Meet Mark Elber, Jewish educator turned rabbi


Mark Elber, the rabbi at Temple Beth El, in Fall River, Massachusetts, grew up in New York City and was a Jewish educator for many years. He taught rabbinics in a Solomon Schechter school, and adult education, mostly in Kabbalah and Jewish meditation, as well as training B’nai Mitzvah students in many synagogues. He also devoted time to writing poetry and songs, and has published two books: “The Sacred Now: Cultivating Jewish Spiritual Consciousness” and “The Everything Kabbalah Book.”

Elber, 65, was ordained in January 2012 through ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal. He and his wife, Shoshana, have two children. They live in Fall River, just around the corner from their synagogue, where Shoshana is the cantor.   

Q: Favorite Jewish food?  

A: Matzo ball soup and my mother’s latkes.

Q: Favorite Jewish holidays? Why?

A: Pesach and Yom Kippur. Because of the intensity of Yom Kippur and the food of the seder during Pesach.

Q: Favorite Jewish musicians?

A: Israeli musicians Danny Sanderson, Shalom Hanoch, Rami Kleinstein, the Israeli band Kaveret, nicknamed “Poogy,” and Bob Dylan.

Q: Favorite Jewish movies?

A: “Annie Hall” and “The Seven Tapes – Poet Yona Wallach,” a documentary about Israeli poet Yona Wallach.

Q: Favorite poets?

A: Yehuda Amichai, early Allen Ginsberg, Philip Levine, Gerald Stern, Jacob Glatstein and Dahlia Ravikovitch.

Q: Favorite Israeli city to visit and to live?

A:  I would want to spend Shabbats in Jerusalem and live the rest of the week in Tel Aviv. I love the vibrant, contemporary Israeli culture, as well as the sea, in Tel Aviv.

Q: Favorite Hebrew word?

A:  Shalom, because this word shares the same root as the word “shalem,” meaning perfection, wholeness and completeness.

Q: Favorite Yiddish word and why?

A: “Gottenyu,” which is a word that’s an affectionate way of addressing God. It’s similar to “mamenyu” and “tatenyu,” which are affectionate ways of addressing “mother” and “father,” as though there’s a “dear” implied in the word. I think it’s a great word because it evokes an affection and intimacy in relationship to the eternal one which is part of that rich, emotional world of Yiddish language and Yiddish culture.

Q: Best part of keeping Kosher, worst/most difficult part?

A: Best part: It sanctifies the act of eating, which is so central to our existence – sanctifying that part of our life is wonderful.

Most difficult part: When you’re somewhere where there’s just no place to eat. But, usually this is solvable and not an insurmountable problem.

Q: Favorite part of being a rabbi?

A: Being able to share the traditions that I love with other people – giving them access to what I find so meaningful, and giving them the tools to develop their own relationship with Jewishness.

Q: Favorite Jewish memories?

A: First arriving in Israel in 1960, when I was 8 and a half, on an Israeli ocean liner called the SS Zion. I traveled for 15 days and met my aunts and uncles at the dock. Also, I have very strong memories of seders and being in shul with my father, which was very important to me. Lastly, I went to concerts in the Roman Amphitheatre in Caesarea, Israel. I saw a reunion show of the Israeli band Poogy, and a Rita [an Israeli singer] concert, as well as John Birks, Dizzy Gillespie.

Q: Greatest piece of advice someone has given you, and who gave it to you?  

A: The greatest piece of advice someone gave to me, I would say, was more advice given by example than vocalized.  From my father’s example, I always believed it was crucial to try to choose one’s life’s work and employment based on something you love and what was most meaningful to you.  

Q: If you could have three dinner guests, living or from history, who would they be and why?

A:  Baal Shem Tov, because he was the founder of Hasidism. Isaac Luria, because he was a great Kabbalist in Safed, Israel, from 1534 to 1572. Moses,            because of his spiritual intensity.

SAM SERBY is a freelance writer who lives in East Greenwich. He previously worked at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv.

Elber, Fall River