Just out of rabbinical school, Eitan Cooper is the new assistant rabbi at Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac.
Cooper, 29, was ordained in June and moved to Maryland with his family in July to accept the position at the Orthodox congregation.
“I think that a lot of rabbis first graduating are looking for a place where they can learn and really practice their craft,” Cooper said. “So I was certainly really attracted by the — this is a vibrant, large synagogue that’s very warm and welcoming and embracing. And there’s a senior rabbi here who is going to be a wonderful mentor to me,” he said, referring to Rabbi Nissan Antine.
Having grown up with a rabbi father, Cooper was adamant about not becoming a rabbi himself. As a child, he disliked being in the public eye. But at Brandeis University, he began organizing Jewish events and planning meetings.
“All of those things really helped me discover that I had a passion for working in the Jewish community, specifically as somebody that was connecting with people and helping to build community,” Cooper said.
At Beth Sholom, Cooper has been working with the youth department and Talmud Torah, or religious school.
“[These are] big areas of focus for me, making sure that our programs are running well, and that we always have new creative ideas and things that are happening to engage the youth of our community,” Cooper said.
He said he would love to continue to build up the youth programming; he’s looking into creating specialty tracks in the Talmud Torah, such as drama and science. Perhaps students would put on a play in Hebrew, or learn Jewish viewpoints on the environment.
“I would hope to make sure that there’s something for every child that comes through our doors,” he said, “and that there’s an environment for them that they will feel connected to Judaism, feel connected to that part of their identity.”
Now, Cooper said, his experience as the child of a rabbi has helped him transition smoothly into this job. What he loves about being a rabbi is the wide variety of tasks he works on, from visiting people in the hospital to working with the young children at Beth Sholom’s early childhood center.
“No two days are the same, and I kind of like that,” he said. But more importantly, he added, “it’s an amazing opportunity to be a part of a community and to be able to have the opportunity to be part of people’s lives in meaningful ways.”
Both his and his wife Dita’s family live in New York. He said it’s nice to be near Washington, and live in the suburbs with his sons, 2-year-old Noam and 6-month-old Itai.
“They will be able to run around in a backyard outside, which, you know, a backyard is a totally new thing for us,” he said. “Some of the simple things in life of just being part of living in a suburb, I think we’re looking forward to.”