At first glance, Rabbi Shlomo Eisenberg, B’nai Israel Congregation’s new rabbi, looks like a yeshiva student. Tall and lean, he has a generous smile and a warm welcome. After a few minutes of conversation, however, his composure and focus suggest a mature and determined spiritual leader who plans to grow his Orthodox congregation, as well as make a positive impact on the larger Jewish community.
Originally from Rochester, N.Y., Rabbi Eisenberg, age 32, is the son and grandson of doctors. When asked if he considered a career in medicine, he says that the medical and rabbinic fields are similar – doctors and rabbis both care for individuals. His passion to inspire, educate, and help all Jews led to his decision to become a rabbi. Still, he does have some rabbinic genes – his maternal grandfather was a rabbi for many years in Montreal, serving as a tremendous role model for the entire Eisenberg family.
Rabbi Eisenberg met his wife, Liba, during yeshiva in Baltimore. The couple has four children, ages two to nine years old. Before moving to Norfolk this summer, they lived in Columbus, Ohio, where Rabbi Eisenberg was the assistant rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation, and Liba Eisenberg served as the principal of the Columbus Torah Academy. Liba Eisenberg has a master’s degree in special education and now teaches at Toras Chaim, where their children attend school.
Both Rabbi and Liba Eisenberg are from large Orthodox families. Rabbi Eisenberg is one of seven children; three are now rabbis. Liba Eisenberg, who grew up in Philadelphia, has eight siblings. One of the Eisenbergs’ brothers-in-law is the rabbi of another B’nai Israel – this one located in Philadelphia.
For Norfolk’s B’nai Israel, Rabbi Eisenberg has three main goals: to grow each congregant’s connection to G-d by raising his or her level of observance and making B’nai an exciting place to be; to meet the needs of all Jews and those of the broader community; and to bring people in, through programming, events, and classes. “I am here to listen and support people,” he says.
Eisenberg believes the Orthodox community will grow by providing schools, a synagogue, a mikvah, and kosher food. He finds that the Tidewater community is warm, caring, and, a great place to raise a family. “This place is a hidden gem, but my hope is to make it into a visible and well-known gem,” he says. “The beach and weather are an added bonus!”
At B’nai Israel, many diverse groups of Jews come together to pray and learn more about their Jewish heritage. In fact, Jeff Brooke, immediate past president of B’nai Israel and a member of its Rabbinic Transition Committee, says, “While many of the stalwarts are still involved and are active, there is a new cohort of young Orthodox families with their own needs and concerns.
“We needed someone who could connect with everyone. The transition committee believes it ‘hit a home run’ with Rabbi Shlomo and Mrs. Liba Eisenberg.” Brooke says they met all of the criteria on paper, but it was during the many interviews and community visits that it became clear the Eisenbergs were ‘the ones’ for Norfolk.