by Debbie Lyons 2/12/22
When speaking directly to him, it was always “Rabbi, ….” When speaking of him, it
was “The Rabbi ….” I never addressed him as Rabbi Baker until his funeral. He was
the only Rabbi I’d ever known. Therefore, it seemed odd to me that I would ever
need to identify him singularly by name. He earned top rabbinical billing not only
because he was my first Rabbi, but more so because of who he was; and the fact that
I was privileged to enjoy a deep spiritual relationship and personal friendship with
We met many years ago when he served as a substitute teacher one night at the
Florence Melton class that I was taking then at the JCC in Austin. I was immediately
impressed by his aptitude as a scholar and teacher, his ability to clearly share his
wisdom about all things related to Judaism with others and his eagerness to do so
without judgment. I felt welcomed and respected by him as he opened the door to
my identity as a Jewish person/woman. He encouraged me, and that initial
happenstance meeting would develop into a treasured relationship that we would
sustain over the coming decades.
I never got bored or tired of studying at his feet. My Rabbi introduced me to
Judaism and brought spirituality to the forefront of my life. Following our meeting
at the Florence Melton class that fateful night I joined the congregation he had
formed in Austin, Kol Halev. It was the first time I had ever belonged to a
congregation. Subsequently, I became a Bat Mitzvah under his tutelage along with
that of Rabbi Sherwin, and when he laid his hands on me near the end of the
ceremony, I felt the presence of holiness. When I later learned that he led a Torah
Study group I jumped on board and joined him each week for Torah Study classes.
During my 15 years with the group, he led us through our study of Torah to the end
of Leviticus and I’m sad that we won’t complete the journey together. I always
imagined that we would.
My memories of him are vast. His jokes, his love of music, his ability to weave movie
quotes into everyday experiences, his extensive personal library of books, and his
love of a good hat come to mind. I always felt a special connection to him through
our mutually deep love for baseball, which I managed to weave into my D’vor Torah
speech at my Bat Mitzvah! And I felt that he always enjoyed and understood my
sport references during Torah Study class. Beyond these characteristics and the
many other special memories of him that I keep, I will lovingly and gratefully
remember his eternal support for and belief in me.
“We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat…” From a poem titled
“Speaking of [Hank] Greenberg,” by Edgar A. Guest.