By Cindy Mindell
NEW HAVEN – Rabbi Alan Lovins describes Beth El-Keser Israel (BEKI) in New Haven as “a place where rabbis like to hang out when they leave the pulpit.”
On May 2, Lovins, along with three fellow non-pulpit rabbis among BEKI’s congregation – Richard Eisenberg, Murray Levine, and Lina Zerbarini – will be honored by BEKI for their leadership, service, and dedication to tikkun olam.
Each brings unique experience and skills to the congregation, which they share as congregants of a highly involved synagogue com-munity.
Richard Eisenberg left the pulpit of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge three years ago to work as a therapist with people struggling with addiction.
“I hope I bring Jewish and rabbinic values of concern and compassion to this special population,” Eisenberg says. “I see it as a kind of kiddush Ha-Shem, sanctification of God’s name.”
Eisenberg is also part-time spiritual leader of Beth El Synagogue in Torrington. When he is not in the pulpit on Shabbat and holidays, he divides his time between BEKI and B’nai Jacob. “As far as I’m concerned, the more synagogues I’m involved with, the more nourishment I get for my neshama,” he says.
Murray Levine retired to New Haven 17 years ago after leading a congregation in Framingham, Mass. He arrived at BEKI around the same time as its current rabbi, Jon-Jay Tilsen.
“Jon-Jay welcomed me and we had a heart-to-heart talk,” Levine says. “I told him that at BEKI, I wanted to be a congregant. I said, ‘I want you to be the rabbi. If anybody comes to me with questions, I will send them right to you.'”
Levine has been very active in the congregation and the community. He has given divrei-Torah, led a learners’ minyan and a Talmud study group for rabbis, and will serve on the Beit Din, at Tilsen’s request. He has tutored a Russian-Jewish engineer in English for the past 12 years, for free, and made weekly home visits to study with a retired Yale professor who is wheelchair-bound. He also served as a hospital chaplain.
“I like BEKI because it is egalitarian and welcoming,” Levine says. “There is a high level of knowledge among the congregants, both secular and Jewish.”
Alan Lovins once led a congregation in Derby and has been a clinical psychologist for 30 years, working mostly with couples and families. In the last 20 years, he has helped family-owned businesses work out issues of succession.
Like Levine, Lovins leads BEKI’s Shabbat learners’ minyan. He spent many years on BEKI’s board of directors, including a stint as vice president, and has been active for decades in the peace movements in America and Israel.
Lovins joined BEKI 25 years ago. “I’m there because there’s an intellectual community that meets certain needs of mine,” he says. “It’s a real community of people who are truly there for each other and care about each other, which is the most important thing about synagogue affiliation.”
“There are so many people there who are well-educated Jewishly that makes for a very satisfying level of discourse,” he says. “The congregation runs the gamut from left to right religiously and politically. It’s a community where people are interested in one another’s beliefs and are very respectful no matter what they are. Most important part of that is that everybody gets heard.”
Lina Zerbarini is associate rabbi and director of operations at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale. She engages students in local and international service projects and in intergroup cooperation, including dialogue with Muslim students.
“Rabbi Lina” also initiated yoga and meditation services aimed at helping students connect to Judaism in nontraditional ways. “Most Jews aren’t found in synagogues,” she says. “It’s important to be with Jews ba-asher hu (hem) sham, where they are.”
Before Zerbarini accepted the position at Yale in 2002, she spent a Shabbat at BEKI. “I have been involved in chavurot and minyanim and prefer a model with lots of lay involvement, where it’s not a passive experience for most of the congregation,” she says. “That’s BEKI. It’s a lovely, warm, welcoming place with incredible involvement on all sorts of levels.”
Like the other three honorees, Lovins credits Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen for helping to create the vibrant, inclusive community that BEKI is. “He’s smart, well-educated, has good judgment, and is very good at imparting values and making Judaism relevant to what’s going on the world,” Lovins says. “Most rabbis would not enjoy having a lot of rabbis in their congregation; most rabbis would jealously guard their pulpit and not open it up to people who say things he may not agree with.. But he encourages us, he wants us all to share our thoughts and ideas and interpretations. He doesn’t need to have the last word.”
For more information on the May 2 tribute dinner: www.beki.org / (203) 389-2108