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Archive for the "Class of 2002" Category

Rabbi Eve Eichenholtz - Class of SSLI '02

January 26, 2015
By SSLI Communication

New female rabbi, a first for Fayetteville synagogue, eager to get started

By Chick Jacobs Staff writer, Fayetteville Observer
 

Eve Eichenholtz's heart is here in her new home - even though most of her belongings are still in transit somewhere from New York.

Aside from a bright star hanging in the window of her office at Beth Israel synagogue, her office sits empty and dark - a cold hearth awaiting wood and fire.

And Eichenholtz, at age 31 the first female rabbi in Beth Israel's history, seems poised to provide that. Even when sitting in the congregation's community room, still festooned with balloons from her recent welcoming supper, there's a sense that she's ready and eager to get to work.

"It's exciting to be here, in a congregation that has this kind of heart," she says. "I wanted a place that I could feel at home, and a congregation that wants to make this feel like home for others. Beth Israel, I believe, is that kind of place."

Beth Israel spent six months seeking a rabbi willing to step beyond the sanctuary walls, said Gillian Long, the congregation president. Two years after the retirement of longtime rabbi Yosef Levanon, and the subsequent departure of Rabbi Steven Rosenberg, many felt the synagogue was losing its place in the community.

The decision to choose a woman was a surprise for many, but "not really a matter of controversy," Long said.

Roughly one in five rabbis are women among the Conservative branches of Judaism. Nearly one in three rabbis in the Reform branch are female, while Orthodox seminaries do not ordain female rabbis.

"We are a conservative congregation," Long adds. "The question was raised, mainly because we haven't had a woman rabbi here before. It isn't the sort of issue some might think. There are other women rabbis in North Carolina."

What the selection committee was more interested in, she said, was a voice that would engage the larger community and create a sense of home for Jewish newcomers at Beth Israel.

"After communicating with 30 applicants, and having several visit over a period of months, our congregation voted on asking her to be our rabbi," Long says. "She is outgoing, engaging and a very positive presence."

Eichenholtz also is sharp - sharp and self-effacing enough to appear on a TV game show called "The American Bible Challenge" as part of a team named the Rockin' Rabbis. The show gave her an up-close interaction with prototypical Southerner and game show host Jeff Foxworthy.

"Are y'all really all like him?" Eichenholtz asks with a wink, mindful to use "y'all" in the sentence. "He was a wonderful person ... warm and always smiling. That was a lot of fun."

 

Originally, politics, not religion, was her goal. Born in Manhattan and raised in Roslyn Heights, New York, Eichenholtz was part of a well-connected family in the area and was attracted by the inner workings of government.

She attended Barnard College, planning to step into politics.

"I didn't see myself as a politician," she says. "I'd be more of a person behind the person. I love the intrigue, the nitty-gritty of getting things done, of helping those without a voice."

Everything changed in a short conversation during a long plane trip from the Holy Land a year before 9/11. Eichenholtz was chatting with a mentor, who asked why she craved a political future.

"I said, 'I'm young and idealistic,'" she said. "'I want to influence people to do things to make the world a better place, I want to help people understand that their actions matter. I'm intrigued by the rawness of people's lives and hopes. There is so much power in people's stories and in relationships with them. You can work together to do great things.'

"My mentor turned to me and said: 'And what's the difference between that and being a rabbi?'

"He was absolutely right. Being a rabbi allows me to do all those things, to see people at their highest and lowest, to help them through troubles and celebrate their joys."

In some ways, Eichenholtz says, it's both harder and more rewarding to live the Jewish faith in the South, another reason she relishes coming to Fayetteville.

"At home, there's a certain amount of being Jewish by default at times," she said. "The school system has built in some of the holy days into its schedule, and everyone knows what they are. So sometimes, there's a sense that it's this way for everyone. It gets easy. You can get blasé about it."

"Here, families who choose the Jewish life have made a commitment," she said. "It is up to our congregation to be a home for those who live that life, and to be a place of welcome to all. We need to embrace those who may only live here for a short period of time, making this feel like a permanent home for those who may not be here permanently."

Eichenholtz has wasted little time sparking enthusiasm at Beth Israel.

At her first service a week ago, she stepped into the congregation, got the kids to trot down the aisle and served notice: things were about to get lively.

"If folks won't sit in the first row, that's OK," she says. "I'll just come down to the second row and start talking. We'll meet the needs of the congregation, wherever I have to go."

Which means her office, which still is awaiting her books, may be empty more often than not.

"It's said a rabbi isn't settled until his books are unpacked," she says. "I'll be working, but I might not be here. That's what texting is for."

In the meantime, Eichenholtz says, like all new folks she'll be learning her way around. But one thing she's already learned: Fayetteville has an ice hockey team.

"I'm from Long Island, so I live and breathe hockey," she says. "Unfortunately, for about the last 20 years, it's been bad hockey.

"I was thrilled to see that the Carolina Hurricanes open their home season against the (New York) Islanders. Then I saw that the game was on a Friday, and on a holy day at that. That's a no-go!"

Missing an occasional game is a small price to pay, she quickly adds.

"There's a Jewish word, 'bashert,'" she said. "Literally, it means a match made in heaven, when all the pieces fit together. That's how I feel about Fayetteville.

"I believe that Judaism has a lot to offer the community, and the community has a lot to offer in return. I'm excited to get started."

Posted in Class of 2002

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