Rabbi Daniel Dorsch was installed as the senior rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim on Saturday night, Feb. 11, with the theme of “Grow Into the Future” connecting the holiday of Tu B’Shevat that weekend and the synagogue’s name, which means Tree of Life.
Rabbi Shalom Lewis had been the only senior rabbi in the congregation’s 40-plus years.
The celebration began with Havdalah, led by Rabbi Dorsch, the rabbinic search committee and Etz Chaim Program Director Heather Blake. The service separates Shabbat from the new week and symbolically marked the transition from Rabbi Lewis to Rabbi Dorsch.
Margo Gold, an Ahavath Achim Synagogue member who is in her second term as the international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, serves with Rabbi Dorsch on the board of Mercaz, the Conservative movement’s Zionist organization.
She said she was excited by Rabbi Dorsch’s hiring at Etz Chaim. “I am often asked what the future may look like for Conservative Judaism and our congregations. I think it will look a lot like Rabbi Dorsch: dynamic, authentic, smart, engaged, inspired, inspiring, and a role model for living one’s Jewish values through tradition, Torah, study, prayer and mitzvot.”
Etz Chaim Executive Director Bob Bachrach, who joined fellow past President Scott Rittenberg as the masters of ceremony, introduced Rabbi Lewis for the installation.
“Rabbi Lewis must be credited as our guiding light over these past 40 years,” Bachrach said. “When engaging a new senior rabbi, it was not about a replacement for Rabbi Lewis, but identifying a rabbi that would appreciate, understand and embrace the values and culture unique to Etz Chaim and who could cultivate and nurture our growth going forward. Rabbi Dorsch was not only a good choice, but without a doubt the right choice to be our new spiritual leader.”
Rabbi Lewis said the ceremony was bittersweet for him, but he expressed full confidence in Rabbi Dorsch after a seamless transition full of genuine respect and admiration for each other.
Rabbi Dorsch “is a man of talent,” Rabbi Lewis said. “He is a man who is skilled deeply. He is a man of decency. He is a man of Torah. He is a man of energy. He is a man of youth, and, most importantly, he is a consummate mensch, a wonderful soul with a wonderful heart.”
He said he and Rabbi Dorsch had an instant connection, starting with a hug when they met.
“In these last eight months, I have seen a marvelous human being function in a marvelous way with this congregation, with the community and with me personally,” Rabbi Lewis said. “And so for me, it is a glorious honor to be able to officially install Rabbi Dorsch.”
After the prayers of the installation, Rabbi Lewis presented Rabbi Dorsch a painting of a rabbi deep in thought in front of an open Torah — a painting Congregation Etz Chaim gave him almost 40 years ago. Rabbi Lewis said he passed it on to Rabbi Dorsch in the hope that it will give him the same feeling of joy and love for the congregation that he felt every time he looked at it.
“What I see is Etz Chaim, a Tree of Life,” Rabbi Dorsch said of his new congregation. “I see caring, committed, unique individuals, with branches that go out in so many different directions. But I also see that which unites us, and that is our roots and our enduring melody. Our roots are our das pintele Yid, that enduring Jewish spark that we plant here for our future as we begin our journey this evening. Tonight is a celebration of all of you, the branches of our Etz Chaim family tree, and the roots you will plant here with me.”
The installation weekend, which began Friday morning when the preschool welcomed the congregation to an open house with Rabbi Dorsch, concluded Sunday morning with an actual tree planting in the Etz Chaim Tu B’Shevat grove and Rabbi Dorsch’s celebration with the religious school.
On Saturday morning, during Sisterhood Shabbat, the symbolic torch was passed when Rabbi Lewis took the Torah from the ark and handed it to Rabbi Dorsch.
Synagogue President Todd Surden presented Rabbi Dorsch two gifts: a Tree of Life painting with thumb prints from Etz Chaim members as the leaves and a proclamation from Gov. Nathan Deal welcoming Rabbi Dorsch to the greater Atlanta community.
About the installation weekend, Rabbi Dorsch said: “It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase to our synagogue and to our broader community many of the exciting things that have been taking place at Etz Chaim. As the community has continued to embrace my family so warmly, I remain deeply gratified that we also continue to embrace many other new faces into our synagogue family as we grow into our future.”
Rabbi Lewis said: “The sign of an enduring institution is when it can go seamlessly and joyfully from one generation to the next. When transitions are smooth, energetic and respectful, that is all that is needed to ensure a great and glorious future.”