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
Nathan grew up in Oakland, California. He began singing with the Pacific Boychoir Academy in 2005 at the age of six and continued to sing with them till 2016. With the choir, he went on eight international tours to six continents. With the choir, he also performed with many famous symphonies and conductors such as the San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra with Gustavo Dudamel.
He is currently finishing his senior year at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester studying Vocal Performance. He aspires to become an opera singer and to perform for people around the world.
Rachel Kobernick is a classically trained soprano and teacher based in Cincinnati, OH and West Chester, PA. Rachel recently graduated from the Eastman School of Music with a BM in vocal performance. In addition to her focus on opera, production, and outreach, Rachel has a love for languages and graduated with an Italian minor as well as a certificate in art’s leadership. This fall, she began her Master’s degree in Opera at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. Aside from performing, Rachel has gained experience in stage management and opera direction, working professionally with the Ohio Light Opera Company during the summer of 2018 and with the Eastman Opera Theatre for over six productions.
Over the past two years, Rachel has had the privilege to get to know the Etz Chaim congregation and be welcomed into this loving community. Last year, she served as the cantorial soloist as well as worked alongside Morah Alice as a religious school teacher. Thanks to Zoom, she has been able to continue teaching the religious school students this year and hopes to continue as long as we can work through this medium. Working at Etz Chaim has been a home away from home for Rachel when she cannot attend her Synagogue at home in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
We are very proud of everything our Board members do for our congregation. Our Board members are David Altman (Secretary), Lynn Harris (Treasurer), and Karen Kelliher (Adult Education), with Lindsey Michaels, Ray Mondschein, and Rob Lerner as Board Members-at-Large.