Q+A with Rabbi Rose Eberle: miracles, empathy and leafy sea dragons

What it's like to lead a synagogue during the pandemic.

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Rabbi Rose Eberle doesn’t like labels. “Reformed, conservative — all those labels do is separate us,” she said. “My philosophy is to keep the doors of the synagogue open to anyone.”

Eberle decided to become a rabbi when she was just 6 years old but wasn’t ordained until age 58, after a career of “mundane” administrative and accounting jobs, she said. Now at 68, as rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom since 2019, she sees her role as helping others realize their connection to God. She spoke with me on March 5, at the synagogue at 40 Wellington Drive, about spirituality in 2021 and the responsibility to speak up against hatred.


What does it mean to have faith?

The word I always use for faith is trust. You trust that God exists, and you are grateful for all the things that are given to you. If you ate one time today, if you slept with something covering you, you’re better off than most of the people on this planet. Gratitude is everything.

This year of deprivation has garnished an appreciation of so many things we take granted.

People used to say to me, “I wish I had a better job.” Now they say, “I would like a month to come where I could hug everyone I wanted to.”

Sometimes metal has to be put into the fire to temper it and make it have more strength.

This year of testing has made us more attuned to the miracles that fill our lives.


Does society value faith less than it used to?

I hope not. I admit to being discouraged occasionally that people can watch violence and not be shocked. That they can see injustice and not want to stand up.

Certainly the day-to-day violence existed in the ancient world, when it was a land of swords and spears and whips, but people didn’t become inured to it, because they saw the pain and the blood themselves. Nowadays, we watch pain and blood in game form, and I have to wonder if we are being desensitized to what actual torment is.


How has the pandemic impacted your congregation?

We’ve had one death in our congregation.

We have a quiet, private sensitivity for those who are struggling. My concern early on was for people who live alone and don’t get out. We started opening up the services ahead of time for 30 minutes so we could schmooze and catch up. We started cocktail hour on Zoom.

We have some who are ill and cannot leave their homes and don’t have computers, but my folks are aways checking on them.


Jews and Christians believe Moses parted the Red Sea thousands of years ago. Why don’t we see dramatic miracles like that today?

I think we do see dramatic miracles on that scale today. We had a plague that humanity has struggled from and died from for generations — and small pox disappeared. That’s a miracle. Yes, I know it took time, but if you expect miracles to be like lightning bolts, you’re living in a movie. Miracles happen sometimes by baby steps.

Sometimes people don’t appreciate the miracle of just opening your eyes in the morning.

Years ago, I was a very young woman, and I had just gotten a job, and it was going to start that morning, and I got up really, really early to walk to the job because I didn’t have any money to put gas in my old junker car. I went out my apartment door and went to my mailbox, and there was a letter there from my godparents. I hadn’t heard from them in months and months, and I opened it, and it was a birthday card with $50 for gasoline for my car. That might not be the parting of the Red Sea, but, for me, it was providence. It changed everything for me.

Miracles don’t have to be mountains rolling and seas going backward. They can be small and quiet. We just have to appreciate them for what they are and know them when you see them.


What do your volunteers contribute to the synagogue?

Robert Arkin, president of Temple Beth Shalom Board of Directors, helps with all the things I need for spiritually making this thing work. He runs the budget to make sure we’re going to stay solvent in this time when donations are down.

Claire Soria is our choir mistress, and she also belongs to a club in Flagler that knits or crochets blankets for homeless people, and she’s still giving piano lessons.

Marylynne Newmark is organizing our ad journal, our temple directory. She organized Thursday night at the movies.

Stephanie Weiser is our office administrator and sends three newsletters a week.

Steve Tollin is a tireless worker bee, contributing above and beyond.


What principles guide your response when people come to you for help?

Sometimes what people say in a moment of anger or passion or fear is different from what it appears.

My first instinct is not to listen with my mind but to listen with my heart so I can understand how they feel — and then give them the best tools, often which are already at their disposal but they can’t see them because they’re blinded by the moment.

Sometimes there are hard lessons: I can’t save you if you won’t save yourself.

God allowed pharaoh to harden his own heart; he let anger do the work. God didn’t have to do anything but let pharaoh be himself.


What’s the power of remembering things like the passover?

If you value who you are and where you came from, you remember those things because they ground you. You will never take freedom for granted. You will never take generosity and compassion for granted.

We know that the blessings [of the exodus] came at a cost for someone, and you should be respectful and reverent and not jubilate in the downfall of even your enemy. Having respect for all life keeps you mindful of God’s presence. We were deemed to be here together.


How must spiritual life evolve with the demands of modern life?

People have cluttered their lives with many more things than they need to do. We seem to think the mark of success is having no open slots on your calendar. That’s lovely for machines but not so conducive for being a human.

Where are those two hours I used to have every day to read a book?


How can we fight anti-Semitism?

It’s not just anti-Semitism. Whether it’s directed against Christians or Muslims‚ all baseless hatred, the Torah tells us, is wrong.

What we must do is not to be afraid to stand up, every time we see it. To fight racism, we have to say, “I am not going to let you say that in front of me, because that derides the black community.” Call someone out.

Do not sit idly while your neighbor bleeds.

Hatred is an open would that will afflict all of us eventually. We cannot be silent. If you tolerate a derogatory joke about women, you diminish all of us. And there will be a time when they will come for you.

Hatreds have no basis in fact and are only expressions of our own ego and our desire to be superior to someone else.

If you think of yourself as a compassionate person, and you don’t show compassion, is it truly one of your virtues? You’ve got to live it.



Brian McMillan

Brian McMillan and his wife, Hailey, bought the Observer in 2023. Before taking on his role as publisher, Brian was the editor from 2010 to 2022, winning numerous awards for his column writing, photography and journalism, from the Florida Press Association.

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