BRAINTREE, Mass. – As he recovered from triple bypass surgery, Rabbi Van Lanckton found his calling.
“It was a real showstopper,” he said of his surgery in 2001. “It was a chance to reflect on life.”
Lanckton had been a practicing lawyer for 36 years, working for state agencies and in private practice. And he had been active in the Jewish community, serving as president of Temple Emanuel in Newton and having just completed a four-year term as regional president of the American Jewish Congress.
“I’ve always been interested in religious matters,” he said.
So, when Hebrew College opened a rabbinical school a mile away from his Newton home a year later, he became one of its first students at age 60.
When he was ordained in 2009, he became the second rabbi in the family. His son, Benjamin, works as a chaplain at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Lanckton, now 69, in August was named the spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Shalom, Braintree’s only synagogue, which serves about 75 families.
He has been part of synagogue for six years, first as a student rabbi and as associate rabbi since his ordination.
One of Lanckton’s priorities is to help increase the membership of the temple, reaching out to Jews who aren’t members of any congregation and newcomers to the town.
“To have a Jewish presence in the town, you need to have a presence in the town,” Lanckton said. “The way you attract members is by making it an exciting place to be, by the programs you are offering.”
Among his outreach efforts are starting a Facebook page and an on-line discussion group. Upcoming programs include a trip to Israel in April and a Jewish book club.
“We do the things synagogues do, but we do them in a way that tries to excite people and inspire them,” Lanckton said. “One of my hopes is to encourage those who have been passive members to become active members.”
Born in Connecticut, Lanckton spent much of his childhood in Bulgaria, Lebanon, Greece and Turkey due to his father’s career as an oil executive. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Yale, and a law degree at Harvard.
Raised a Presbyterian, he converted to Judaism a few weeks before graduating from law school.
“I was searching for a better way to connect to God than as a Christian,” Lanckton said of the decision.
He still does some legal work, serving as an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association.
Lanckton said what he has learned in his first career has helped with his second.
“A lot of what one studies in rabbinical school is law from a higher authority,” Lanckton said.
And his weekly sermons are timed to last 18 minutes, or three-tenths of an hour, the rate at which lawyers bill for their time.