Wednesday, June 13, 2012

20 Questions: The Fly Fishing Rabbi

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer
I've always considered my fly fishing habit akin to religion. I lean on it for comfort and peace when others might venture into a chapel or a temple and pick a pew. I feel closer to God when I fish, and I think I'm most spiritually tuned in when I've got a fly rod in hand and my eyes on the water in front of me. In my mind, God and fly fishing go together like like peanut butter and jelly--if you mash the two together, they mingle perfectly, each complimenting the other.

I think that's what's also unique about Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, aka, the Fly Fishing Rabbi. Rabbi Eisenkramer partnered with Rev. Michae Attas and wrote "Fly Fishing--The Sacred Art: Casting a Fly as a Spiritual Practice." The book's title says it all, really.

But a few page clicks on Eric's blog is all it takes to realize that he's more than just a man of God with a fishing habit. Like a lot of fly fishers these days, "the movie" whet his appetite for the craft, and he's since gone from an admirer to a full-on angler, complete with an acute understanding of how intact habitat translates directly into fly fishing opportunity. That he applies a spiritual filter to his fishing is proof that he's a thinker on the water, not just a fisher.

And, truth be told, we have plenty of fishers. We need more folks with some introspection and a conscience when they fish. You'll find that Rabbi Eisenkramer is one of the latter.

On with the questions:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Waking up on a Monday (my day off as a rabbi) with the entire day stretching before me. Loading my fishing gear into the car in anticipation of a few hours standing in a stream or putting my golf clubs into the trunk for a day of futility (and perhaps a bit of relaxation) on the greens.

What is your greatest fear?
Not having seized every opportunity in life. I do not mind failure, and that comes often enough, but I do regret those times when I had the chance to go thought a new doorway and I hesitated.

Gustave Doré's 'Jacob Wresting with the Angel
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I’ll have to get Biblical on this one: Jacob wrestled with an angel and was renamed Israel. He overcome his faults and became a better person. He knew what it meant to struggle and succeed.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Impatience. From not listening well enough to those I love, to making hasty decisions, to yanking the fly out of the tree and destroying the leader, impatience often gets me in trouble.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Hardness. When we harden our hearts, we treat others with a lack of decency and common respect. Compassion is a pillar of society and a neglected necessity in the workplace and in our everyday interactions.

What is your favorite journey?
It has to be the trip to the trout stream. From leaving home, to the car ride, to walking to the stream, each step on the journey to the river helps me to unwind, to let go of the everyday and to prepare for a few hours communing with the trout.

On what occasion do you lie?
I try never to lie, although I sometimes fall short of this goal. The rabbis taught that there is only one occasion when it is ok to tell a lie: when a bride asks you how she looks. In that case you always say she is beautiful, because she surely is in the eyes of her new husband.

Which living person do you most despise? 
People who only look out for themselves, who care only about profit, who neglect the planet (and the trout stream) and do not think about the generations to come.

What is your greatest regret?
Not doing more to help the truly needy in our world; the poor, the hungry and the homeless. I always feel good when I visit the local soup kitchen or donate to a favorite charity, but I could and I should do more.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
That’s a three-way tie: my wife and my two-year-old twins, my boy and my girl. My house it is a bit crazy. Imagine two kids screaming for food, reading books, toys strewn everywhere. But then at night, they close their eyes and sleep like angels.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I dream of building my own house. While I can replace a kitchen sink, I wish that I had the skills to create a home from the ground up, to feel the satisfaction of knowing I made something real and tangible in this world with my own two hands.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being there for people in their times of greatest happiness and their times of greatest need. As a rabbi, sometimes these moments happen one after another. One day last year, I officiated at a funeral for a beloved grandmother who was 94 and the next day stood under the wedding canopy with a young couple who were beginning their new life together.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
I would like to come back as a tree on a mountain or a bird. But I suspect that I would come back as a bug, always under the threat of a large shoe, karma for all of those living creatures that I have squashed over the years.

What is your most treasured possession?
Either my 15 year old St. Croix fly rod that I first taught myself to cast with back in St. Louis, or my grandfathers wine cup that he used every Friday night to welcome in the Sabbath.

Who are your favorite writers?
My greatest angling inspiration is of course Norman Maclean and I love James Prosek and John Gierach too. Too many great Jewish writers to list, but I would start with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s brilliant book, "The Sabbath," Martin Buber’s, "I and Thou" and Harold Kushner’s, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People."

Who are your heroes?
My grandparents, may their memory be for a blessing. They were married for over 60 years. My grandfather was a music teacher, my grandmother an elementary school teacher. They helped children find their voices. They showed me what love, commitment and loyalty were all about.

How would you like to die?
With my family and friends around and fully aware of myself and my surroundings. To say goodbye and I love you, to offer the Shema (Hear O’ Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is One), to close my eyes and to go in peace.

If there’s a Heaven, and you’re lucky enough to make the cut, what would you like to hear God say to you upon arrival?
“You were a good man. You gave more than you took. You helped others more than you helped yourself. You added something to the world.”

What was the most significant moment in your life?
Too many to list, but here are a few in chronological order: leaving St. Louis for Boston to attend Tufts University, meeting Rabbi Jeffrey Summit in college who inspired me to become a rabbi, my wedding day, giving a sermon in my first congregation, the birth of my twins, everyday since the birth of my twins.

What’s your favorite film?
Besides A River Runs Through It, I would say A Field of Dreams: “If you build it, he will come.” I love this story of parents and children, a spiritual journey and baseball.

BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite car of all the cars you’ve owned?
Had to be the 1991 Toyota Celica-I loved that car. Only a teenager would pick the color teal. My parents drove the car when I went to college-must have been embarrassing for them.

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