Leadership

Our Clergy

Rabbi Murray Ezring

Rabbi Murray Ezring doesn’t hold a grudge. But he does get even.

Thirty-one years after he was a candidate to be the rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Norfolk, he is returning to Beth El to serve as an interim replacement for Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz, the man who succeeded Rabbi Arthur Ruberg, the man who got the job in 1988.

“I’ve hounded (then president) Stuart Held ever since,” Rabbi Ezring, 68, quipped during a meet-and-greet with Beth El board members and trustees earlier this spring.

But seriously, folks, things never quite got that far. Rabbi Ezring, who had just completed ten years at his first full-time pulpit in Ocean Township, NJ, said he received an offer from Boca Raton, FL, before Beth El was ready to make an offer.

He served six years in Boca, where his parents lived, before deciding to take a job outside the rabbinate.”When I went to sign the contract on my new job, my hand was shaking. I realized it was a sign that I should give it another try.”

Enter Temple Israel in Charlotte, NC.  Now, twenty-five years later, Temple Israel celebrated his retirement on Memorial Day weekend.

“It was so much more than we were prepared for,” Rabbi Ezring said of the Shabbat weekend. “It was unbelievable; we had over 300 in attendance on Friday night and more than 500 Saturday. It was all lay-led, from pre-schoolers to senior citizens.”

Rabbi Ezring, accompanied by his wife Barbara, will begin his duties at Beth El in mid-July. Though renting a place in Ghent, they will be maintaining a home in Charlotte where they have two elderly parents in a nursing home. “I’ll be going back and forth a lot,” Barbara said.

So why retire from his full-time gig?

“I’ve served a couple of stints on the (USCJ) placement commission. It’s getting harder and harder to find rabbinical students who want a pulpit because it seems to be getting more difficult to work with lay leadership.”

After forty-three years on the pulpit, Rabbi Ezring thought he could help bridge that gap. He calls the interim position “a healing rabbi.”

“It’s helping a congregation heal from political trauma or the sudden, unexpected loss of a rabbi. … Above all, I’m a pastor, so I thought it would be nice to pastor a congregation instead of individuals, although that’s still part of the job.”

Rabbi Ezring has already started down the introductory healing path at Beth El by meeting with board members and staff. When he gets to Norfolk in mid-July, he will be expanding the path to members of the congregation in a series of meetings.

“Just like a family situation, synagogues are all different, so I have to learn a little about the congregation before I can decide about how to handle Beth El. But I won’t be working in a vacuum; I will be working closely with the board and with families.”

Rabbi Ezring says his career has been influenced on two levels: one by his over thirty-year friendship with Dr. Ron Wolfson, the “guru of relational Judaism.” At Ezring’s retirement Shabbat, Wolfson spoke to the Charlotte congregation, reminding folks what it means to be engaging.

“You must welcome everyone into the sanctuary; leave your seats to welcome the newcomer,” Rabbi Ezring said of the message.

On a second level, Rabbi Ezring said he has always been involved in civil rights, immigration and poverty because “welcoming the stranger is such an important concept in Judaism.”

As for his rabbinic style, Ezring said he spends little time on the bimah.

“I like to walk the aisles. I want people to feel engaged with me physically and orally.”

As an interim rabbi, Ezring said he is charged with getting the congregation in the right frame of mind to hire a full-time replacement. He has gone through extensive training for the position and is actually not allowed to take the job.

“If I do my job well, then Beth El will be positioned to hire a good rabbi who wants to move in the same direction that the congregation wants to move.”

It’s a careful dance – deciding to address such subjects as instrumental music, longer/shorter services, more or less tradition, lay or staff davening, and interfaith participation.

“I’m not going to tell you where to go. These are all important questions for a congregation to decide.”

And what about his future?

“Maybe I’ll decide to be a congregation president,” he said with a laugh.

Back at ya, Stuart Held.

Getting to Know You…

RABBI MURRAY EZRING

Started at Beth El: July 15, 2019

New home: Apartment near Cafe Stella in Ghent

Hometown: Rock Island, Ill.

Age: 68

Marital status: Married to Barbara for 46 years

Four children: Aviva Ezring, Tamar Rotchstein (Adam), Ron Ezring, and Hazzan Gil Ezring.

Two grandsons: Addison and Coby.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in history and social studies from the University of Illinois; Master’s and Ordination from Jewish Theological Seminary

Hobbies: I am an amateur magician. I love movies and I’m trying (without much success) to teach myself to play guitar. I also love HO scale model railroading.

“Family business”: Both of my brothers are rabbis. My father had Smicha but worked as a cantor until he retired when he began to serve as a rabbi in nursing homes. There are over a dozen rabbis in my generation of my family.

Celebrity twin: I have often been mistaken for Dom DeLouise and a couple of lesser known country singers.

Favorite movie: My favorite movie is the next one I will see, especially if it is from the Marvel family of movies.

Favorite song: As an optimist, my favorite song is Judy Garland singing “Over The Rainbow.” A close second and third are: Liza singing “Ring Dem Bells” or “To Dream the Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha.”

Favorite sermon subject: Human beings are created in the image of God, are equal in the eyes of God, and enjoy the wonderful gifts of life and free will.

Rabbi-Arthur-Ruberg

Rabbi Arthur Ruberg

Rabbi Arthur Ruberg became Beth El’s rabbi in 1988. He is a graduate of Haverford College in suburban Philadelphia as well as the Jewish Theological Seminary where he received a master’s degree in Jewish studies and rabbinic ordination in 1974. He was named Beth El’s Rabbi Emeritus in 2011.

Prior to coming to Norfolk, Rabbi Ruberg served congregations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as associate rabbi and religious education director. He also directed Camp Ramah in the Poconos, one of the youth leadership summer camps associated with Conservative Judaism.

Rabbi Ruberg is married to Miriam Brunn Ruberg. The Rubergs have two children — Jeremy, who lives in New York with his wife Rebecca, is following in the “family business” by graduating from the Jewish Theological Seminary and is now an assistant rabbi at the New City Jewish Center in New York, and Adina, a graduate of Ohio State University who lives in Chicago with her husband, Ben Kozberg, and their sons.

Rabbi Ruberg welcomes calls and e-mails from those who want further information about Congregation Beth El – its religious and educational approach, ongoing activities, and programs.

To reach Rabbi Ruberg by email, write to RabbiAR@bethelnorfolk.com.

Cantor-Wendi-Fried

Cantor Wendi Fried

Cantor Wendi became our cantor of Congregation Beth El in Norfolk in August, 2015. She hails originally from Houston, Texas and was brought up through the Conservative movement. Being involved in the leadership of Kadima, USY, and her local synagogue Youth Chorale, she found a love and passion for Judaism and all forms of Jewish, Israeli and Sacred music.

Love of Jewish music is ingrained in her family as both her parents and two siblings sang in their synagogue choirs. She went to Israel on the Nativ program and then to the University of Texas in Austin for her Bachelors Degree. There she was a member of the prestigious Longhorn Singers. She then launched her lifetime dream of becoming a cantor, graduating from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2004 and becoming the cantor of Congregation Shaare Tefila in Olney, MD in 2005 where she was in her position for ten years.

Cantor Wendi, as she is known, has her musical roots in choral music and the joy of seeking out new harmonies and groups began in high school and continued through college and JTS. As staff at Ramah Wisconsin, she directed and founded the camp’s first acapella group called Ramah-keyla, which is still in existence today. She was a member of the Zamir Chorale in Manhattan under the direction of Mati Lazar for four years performing in both Israel and the United States.

Being a spiritual leader in today’s complex world is a challenge Cantor Wendi understands and addresses by balancing the needs of many generations with the use of traditional and modern approaches to prayer and spirituality. She has included this approach in her daily activities as well as special programs. She formed and conducts the Beth El singers, which is involved not only in High Holidays, but throughout the year. Some examples of innovative services she has created in the past include Shabbat Unplugged, Healing Through Havdalah, and Shul Lab. Other multigenerational programs include co-writing and directing congregational Purim Spiels, organizing interfaith concerts and services, presenting to our seniors during Lunch and Learn, and teaching in our Teen Midrashah.

She is very involved on the regional and national levels in the Cantor’s Assembly and has been on  the Executive Council of the Cantor’s Assembly.  She is now heading up a national project called Davening Song Lab which will bring clergy and lay people alike closer to their davening experiences. She has been a guest speaker and performer for Hadassah and Torah Fund groups all over the United States.

Cantor Wendi and her Israeli husband, Giora Fried, met and fell in love at Ramah Wisconsin and have three boys – Nadav and twins Rafael (Rafi) and Yonatan (Yoni). Their oldest son, Nadav will spend his first full month at Ramah this summer! Their twins Rafael (Rafi) and Yonatan (Yoni) are look to follow in his footsteps in a few years.

She and her family feel very blessed to be at Beth El and are excited to help bring ruach, joy, and music to the community!

To reach Cantor Wendi by email, write to cwf@bethelnorfolk.com.

Beth El Board of Directors
(2018-2020)

President – Linda Samuels

Linda was born and raised in Norfolk and attended Taylor Elementary, Blair Jr. High and Maury High Schools. She has been married to Stanley Samuels for 55 years (himself a former Beth El president) and they have three daughters and six grandchildren. Linda attended The Women’s College of the University of North Carolina for two years and graduated from Old Dominion University with both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Medical Technology (now renamed Clinical Laboratory Medicine). She worked for over 40 years as a Medical Technologist/Clinical Laboratory Manager for DePaul Hospital, the University of Virginia Hospital, The Group for Internal Medicine and Sentara Medical Group.

Our Staff