For more than three decades, Rabbi Nathan Kaber, who passed away last week at the age of 95, not only led the congregation of Temple Beth Israel, but worked tirelessly to make life in Blair County better for everyone. His life of service continued long after his retirement in 1978, when he became rabbi emeritus, as people continued to seek his counsel and learn by his example.
"Teaching by example is the heart of Judaism," Kaber noted in a 1992 interview with the Mirror, marking the 50th anniversary of his ordination and marriage to his late wife, Irene. "It's the most effective method of teaching. It sets a high standard."
It was Kaber's high standards that Lou Silverman remembers, such as when Silverman prepared for his bar mitzvah and subsequent confirmation. Silverman said Kaber had high expectations and an encouraging way of seeking perfection from his young students.
"He really was an inspirational teacher," Silverman said.
Bill Wallen, director of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, said Kaber was a spiritual leader and teacher who influenced several generations during his 31 years as rabbi and his subsequent years as rabbi emeritus. Wallen said Kaber's tenure was during the era of the congregation's greatest membership that included between 200 and 250 families.
"He was a very remarkable person and he left a very big impact in the community," Wallen said. "He didn't just retire to pasture, but he stayed involved."
Kaber was very active in building interfaith relationships throughout the county, Wallen noted, and dedicated to public service through his involvement in Rotary, Big Brothers of Blair County, the American Red Cross and the Blair County Mental Health Center. Kaber also served as the Jewish chaplain at what is now the Van Zandt VA Medical Center and served as president of the largest region of Reform rabbis in the country.
Anna ''Sissy'' Kadane remembered Kaber's sharp intellect and his remarkable memory that stayed with him through his last days. She also remembered his belief in equality during the height of the civil rights movement.
''He was a very quiet man - a very unassuming person,'' said Kadane, who added that Kaber was ''extremely dedicated,'' not only to the congregation but also the community at large. ''There was a special bond and a respect for the rabbi,'' she said.
He also could pitch a mean softball.
Silverman remembers playing ball one day with his brother in the Columbia Park area of the city when along came ''a short guy with glasses who told us he was going to be our new rabbi.''
''He was throwing a curveball neither my brother and I could get at,'' recalled the 73-year-old Silverman, who noted Kaber showed his pitching prowess best during interfaith softball games that often drew larger crowds than normal to the Columbia Park field.
Rabbi Bert Shuman, the most recent Temple Beth Israel rabbi, now in Poland, said he recalled "the way he extended himself to me during my early and very nervous years as a 'rookie rabbi' at Temple Beth Israel."
Shuman said despite their age - and philosophical differences - Kaber showed acceptance and patience and "never withheld any insight or advice when I sought it."
''The other memory I had is watching him on the Bimah or leading a memorial service and being in awe of his almost congenital grace and eloquence,'' Shuman said. ''Truly, he was an exemplar of his Rabbinic generation. Even into his tenth decade he never lost his touch as a pulpit rabbi.''
''If you had to describe him in one word it would be elegant,'' said Shirley Pechter, longtime friend and member of the congregation. ''Elegant and eloquent.''
Pechter, who last spoke with Kaber two weeks ago, said even though Kaber was from Cleveland, Ohio, he stayed in Altoona until his wife's death in 1998, when he moved close to his son Joel and his family in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
"I think it was like it was his hometown," she said.
Rabbi Kaber will be laid to rest today during a graveside service at Mount Sinai Cemetery. Donations to Temple Beth Israel, where the social hall is named for him, can be made in Kaber's name.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7446.