East Sider

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On the cusp of retirement, Rabbi Wayne Franklin looks back on 38 years at Temple Emanu-El

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Rabbi Wayne Franklin has a funny story about coming to Providence. He was serving as a spiritual leader in New Haven, Connecticut. During a casual lunch in 1980, a friend mentioned that the rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Providence was stepping down, leaving an open spot. Franklin didn't think much of it. But a few months later, he received an urgent phone call from the friend, checking on his application. Franklin was stunned; he hadn’t even considered his own candidacy.

"I was really happy in New Haven," remembers Franklin. "I could have stayed there forever. Then I came to Providence, and I saw the temple. There was a certain sophistication about the programming. They had a beautiful facility. It was much different from what we could do in a small, 200-family congregation. I thought, 'This could be very interesting.'"

Such is the wending life of Rabbi Franklin, who grew up in the tiny town of Wharton, Texas. He discovered a love for his ancestral literature at a Jewish summer camp, and instead of studying medicine (as he'd originally contemplated) he went to Yeshiva University in New York City.

“It was a complete shock to my system,” he recalls with a laugh. “It was big, noisy, dirty. I had never been on a subway. But what I realized my first year is that I really enjoyed Judaic studies better than science and math. Learning text, interpreting text, it was exciting, and I wanted to share my love for this kind of learning with other people.”

His clerical career led Franklin to rural Michigan, then to Connecticut, and then, much to his surprise, the East Side. Over the past four decades, Franklin has been a powerhouse of scholarship and community-building. Aside from his teaching and daily duties, Franklin has served as chair of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island (now part of Jewish Alliance of Greater RI), and 34 years as chair of the Rhode Island Interfaith Commemoration of the Holocaust, among many other offices. Most personally, he has worked closely with celebrated Catholic leaders, and he still co-chairs the Rhode Island Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Group. His list of honors, from the Joseph W. Ress Community Service Award to an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Providence College, could fill half this page. Emanu-El will host a dinner in his honor on June 2.

Franklin still plans to work on interfaith dialogue, but he has some other things planned. “I have a stack of books I want to read,” he says. “I had taken art lessons, but I haven't had time to touch it in over 15 years. I like art very much – the potential, the variety. It’s an endless fascination for me.”