ALAMEDA -- In another life, Joe Black could have been a pop musician. Or a writer of children's books a la Dr. Seuss.
Actually, Black does make music. And write books. But he also answered a higher calling in life.
As Rabbi Joseph R. Black, he leads the oldest Jewish congregation in Colorado at Denver's Temple Emanuel (founded in 1874, Temple Emanuel also is the largest Jewish congregation between Kansas City, Mo., and the West Coast). This weekend, Rabbi Black comes to Alameda to install longtime friend Barnett Brickner as rabbi of Temple Israel.
Brickner's installation takes place during Friday's Shabbat service at 7:30 p.m.
Black's stay in Alameda, however, will extend into the weekend, as Temple Israel congregants will discover the reputation he has gained across North America for his energetic and thought-provoking performances of Jewish music, as well as for his book-writing talents.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, Black will give a concert (tickets required), and at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, he will perform songs for children and give a reading of his book, "Boker Tov! Good Morning!," and other children's books.
"(Rabbi Black's) fantastic," Brickner said. "He's my confidant -- we've known each other since 1987 -- and he's one of the leaders of one of the biggest Reform Movements in the country. I consider him my closest rabbinic friend."
Nationally known, particularly among Jewish audiences, Black has his own website (
"I've been a musician all my life -- since I was a kid," Black said by phone from Denver. "But my rabbinate defines my music; my music does not define my rabbinate. I've been fortunate to combine my love of music and Judaism."
In all, Black has released five critically acclaimed albums of Jewish music, and has seen his recordings lauded by such publications as the New York Times and the American Library Journal. His own publications include a songbook of selections from his albums.
Black's books for children -- his latest is "Afikomen Mambo," a story and song combination that captures the excitement of the Passover hunt -- also have received wide acclaim. In addition, he is a voice actor, lending his talents as "Shmooze," the lead character in the award-winning 1996 children's animated musical, "Enough Already!" And as a Chicago resident some years ago, Black served as host of the Emmy-winning program, "The Magic Door," on WBBM-TV.
Before coming to Denver as senior rabbi for Temple Emanuel, Black served as senior rabbi for Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, N.M. (1996-2010), and as assistant, and later, associate rabbi of Temple Israel in Minneapolis, Minn. (1987- 1996).
Though serious about his music, Saturday's concert will be one of the few given by Black each year as his primary commitment is to his home congregation.
"(Music) is a tool and gift to get people excited about Judaism," said Black, who is married to wife Sue and has two children: Elana, who will soon graduate from the University of Texas, and Ethan, a high school senior.
"He brings a love of Judaism through his music, and his concert is going to be phenomenal," Brickner said. "We're very glad that he's going to be a part of this --that he's going to see us and we're going to meet him."