Funeral services were held Tuesday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park for Rabbi Carole Meyers of La Cañada, the first female rabbi in Los Angeles to lead a congregation. Meyers, 50, died last Thursday after a two-month battle with bone cancer. She led Temple Sinai of Glendale for 15 years.
Meyers became a rabbi at the age of 29, and was hired at a time when female rabbis were very uncommon. Most women in the rabbinate worked on college campuses, in social services, or as assistant rabbis. Today, they make up roughly 50 percent of all Reform seminary students, and colleagues believe that Meyers helped encourage women to enter the rabbinate.
Praised by many who knew her as a thoughtful leader, a learned rabbi and a loving mother, Meyers played a vital role in the Jewish Reform movement, and was "very active in left of center issues … she was very respectful and articulate of other people's viewpoints. She was cutting edge on so many issues, making sure everybody was thinking about things," said Paul Dietz, a close friend of the rabbi and a member of the Temple Sinai congregation.
"She was very bright, very creative, and a very thoughtful rabbi and teacher," agreed Rabbi Rick Schechter of Temple Sinai, who added that she was a brilliant and one-of-a-kind woman.
Her many admirers extended also to the younger set. Dietz describes her family night services as "legendary," and were one of the reasons his now young adult children, grew to enjoy going to the temple.
"She was very good at drawing kids in," he said as he recalled how she would often encourage children to participate in the stories she told. In addition, she was active in the religious school and played a large role in helping adolescents and their parents understand the significance of the bar and bat mitzvahs.
During Meyers' leadership, Temple Sinai saw unprecedented growth as membership more than doubled, which was attributed to her vibrant sermons and her unique ability to be accepting to all members of her congregation. Meyers particularly prided herself in reaching out to interfaith families.
In addition to her heavy involvement at Temple Sinai, Meyers mentored rabbinic interns, particularly females, during her tenure as a member of the clergy, taught at Hebrew Union College, and was a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, an association for the Reform movement.
Besides being a presence in the Jewish world, she was also a visible member of the outside community. She served as part of the clergy for the Glendale Police Department and after the September 11 terrorist attacks, gave a congressional blessing that is still fondly remembered. When Temple Sinai was desecrated with swastikas, she actively worked with public officials to improve human relations in the city. Even within La Cañada, Meyers sought to start a Jewish prayer community in the town.
As "a teacher extraordinaire" and someone who continued to see God even during her illness, Dietz hopes that Meyers' writings and sermons will be available to more people because "she's a leader you only see once or twice in a lifetime."
During the height of her success, Meyers resigned from the rabbinate in 2001 to devote more time to her family. In an interview that year with L.A. Jewish Journal, she said that she still wanted to be a part of the Jewish community, but wanted to use most of her energy on raising her sons.
"She was an exceptionally bright and thoughtful. She had a sense of humor...and loved life," said Rabbi Richard Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies at Hebrew Union College. "She was a remarkable person. We've really suffered a great loss in her early death."
The youngest of five children growing up in Washington, D.C., she did her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, where she received degrees in philosophy and Jewish studies. She was ordained in 1983 after completing seminary at Hebrew Union College. After working as an assistant rabbi in Texas, she was chosen by Temple Sinai to serve as a rabbi.
She is survived by her husband, federal Magistrate Judge Ralph Zarefsky, and their sons, Joe, 14, and Gus, 10.
A minyan, a service that is held to offer prayers of grief and comfort, was held at Dietz family home Tuesday evening.
Condolences can be sent to Meyers' family at 901 Descanso Drive, LCF 91011. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that all donations be made to www.mazon.org and cureautismnow.org.