Just over a month into his tenure as executive director at Congregation Etz Chaim, Marty Gilbert says he could not have asked for a better community. Now 834 miles from his previous position as the administrator of Reform Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston, N.J., Gilbert is adjusting to his new home.
He said his decision to move south resulted from a variety of factors, including Emanu-El’s decision to merge with another Reform synagogue, Temple Sinai in Summit, N.J.
“They already had an executive director in place,” said Gilbert, who was hired by Emanu-El in 2014 after a 30-year career in business. “Since I’m getting a little older, we’d been discussing moving south for a while. Shoveling snow is not the best of winter activities. … Not that sitting in front of the TV drinking beer is either.”
Since his start in July, Gilbert said his expectations have almost all been exceeded by the community’s welcome. His wife, Lori, and three children, Erin, Danny and Sara, still live in New Jersey, but Gilbert said two of his grown children have visited and been unabashedly welcomed, and congregants have made connections with his wife as well.
Gilbert sought several attributes in a new congregation, and Conservative Congregation Etz Chaim met all of them. “I was looking for a community that was still in growth mode and that was a stable situation.”
Having been involved with a rabbinic search more than four years ago at Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick, N.J., he saw a reliable leader in Etz Chaim’s senior rabbi, Daniel Dorsch, who arrived from New Jersey a year ago.
“He is a terrific rabbi and will only continue to become more so,” Gilbert said. “He was an associate rabbi in Livingston, but it was more about his demeanor, his personality.”
Gilbert couldn’t help but draw parallels between Dorsch and the rabbi his search had turned up, Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer.
“We’d always had one rabbi, and we brought in Rabbi Eisenkramer,” Gilbert said. “He and Rabbi Dorsch really are clones of each other, and they’re about the same age. It really shows that it doesn’t matter how old you are; it’s about how you carry yourself.”
Gilbert’s parents helped found Temple B’nai Shalom in 1971, and he has always been a New Jerseyan. The move to Georgia marks a stark transition from his lifelong home, but Gilbert said things have worked out for the best.
“It’s been a wonderful month,” he said. “The staff here are terrific, and working with Rabbi Dorsch has been wonderful. I couldn’t ask for a better soft landing than here.”
As for his goals for his first year, Gilbert pointed to a Hollywood influence. “I strongly believe in the Mr. Spock line at the end of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’: ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,’ or the one.”