Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick has hooked Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer as its new religious leader.
Eisenkramer, who took over as religious leader at the Reform synagogue July 1, is also known as “the fly-fishing rabbi,” maintaining a blog and Facebook page devoted to the hobby.
He combined his vocation and avocation in Fly Fishing — The Sacred Art: Casting a Fly, a Spiritual Practice, a book he coauthored with the Rev. Michael Attas, an Episcopalian priest.
Since his arrival in East Brunswick from Temple Shearith Israel in Ridgefield, Conn., where he served for five years, Eisenkramer can be found fishing in the cold water streams of New Jersey.
But his time he spends with a fishing rod in his hand is never far from his field. In his book and on the bima, Eisenkramer explores such concepts as preserving the environment, feeding the poor and hungry, and acts of loving-kindness. He releases most of his catch.
“When you have the power to harm someone or something, and you choose not to, you have performed an act of great compassion,” he said. “Catch-and-release fly fishing teaches us to have compassion for those fish and perhaps ultimately those people over whom we have power.”
At the 300-family B’nai Shalom, Eisenkramer succeeds Rabbi Eric Milgrim, who retired June 30 after 40 years as the only religious leader the congregation had known. Eisenkramer said he “wanted to build on the wonderful work” of Milgrim, who has been “incredibly kind and welcoming to me.”
“I was moved by the way the congregation paid tribute to him,” said Eisenkramer, referring to a series of events held June 21-23. Fern Road, where the synagogue is located, was named Rabbi Eric Milgrim Way in June.
A first name is not the only thing the new rabbi and his predecessor share; they are also both natives of Missouri, Milgrim from Joplin and Eisenkramer from St. Louis.
Eisenkramer, 38, left the Midwest for the Northeast after high school, graduating with a degree in Jewish studies from Tufts University in Medford, Mass. After attending Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York — where he also earned a master of Hebrew letters degree —Eisenkramer held positions at Temple Beth Emeth in Brooklyn and North Shore Synagogue in Syosset on Long Island.
Of his arrival at B’nai Shalom, Eisenkramer told NJJN, “I felt great rapport with this congregation when I first met them. This is a very warm and haimishe place, a beautiful spiritual home.
“I also fell in love with East Brunswick. It’s a great place to raise a family and has a very vibrant Jewish community.” That family includes wife Marcela Betzer, who has a master’s degree in public health and worked with a local Head Start program in Connecticut, and twins Naomi and Jonah, who will be three on Aug. 5.
Rabbinic search committee chair Robyn Streitman of East Brunswick said Eisenkramer “stood out” among the 24 candidates considered.
“The most amazing thing was there were 14 people on the search committee who were all very different people with 14 different opinions, and yet we all agreed unanimously that he was our choice,” she said. “He was just down to earth, nice, and very easy to talk to. He made us feel very comfortable, like we had known him our whole lives. He provided us with whatever information we needed and made it very easy for us to choose him.”
For his part, Eisenkramer has been “very impressed” with the coexistence and tolerance activities of the temple’s Daniel Pearl Education Center, named for the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in Pakistan in 2002, and with the interaction between the Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform congregations in East Brunswick, calling it “a wonderful tradition that speaks well of the community.”
Eisenkramer also looks forward to participating in interfaith dialogue, becoming involved in the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, and “making sure the temple is well respected and well received in the community.”