Etz Chaim Staff
Rabbi David Abrahams
Rabbi David Abrahams has been serving Congregation Etz Chaim as its religious leader since August 1999. He began as a pararabbinic fellow prior to his enrollment in Rabbinical Seminary International in 2001; he was ordained in New York City in June of 2003.
Prior to coming to Etz Chaim, Rabbi Abrahams spent 20 years teaching religious school at congregations in Illinois and Ohio as well as in Rochester. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Jouralism, where he took a number of religion courses as electives and had a strong Conservative religious education growing up in Freeport on Long Island.
While living in the Midwest Rabbi Abrahams, in addition to teaching, served for many years as president and board member of Temple Sholom in Sterling, IL, where he developed his affinity for small, intimate congregations.
It was a milieu in which there was a high percentage of interfaith couples who were dedicated to raising their children Jewish, and he brings that perspective to Etz Chaim, where all family members feel welcome because they are welcome. As a result, both our religious school and our services reflect the warmth accorded to the children of all our members, as they represent our hope for the Jewish future.
Rabbi Abrahams’ mother was a convert to Judaism. Born of a Jewish father and Lutheran mother, Beverly Abrahams converted to Judaism to marry his father, Morton, in 1951. It is Rabbi Abrahams’ way of honoring his mother by agreeing to officiate Jewish wedding ceremonies for interfaith couples who are committed to raising their children as Jews.
It’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly. “I turn down more weddings than I perform,” he notes, “because as a general rule, I don’t co-officiate with Christian clergy, and I do insist that the couple be sincere about raising their children Jewish.
“There are those,” he adds, “who view intermarriage as a step toward assimilation. But it does not have to be that way. You can have two traditions under one roof, provided that the children in these families have a clear religious identification. When the parents are willing to choose Judaism for their children, I am willing to make sure that there is a chuppah for their kiddushin and nissuin, while the adult partners retain their own religious practices, and encourage each other to maintain a God-centered home in the tradition that best suits their beliefs. At Etz Chaim, the example of the children who have grown up in our congregation and retain their connection to Judaism is a source of comfort for all our members.
“By keeping the doors open to the interfaith couple willing to raise Jewish children, we ensure the doors are open to future generations of Jews.”
Cantor Aaron Bigeleisen
Aaron Bigeleisen is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester in their double degree program. His majors are Vocal Performance, an independent research degree, a German minor, and a movement focus. His teacher and mentor at Eastman is Professor Robert Swensen. Aaron also studies with his uncle, the distinguished American Cantor Ira Bigeleisen.
He is a Gold Level winner for YoungArts, a program for budding young artists sponsored by the U.S. Government. Aaron won first place for Male Vocal, in the Young Artist Auditions through the Rochester Philharmonic League, and won the special prize of performing with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Aaron was selected as one of 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars out of 10,000 applicants. Aaron also won first place out of 650 high school singers in Classical Singer Magazine’s Vocal Competition.
Aaron works extensively within the community. In addition to being employed by Etz Chaim, Aaron works at Hobart and William Smith Colleges as an adjunct voice faculty member,Hillel Community Day School, McQuaid Jesuit High School, as well as sustaining a private voice studio for lessons.
Aaron is currently enrolled in the prestigious Philadelphia School of Alexander Technique, working towards his Alexander Technique teacher certification
We are very proud of everything our Board members do for our congregation. Our Board members are David Altman (Secretary), Lynn Harris (Treasurer), Karen Kelliher (Adult Education), and David Slomovic (Rituals), with Marv Cohen, Lindsey Michaels, Ray Mondschein, and Rob Lerner as Board Members-at-Large.