Rabbi with a Cause

For Loring Frank, South Florida's freewheeling rabbi of the people, Judaism is all about inclusion

Dressed in a violet-blue, light summer wool Versace blazer, white shirt, black slacks, and matching tie, Frank arrives at Mims Restaurant in Boca Raton at 10:00 a.m. this Sunday for a small wedding ceremony scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

He's wearing black mesh slippers, not his usual Gucci loafers, because a portion of his right foot was scraped to the bone last month in a motorcycle accident. He was driving on the turnpike headed to Bike Week in Daytona Beach when he passed a truck and hit a cone. He fell on top of the bike and rolled onto the pavement.

Frank chats individually with the bride and groom and attendees, then changes into his rabbinical robe and a handmade white yarmulke with gold embroidery. He puts on a long gold necklace with a mezuzah pendant, a gift from his father. A diamond-encrusted initial ring draws attention to his left pinkie. Dangling from his right wrist is a gold charm bracelet with ten symbols of Jewish religious rituals.

It's the second marriage for both the bride and groom; she is Jewish and from South Florida, he is an Italian Catholic from New York. She wears a smart beige skirted suit; he's decked like the black-tuxedoed groom atop the wedding cake. They stand facing each other holding hands while Frank, his head a foot or two from the couple, leads the ritual. The ceremony, held in one corner of the dining room, is intimate and draws sentimental tears and sighs. The cake is cut; children nibble on bagels with lox and cream cheese. "It's hard enough to find someone in this world without getting into who's what religion," comments the groom about the propriety of the interfaith wedding. Another man in attendance, the psychologist and best-selling author Leonard Felder, claims Frank's role in contemporary Judaism is an important one: "People need to respect the orthodoxy, but somebody has got to be out front to keep up with the changing future. Somebody's got to challenge the establishment."

Frank's twenty-minute wedding ceremony covers all the essentials and is punctuated with his exuberance and levity. "I've got it down to a science," he says. "Not too long, not too short."

Udi Manor, Frank's trusty aide, collects the fee for the service and then briefs his boss on the next appointment, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at a banquet facility in Davie. Speeding and weaving through I-95 traffic, Frank decries the "hypocrisy" among some other rabbis. He tells of a female rabbi, the leader of a gay congregation, who will perform same-gender marriages but not interfaith marriages. "Either you're prejudiced or you're not prejudiced," Frank reasons. "Why does everybody think they're holier than thou? I don't hold that view at all. It's just hypocritical all the way around. Our history is interfaith over the centuries. Assimilation is what's helped us thrive and survive. We believe that religions are meant to bring people together. We don't turn people away."

Ahead of schedule, Frank stops for a shot of wheat-grass juice at the Bread of Life health food store in Davie before heading on to the Signature Grand banquet hall for another wedding. This one is fairly elaborate. The bride is perturbed with all the fuss and is uncomfortable in a tight-bodiced gown equipped with a veil and an extra-long train. Minutes before stepping down the aisle between 150 people, she pleads to a higher authority, "Just get me to the reception, please."

The next service, at 2:00 p.m., is held at Frank's synagogue, a modest and warm contrast to the previous ceremony. The bride is 71, the groom 80. They met at the mailbox in their building. Celebrating the event is a handful of the couple's adult children and friends. The reception will be at the Rascal House restaurant. "A lovely ceremony. Wonderfully sweet," coos Belle Goodman, a friend of the groom. She says Frank's ceremonies aren't as formal or serious as other Jewish weddings she's attended. "He's not so tiresome. The others seem endless."

Two more weddings to go and Frank breaks for lunch at Miami Juice (which Frank likes to call Miami Jews) on Collins and 163rd Street. He orders broiled salmon with brown rice and a papaya-orange juice. Is it kosher? "The true essence of being kosher is being healthy," he explains. "I don't have eggs and dairy and meat to mix, so I'm kosher anyway." He tells of his cousin Leon, who is strict Orthodox, and the problem they have trying to find a place to eat together. Frank doesn't like the nonmacrobiotic menus in kosher restaurants and Leon has to have the kosher label. "I tell him let's go to a health food store and eat healthy food; don't worry if it's not kosher."

The cousins clash over other things because of their religious positions. "My cousin is very much into the Kabalah, the book of Jewish mysticism, and he says to me, 'Loring, how about one day we do a Kabalah class?' I say, 'Great, Leon.' So I start calling people on the phone to get a lot of people to come. He calls me about a week before the Kabalah class. He says, 'Loring, I forgot to mention to you, I can only teach Kabalah to people who are Jewish. So anybody who comes to the class who's not Jewish, we'll have to turn them away.' I told him that's not my style, man. I'm not going to stand at the door and say, 'What's your religion? Show me your ID card; you can't come in.'" The class at Frank's synagogue is canceled.

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