Of all the many memorable sermons Rabbi Simeon "Sim" Glaser gave at Minneapolis' Temple Israel, the one where he brought along his dog trainer stands out.
In a sermon he called "Five Books of Flora," Glaser recounted the lessons learned from his dog. Unbeknownst to the congregation, the trainer, named Max, was sitting among them, waiting for his cue. At the sermon's close, Glaser looked out to the pews and asked, "So Max, how did I do?"
"Good, Rabbi. Now sit," was the punchline reply.
Glaser, who served at Temple Israel for 23 years with a passion for social justice and a guitar often slung around his neck, died April 18. Glaser, who was 67, retired in 2021 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Born in Cincinnati, he grew up in California, the son of a rabbi and a Holocaust survivor. His mother, Agathe Maier Glaser fled Nazi Germany at age 11. His father, Joseph Glaser, was a leader in the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Glaser graduated from Connecticut College and fronted a Jewish dance band called Eshkoliot (Grapefruits) before deciding to become a rabbi. Ordained in 1989, he first served at Congregation Beth Israel in Connecticut, where he wrote and staged an original rock 'n' musical titled "Jonah." In 1999, he and his family moved to Minnesota, where he joined Temple Israel.
"Being a rabbi is kind of like being in show business because you're up in front of people and you go for laughs and you go for meaning and you go for content," Glaser said in a podcast interview five years ago.
"When I write sermons, I look at them as one-act plays, delivered by one person. So I try to write the best script I can, for me, so that when I get up there, and I'm looking at those words, I go, 'This is killer material.' "
Glaser loved being on the bimah, the platform in a synagogue, where he was "bigger than life," said Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, Temple Israel's senior rabbi. He would often appear with his guitar and included music in the service.
"Rabbi Glaser really saw worship and the sanctuary and being on the pulpit as a place to inspire people, to move people, to make meaning out of the struggles in life," Zimmerman said.
"He had this amazing ability to be quite precise about where everybody was in the world, to be in the moment and what they needed to hear. He just always did that, with such precision — with humor, with illustration of story and legend and Jewish tradition.
"In many ways, just like when you see a rock star, you feel inspired — you feel bigger than life because they are, and that's how he was," she said.
Glaser performed other places, too — on stage at the 7th St. Entry as a musician and comedian during annual Christmas Eve Jewbilee events, doing standup as "The Inappropriate Rabbi" and writing musicals.
When the Star Tribune interviewed Glaser in 2013 about his standup routine at the Sabes Jewish Community Center's Humor Festival, he joked: "Our sanctuary sleeps 900, so we have to be careful not to bore people."
"Jewish humor is humor that everyone else can understand — it's just that Jews experience things in big, bold colors," Glaser told the reporter. "There's a saying: 'Jews are like everyone else, only more so.' "
Even after his cancer diagnosis, he kept up his creative work. In 2022, a musical he wrote for children, "The Dragon Who Liked to Spit Fire," based on a book by Judy Varga, was performed at the Sabes Center. He also recently collected 36 of his favorite sermons into a book, called "Pieces of Work."
Glaser is survived by his wife, Barbara; children Benjamin, Hannah and Louis; and two grandchildren. He is also survived by siblings Meyer, Sara and Jack. Services have been held.