Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Rabbi Leonard Helman

Rabbi Leonard A.

Honored May, 2004

Rabbi Leonard A. Helman

"I guess I get bored easily," Rabbi Leonard Helman shrugs, by way of explaining his myriad interests and achievements. In addition to his theological calling, he has been a lawyer, a physiology teacher, a championship contract-bridge player, a masterful dancer who performs in public, a public-utilities expert, and always a humanitarian.

As a young man he taught himself to love opera, by listening to hundreds of hours of music. He assiduously reads The New York Times, to stay current with the news.

And 30 years ago, in 1974, he found the perfect position for himself, as the rabbi for Temple Beth Shalom, which was then the sole Jewish congregation in Santa Fe. With only about 60 families at that time, the temple was seeking a part-time rabbi—which was also exactly what Helman was seeking. That way, he could do other things as well.

From the start, he held two positions in Santa Fe, one at the temple, the other with the New Mexico Public Service Commission, where he worked as a lawyer. And although both jobs were described as part-time, he devoted between 30 and 40 hours a week to each. "Call me a workaholic," he says now, looking back. At Beth Shalom he delivered sermons, taught bar-mitzvah classes, visited the sick, administered temple business, brought in speakers from Israel and other countries, and set up special programs for the "creative, well-informed and varied" congregation he tended in Santa Fe— "with members from Orthodox to atheist." For his state job, he judged cases regarding oil, gas and electric companies, and traveled across the country attending conferences.