Eliezer Marcus, who became the rabbi at Sha’arei Tefilla, in Providence, this past August, comes from a family of rabbis.
“My father was a congregational rabbi in Toronto, Canada, for many years. So I was born and raised in that type of home where that was something I always aspired to,” Marcus, 35, said.
“I guess my father miraculously made the rabbinate look like something attractive that a young Jewish boy should want to do. He pulled that off somehow, right?” he said with a laugh.
While growing up in his Orthodox home, Marcus went through the Orthodox school system in Toronto. After attending various yeshivot there, he studied in Israel for a few years. While he was there, right after his 20th birthday, his father passed away.
Marcus returned to Toronto, where he studied at the Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies for seven years. Then, he moved his family to Buffalo, New York, where he was the rabbi at Young Israel of Greater Buffalo for six years.
His father, Rabbi Raphael Marcus, led Congregation B’nai Torah, in Toronto, for over two decades.
“He had a very intuitive sense with people, you know, understanding them and feeling what they need. I think that’s what made him very successful as a rabbi,” Marcus said. “I think, as a child, that makes an impression on you, somebody who really has a phenomenal grasp of human nature, a very deep understanding of people – and that’s something that you want to implement in your life and building relationships.”
Rabbi Marcus credits both his parents for instilling in him the value of building relationships.
“My mother actually comes from a long line of, you know, a famous rabbinic family,” he said. “And if you’ve heard of the Soloveitchik name, Joseph Ber Soloveitchik was my great-uncle.”
Ber Soloveitchik, also known as “The Rav,” came from a long line of rabbis and began the Maimonides School, in Boston, with his wife, Tonya Soloveitchik, before becoming the head of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) at Yeshiva University, in New York City, in 1941.
Marcus chose to relocate to Providence because it balanced a small city with robust Jewish infrastructure.
At Sha’arei Tefilla, “The school, the Yeshiva, the [New England] Rabbinical College, that seemed attractive to us,” he said. “And so far, I see people are nice people over here.”
Marcus said he enjoys connecting with people and making a meaningful difference in their lives. That is “the most enriching experience of being a rabbi,” he said.
“The truth is, I can’t say that it’s one particular moment in time. I think it’s a collage of things, you know, an accumulation over time when you work with somebody, and you feel that you made a difference in their life. I would say that’s something that I appreciate, if I’m blessed to have that opportunity.”
In his new role at the Orthodox Sha’arei Tefilla, Rabbi Marcus hopes to create more cohesiveness in the Jewish community.
“There’s such diversity,” he said, “but sometimes if it’s not channeled properly, you can end up feeling like you don’t really belong anywhere.”
He is also interested in growing the Orthodox community and keeping Jewish families in the city.
“Listen, within the Orthodox community, quite a number of families have moved out over the last three years or so,” he said. “So, I’d like to try to stem that tide.”
When not acting in his official capacity, Marcus said he enjoys getting outdoors with his family. He and his wife, Baila, have 8 children, ranging in age from 5 months to 12 years.
“I love going to state parks,” he said. “You know, looking for animals, things like that. Just taking my kids to a nice, deserted area with water and trees. I love nature.”
Marcus is also a history buff, “much to my wife’s chagrin,” he said, reminiscing about the early years of their marriage and the numerous summer trips to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
“My poor wife,” he said, as he described driving around the Gettysburg military park and stopping the car every few feet to jump out and look at a statue or read a plaque. Marcus thanked ha-Shem for his wife and her tolerance numerous times throughout the interview.
In addition to learning more about his new congregation and connecting with people, Rabbi Marcus said he is looking forward to “bringing more people together in a way that makes everybody comfortable, enriched and proud of their Jewish heritage.”
SARAH GREENLEAF (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the digital marketing specialist for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and writes for Jewish Rhode Island.