his work on affordable housing, health care for all, the need for chaplaincy at the hospital, Loaves & Fishes, the homeless shelter."
Yet while managing his tireless efforts for those in need throughout the community, from the homeless to those ailing at the hospital, Koch was most at home bringing together his Temple Sholom community.
Tikkun Olam, "to fix the world," was a Judaic philosophy that guided Koch in his endeavors as a role model in spiritual and everyday life concerns.
"He was a man who daily acted on his philosophy of fixing what was wrong in this world," said Liba Furhman, a former New Milford mayor whose adult children also were shaped by their Temple Sholom experience.
"From embracing new residents to the area, to teaching right from wrong, to shaping lives," she added, "he was always there for you, always available when needed."
Koch was widely respected in the region for his work at Temple Sholom and in the Greater New Milford community and that was reflected last weekend.
"The Temple overflowed with rabbis, cantors, temple members, those who had dealings with him over the years," Furhman reported, "whether lawyers, laymen or contractors -- and with longtime friends and a loving family."
" It was a coming together to pay tribute and honor," she said, "and to share memories and love for Norman Koch, rabbi."
"This was a marriage between Norman Koch and the Temple Sholom community as a whole,"said Lapidus.
During the months leading up to his retirement in June, Koch had reflected on his decision to come to New Miflord in 1979.
"I've never looked back," he said. "I've been thoroughly happy and in love with the congregation from the moment I got here."
The feelings were mutual.
"He always had something more to do, more to learn, more to teach," praised Furhman. "I used to wonder why Norman sang the prayers so fast -- I could hardly keep up with him."
"Now I know it was to get to the next prayer," she smiled, "and the next chapter, and to perform the next Mitzvah (good deed)."
Maizel noted Koch's family was the foundation for how he treated his congregation and all others.
"His family and, especially, his wife Roz, were always his pride and joy," said Maizel, "His commitment to his family was always very real and obvious, and a model for how to bring your family together in times of celebration and in times of loss."
Koch knew during his final months as rabbi at Temple Sholom that his days of active leadership were counting down, yet he was adamant to shape his farewell to smooth the transition to the future.
"I am of a generation whose life is now closer to its sunset than its sunrise," Koch said last year. "My job is not to make today be like yesterday. The rabbi of Temple Sholom's tomorrow should be of tomorrow's generation."
"A Commemorative Reflection" on Rabbi Norman Koch will be offered March 8 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Temple Sholom, 122 Kent Road (Route 7 North) in New Milford.
"We extend this invitation," said interim Rabbi Scott Saulson, "realizing that many of Norman's congregants, friends, neighbors and acquaintances, both lay and clergy, were not privileged to attend his funeral or share the blessings of their relationships with him."
"We would be honored by your presence and participation," Saulson added.
Susan Tuz contributed to this story.