By H. David Esparza
“Ten years goes by fast,” says Rabbi Avrohom Weinrib of his time at Congregation Zichron Eliezer in Cincinnati. When you talk to him, however, you realize he enjoys a slower pace of life. That probably has something to do with his love for community, love for his family and the natural charms of this part of Ohio.
“I love the outdoors, but I grew up in Brooklyn, and the joke there is if you want to cut your lawn, you get either scissors or a nail clipper. Here at home, we have a little more than a third of an acre and we take family walks around the block. You do that in Brooklyn and you get fourteen cars honking at you.”
Rabbi Weinrib has eleven children, so you can imagine the logistical challenges of taking family walks in any big city.
The Rabbi spent the first four years of his marriage in Israel. When he and his wife moved back to the states, they had one criterion to where they would live: “Nothing on the East Coast.” They chose Chicago initially, which was something of a step down from the pace of New York City. And though Chicago is technically the Midwest, it was still a little too busy for Rabbi Weinrib. As he says, “Brooklyn was on one level, Chicago was another, Cincinnati was another and I love the pace of life here.”
He estimates between eighty to ninety percent of the congregation at Zichron Eliezer are not from Cincinnati. Which means they are there by choice, not as a matter of happenstance.
Rabbi Weinrib beams as he describes the members of his synagogue: “Energy, life, excitement, passion for Judaism. They are a growth-oriented people and they want more of all that. When we pray, learn and connect together it’s very special.” He says the pace of life in this semi-bucolic part of Cincinnati is also conducive to deeper levels of contemplation, awareness and presence of mind.
“It allows for a much higher level of spirituality,” he says. “When a person’s head is clear they can really connect at a deeper level.” Rabbi Weinrib says deeper connections to community also means greater responsibility and accountability to that community. And to taking care of one’s self.
As he says, “In a smaller community every person has the ability to make an incredible difference. You’re not just one of a hundred thousand people here. You matter and that’s very important.”
Worship in the time of Covid
Rabbi Weinrib is grateful to report his congregation weathered the covid pandemic thus far with only one hospitalization. That person fully recovered. Zichron Eliezer suspended regular, in-person services for several months a er the onset of the pandemic in 2020. During part of that time the congregation was doing limited meetings in member’s backyards with Torah scrolls brought from the synagogue.
The congregation went back to in-person services in June of 2020.
Worship in the time of cultural division
Rabbi Weinrib is aware of the difficult times in which he leads a congregation. In confronting such times, he leans, of course, on the Talmud.
As he says, “The Talmud teaches us disagreement is like fire. It spreads and burns communities. So we are to avoid it with every fibre of our being. We don’t involve ourselves in divisive issues. That’s not our way. Each person deserves respect no matter who they are, where they’re from.We approach everyone with love and respect and we hope they reciprocate that.”
On community in the digital age
Rabbi Weinrib uses a flipphone. He has no social media accounts of any kind. He hasn’t seen any of the popular shows on Netflix. He says for him, those things are all distractions, and he would rather be focused on the people and real experiences around him.
“I’m a person who most appreciates face-to-face communication. I used to meet people on Zoom during the pandemic, but it’s a poor substitute for being together. Thank G-d we can get back to live interactions with people again.”