How does it come to be that a man who never went to Jewish summer camp and never had children of his own decides to dedicate all his philanthropic energy and generosity to this most unique of American Jewish community innovations? In the case of Sanford Groesberg, of blessed memory, who passed last year at the age of 96, you can read about it in Chapter 8 of his memoir, “Camp Tawonga vs. Camp Newman.”
Spoiler alert – he leaves his estate to both!
Born in Brighton Beach, NY in 1920, the child of immigrant parents, Sanford adopted a hyper-rational approach to surviving the Great Depression. Engineering seeming a good way to make a living and appealed to his lifelong passion to make things run better and smoother. After receiving his Masters from Columbia University, his doctoral thesis analyzed the problematic vibrations in a (then) brand new automotive innovation, the Mazda rotary engine. His work helped make possible the famous “Mazda hum.”
“He fine-tuned the world around him to make everything ‘hum’,” says Lisa Katzki. “This was his way of tikkun olam, of perfecting the world.” Lisa and her husband Dan met Groesberg in 1993 when he was their Rabbi at B’nai Torah, in Antioch, California.
Wait, when did he come to be a Rabbi?!
At age 60, after a successful career culminating in serving as the Dean of the School of Engineering at Widener University, Sanford applied the hyper-rationality that served him so well to the mid-life question of that moment: “Now what?” Examining his life he realized his Jewishness “defined his existential selfhood” and that his next vocation should be built on that foundation. Four years later he was ordained and began his journey of moving from community to community across the country, becoming – as Dan Katzki says – ”The Lone Ranger Rabbi.”
Now “Sholom” Groesberg, the Rabbi had a unique advantage in choosing where to work. He was financially secure from his pensions and investments, so could go where ever he felt needed and stay only as long as he felt necessary. Although he never was a Jewish summer camper, Sholom did spend one afternoon at Tawonga, along with the Katzkis, Lisa Wertheim, Ken Kramarz and Ken’s son Ben. It was a winter day after the Rim Forest Fire of 2013, and they were the only ones on the land. At one point, Sholom asked to be left alone, resting (at age 93) in the shade overlooking the lake and the meadow beyond. In his memoir he writes, “The tranquility wrought its magic and I imperceptibly lapsed into a reverie. I was transported back to my boyhood.”