By A.K. BRUNINI, Exclusive to the CCJN
In praising his successor, Congregation Gates of Prayer’s Emeritus Rabbi Robert Loewy cited nothing short of divine intervention being responsible for the arrival of Rabbi David Gerber, whom he installed publicly last Friday, November 16, in the Metairie synagogue’s main sanctuary.
It was a real case of “l’dor v’dor” (“from generation to generation”) as Gerber was welcomed with open arms by Loewy, the rabbi who had served the Metairie congregation for 34 years as its only spiritual leader.
Before symbolically passing a Torah scroll to Gerber, Loewy gave a brief speech, “I often look back at how the search process unfolded and I know, I know in my heart, there was more than a little of divine intervention at work,” he said.
Loewy became emotional during his speech. “Rabbi Gerber, on behalf of everyone here, mazel tov on your installation tonight,” he said, as he teared up. ‘You join a distinguished line of rabbis who have guided this congregation and helped it thrive over many years.”
With his formal installation, Gerber becomes the ninth rabbi to serve Gates of Prayer, which was founded in 1850 in New Orleans and located on Napoleon Avenue before moving to its present site in Metairie, 4000 West Esplanade Avenue, in 1975.
Together, the two rabbis read a passage from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), first Loewy in Hebrew and Gerber repeating in English. Afterwards, the holy ark was opened and a prayer was read by the congregation in unison. Loewy then symbolically passed a sacred Torah scroll, draped in purple, to Gerber.
“May this Torah be sweet to you. May this congregation embrace you. Together, may you move us forward to be a kehilah kedoshah – a holy congregation,” Loewy began. “A congregation filled with love and light, a congregation with the opportunity to grow with spirit. May our community be a stonrger place because of us. May you lead us into the future.”
Cantorial soloist Victoria Cohen May accompanied herself on guitar as she sang the Birkhat Cohanim, the priestly blessing, in Hebrew. Loewy translated the Hebrew words into English to conclude the formal installation ceremony.
A touching word was given by Marion Wolfert, a woman who served as a religious mentor and close companion to Gerber at his previous synagogue Beth Or in Maple Glen, PA.
“Surely the Lord is in this place, I do not know it yet, but I feel it,” Wolfert said. “And in attending this service with Rabbi Gerber for all the congregants I’ve been with, and for as long as Rabbi Gerber was our leader, our religious leader, we knew that.”
Throughout the earlier Friday night Shabbat service, members offered many traditional prayers for peace and the well-being of the world. Loewy concluded saying, “I hope and pray you find your work to be satisfying and fulfilling and that you and Lauren enjoy raising your family in this congregation of family. Always know we are here for you.”
Several dozen people attended the service, including members from Uptown’s Temple Sinai congregation as well as members from Beth Or, who made the trip to witness the installation of their former rabbi.
During the ceremony, several attendees were swept away by their emotion, wiping away tears of joy. Gerber, in perfect keeping with his humorous personality, made a comment about how he insisted Gates of Prayer officials fly his wife out to his interview to make sure he got the job. “My wife is really easy to get along with so she has made more friends than I have,” he said.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Gerber attended Indiana University where he studied media design and production. After five years in the workforce, he enrolled at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati.
The search committee for Gates of Praise shared with the audience their immediate desire for Gerber to join the community when screening resumes. Both Rabbi Gerber and the Committee committed to each other only days after the initial interview.
“It felt like such a natural fit, and for them too, for them to cancel their search and for me to suspend mine, it just clicked and since we’ve gotten here it’s felt that way,” said Gerber.
The Gerbers have two daughters, Paige and Tessa. The family sat in the crowd surrounded by friends from Beth Or and Gates of Praise.
Gerber boasted of the joy he has experienced since moving to New Orleans, saying, “I came here in January and felt this wonderful embrace of the congregation … and it doesn’t feel like it’s new anymore, and it hasn’t felt new in a really long time,” he exclaimed. “It just feels like I’m in the right place.”
A. K. Brunini is a senior communications major at the Loyola University School of Communications.