The match between Congregation Etz Chaim and Rabbi Daniel Dorsch was sealed by a stomach virus.
When Rabbi Dorsch, now an assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, N.J., came to visit the East Cobb Conservative synagogue during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend with his wife, Amy, they were advised not to bring their 2-year-old son, Zev. Sure enough, Zev fell ill with a stomach virus Friday night.
Shabbat morning, Rabbi Dorsch let the search committee know his son was sick and his wife would have to stay with Zev instead of attending services.
It was a nerve-racking moment for the job candidate — until a pediatrician from the committee arrived to treat the toddler and deliver medicine, and someone came to do the laundry, and someone else sent food, and the congregation cared less about his Torah teaching and more about his family’s well-being after Rabbi Shalom Lewis announced from the bimah that Zev was sick.
Rabbi Dorsch realized that in a community full of transplants, people take care of one another.
“It was a mistake in some ways that we brought our son,” he said, “but this too became for good. It allowed me to see the caring, warm, wonderful nature of the congregation.”
When they got on the plane at the end of the visit, he said, they knew this was where they would be. Etz Chaim officially announced Wednesday, Feb. 17, that Rabbi Dorsch will succeed Rabbi Lewis as senior rabbi in July.
“You wonder about things being beshert,” Rabbi Dorsch said, “and when you see the way Jews take care of each other in the best of times and in the worst of times, you really get a feel for what the sacredness of community is all about.”
Rabbi Dorsch said he’s joining a terrific team at Etz Chaim and is looking forward to the partnership with Rabbi Lewis, who will move to emeritus status after nearly 40 years at the congregation.
“We are excited for a slower pace of life,” Rabbi Dorsch added, noting that his wife sometimes faced a commute of an hour and a half into New York.
It was actually Amy Dorsch, who is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who pushed for her husband, who has lived most of his life in New Jersey and the Philadelphia area, to pursue the job in the South. She used to work in youth activities for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and visited Etz Chaim several times, and even though she got caught in an ice storm here, she was eager to be a part of the congregation.
Etz Chaim’s Sababa USY chapter was a big selling point for her husband as well. “I don’t think it can be overstated how important that is,” the rabbi said, citing a line from the Talmud that translates as “The world only exists for the breath of children running around the schoolhouse.”
He said he was floored by the high level of questions he got from USY members during his visit.
As a national board member for MERCAZ USA, the Zionist organization of the Conservative movement, Rabbi Dorsch is passionate about Israel and about re-engaging youth with the Jewish state. He has visited Israel each year since he became a rabbi in 2010.
“The way that we will together meet so many of the challenges that face the Jewish people going forward into the 21st century is by talking with each other and building relationships with each other,” Rabbi Dorsch said, emphasizing the need to make connections beyond Etz Chaim and even beyond Jewish Atlanta.
He said the covenant central to the human relationship with G-d and with one another involves sacredness and is the key to engaging Jews in Jewish life. “Today so many Jews feel disconnected from the brit, from the covenant, for one reason or another, and I view it as my role as a rabbi to bring them in and to connect them to G-d and the Jewish people.”