Meet the Rabbi

Rabbi Efraim Eisen

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 Our Rabbi, Efraim Eisen, is known internationally for the "Basherte" workshops he has lead with his wife Rosalie, in which Jewish singles gather to examine their lives and move toward finding their basherte, their destined partner. Efraim has been an inspiring spiritual leader since he began here in 2002 and has many qualities to share with our community including his love of music and storytelling.  Efraim has brought with him some wonderful resources and friendships which have enabled us to provide exceptional quality workshops, lectures, & concerts.

Dear Friends, This is the text of the speech that I delivered to the Inter-Faith gathering in Northampton on May 13, 2008.  I, along with Rabbis Justin David, Riqi Kosovkske, and David Bauer spoke about our inter-faith experiences.  When I first arrived in Greenfield in 2002 I was immediately contacted by the Franklin County Inter-faith Council wanting to plan with me the Yom Hashoa Memorial which I was told was a community wide event. Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Memorial Day was instituted by the Israeli Knesset in 1951 as a day to remember those who died during the Holocaust. I was a bit taken aback that the Methodist minister in town was calling me to pull this memorial together with me as YH is a sacred family time where we gather together as we would to mourn our family. In Greenfield my family has taken on a larger meaning.  In my office at the synagogue is a picture of many of Greenfield’s citizens holding candles around our synagogue in 1994, the year our synagogue was desecrated. In Greenfield we have worked together with the community for many years fostering community support, education and hosting joint projects for the community good. A way of demonstrating our community inter-faith focus has been to create this inter-faith flag, a project supported by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Each of the spiritual groups in Franklin County had an opportunity to visualize the sacred objects of their faith and collaborate in this flag project. This past Sunday night 20 groups came together for our annual  peace service,  In Greenfield, our synagogue, Temple Israel,  2/3 of our families are inter-faith, that is 2/3 of couples have one partner who is Jewish and one partner who is not. Last year our Bnai Mitzvah class of 7 families included 6 non-Jewish fathers. It dawned on me that it was essential to have a gathering of these non-Jewish men to discuss what it was like to bring their children to the initiation of the Bar Mitzvah. I decided to initiate a Father’s Circle.   The men met in my office and were busy discussing remodellings of their kitchens. I was delighted to hear that each of these guys was actually talking about the work they were doing in their own kitchens. This was a different gathering of men in the synagogue that I have become accustomed to. My instructions of Jewish men working on machinery was given over to me by my dear father of blessed memory. My father patted my first car on the hood and said, “this is the hood of the car, never open it.” I am sure you are all aware of the Jewish handyman’s weekend job assignment. “Always get 3 bids.” This is all to say that I was in new territory with these men and they were in new territory with me. None of them had never been in the “Rabbi’s office” before and I had rarely spoken to these guys before. Truth be told I did not know all of their names, let alone their stories.  The Jewish mothers were the link  to the Jewish world. My first words to them was to thank them for helping raise Jewish children. None of them had that consciously on their wish list when looking for a partner, “looking for Jewish woman so that I can raise children in a tradition that is not mine.” Yet each of them was about to be the proud parent of a child who would be initiated into the Jewish faith.  After thanking them I sat back to listen to their experience of raising a Jewish child. The responses ran the gamut. “It doesn’t bother me and I am not very involved in it…,……” I love the ritual and the family gatherings and the moral and ethical training that my children are receiving and I wholeheartedly support and am enthusiastic about their Jewish journey.” After listening to them for quite sometime I opened up a teaching piece as to how they could help their children prepare for their BM. I explained to them the process of BM, the need to learn a piece of Torah, to learn their prayers, to do a mitzvah project, integrating the families of both parents in the BM service.  I handled this whole piece as an invitation and an opportunity to get more involved with their child and our community. I explained the fence around the Torah regarding aliyot respectfully and let them know that there were places in the service where non-Jewish folks could share prayers, poems, songs that are particularly meaningful to them. I shared with them blessings from the Talmud and the need to bless or honor their child publicly in the BM ceremony. In addition I explained to them the need for their children to take part in a mitzvah project. With the handy person skills that most of them had many mitzvah project ideas were developed. This was an area they all felt comfortable with. I took a group of guys who felt like outsiders in the Jewish arena, welcomed them, included them, gave them avenues for involvement, while at the same time giving a respectful spin on the need to make a fence around the torah, meaning they were not to have aliyot or pass the Torah down from generation to generation as we do in our synagogue.  A large part of my adult life has been dedicated to bringing Jewish singles together because it is my strong belief that partnerships are stronger and more resilient when the couple shares values, goals, and spiritual and religious paths. Rosalie and I have led over 200 events around the Jewish world creating sacred space so that Jews can find each other. By the way if you know some folks who are looking for Jewish partners please direct them to where they can get information about our upcoming trip to Costa Rica or our weekends at Elat Chayyim. Having been a marriage and family therapist for the past 28 years it is axiomatic that same religion couples generally do better than exogynous couples. Shared beliefs, values, cultural backgrounds make it easier to keep a marriage vibrant and strong and together.  That being said, I am pleased to say that I also offer my services to inter-faith families when they are looking for a rabbi.  A couple falls in love. One is Jewish, the other is not. They call the rabbi who does not do inter-faith weddings. That rabbi is the bridge to future Jewish involvement. A no on the phone could close a Jewish door for a lifetime.  Even though I will not perform every wedding I am asked to perform I take each call as an opportunity to be friendly, courteous, and welcoming as I am sure most Rabbis do.  I use the call as a chance to get to know a couple and to welcome them into more Jewish involvement. Perhaps it is a chance for me to introduce them to the PJ Library or to tell them about Sweet Harvest which is coming up in October. Perhaps it is an opportunity to invite them to light candles together on Friday night and have a special at home night.  I want that first contact with a Jewish figure to be POSITIVE. I might have to refer them to someone else, but hopefully they will have a positive feeling about their outreach into the Jewish world. For the past year I have been offering a class called the Essence of Judaism and almost my entire class is made up of non-Jews. For whatever reason, Non-Jews seem more interested in the Essence of Judaism than my Jewish congregants. I am more than a little concerened about that   In spite of that, I am hopeful that this resurgence of interest from the non-Jewish community will add more Jews to the mix. In fact, there are a number of non-Jews in the wings wanting to join our community and convert.  Because we have such interest from the non-Jewish community I very carefully use most services as opportunities to teach the structure and meaning of the service as I lead people through it.  A few years ago Christmas fell on Shabbat. I decided to go out on a limb and use a quote from a teacher from our tradition. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy, blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the peacemakers; for they will be called the children of God; seek ye first the kingdom of God  and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” During the discussion after I spoke a number of congregants expressed their discomfort of quoting the words of Jesus on Christmas Day in the synagogue. “We came to synagogue to get away from Christmas. As Jews in a largely Christian country we need a place to not continue to be inundated with the Christian message.” A few people were definitely riled up.  Then one of our non-Jewish members got up and said that she was delighted that the words of her teacher were honored on this special day. She felt welcomed and included in this sanctuary. She felt that this synagogue was also her spiritual home because there was a welcoming presence and an attitude of respect. Words of enduring spiritual truth are always welcome in our sacred space and we welcome you to share them with us.         My approach to Jewish community  takes its lead from the values and vision of our Biblical forbearers Abraham and Sarah’s tent, which was open on four sides to welcome all who approach. I seek to engage, support and advocate for all those who would cast their lot with the Jewish people, regardless of prior knowledge or background.