God not through yet with twice-retired activist rabbi

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In the photograph, Robinson was being dragged off to jail from a civil rights demonstration in St. Augustine, Fla.

What becomes of a man who's been fighting for the downtrodden for six decades? A man who tried to get himself arrested just two years ago by sleeping in his car in defiance of a Santa Rosa ordinance aimed at the homeless. A man who recently spoke up in support of housing the homeless at an abandoned 104-room Holiday Inn.

"Everybody asks about my plans. That's a real trip," said Robinson, who spent seven years at the synagogue. "My plans are to live each day and not worry about the future."

This September, Robinson will also retire as president of the Sonoma County Task Force on the Homeless, a post he held for five years.

As an unabashed liberal in an era of conservative downsizing, Robinson is still attracted to championing the weak and unfortunate.

"I'm on my way out tonight to a meeting about the destruction of welfare," Robinson said. "It's not welfare reform. It's the destruction of welfare."

On Sept. 28, he's co-sponsoring Santa Rosa's Gifts for Guns gun turn-in event. In October, he'll be helping run the October in Paradise fund-raiser for the Sonoma County Task Force for Homeless.

He and Ruth are also members of a support team that is helping a local family, newly housed, make the transition away from homelessness.

"We have a contract with them for a year," Robinson said. "So we know we'll be hanging out with those folks for a year."

Robinson's activities have created controversy even within his own liberal Reform congregation, notably when he criticized Israel for failing to advance the peace process fast enough. He has lodged with Palestinian refugees on the Gaza Strip, and visited Nicaragua during the Contra revolt.

Ordained as a rabbi 44 years ago, he served as spiritual leader for Temple Beth Ha Tephilah in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., for 29 years before he grew tired of working 60- and 70-hour weeks. He retired — or at least that's what he thought he was doing.

In 1989, the Robinsons moved to Santa Rosa. There, Robinson found a congregation small enough to require his services part-time. At that time, Shomrei Torah had no building of its own and shared facilities with local churches. The synagogue was estranged from Beth Ami, the community's Conservative congregation.

After joining Shomrei Torah, Robinson helped build bridges with Beth Ami. The two synagogues now share a religious school, stage regular pulpit exchanges and cooperate in community affairs.

Shomrei Torah's congregation has grown so large that Robinson shies from the prospect of working 60-hour weeks again. Newly ordained Rabbi George Gittleman, fresh from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, will be the congregation's first full-time rabbi, and the first to earn a salary.

In his seven years helping the temple get started and watching its membership climb from 40 families to 160, Robinson never received a salary.

"The first time I retired, I said, `I'm sure God's not through with me yet,'" Robinson reflected. "I still hope God isn't through with me."