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Rabbi Solomon B. Acrish, Ph.D.

Rabbi Solomon B. Acrish, Ph.D.
by Nan Coulter

Born in Tetuan, Morocco, Rabbi Solomon B. Acrish is the eldest of six children of the late Benito and Estrella Acrish. Life for the family in Morocco was difficult and challenging. His father worked in a wholesale grocery warehouse, and the family lived in a one-room home in a Jewish ghetto. Jews were discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens.

Our Rabbi's journey from Morocco to Brewster was not easy. His yearning for a new and different life required the courage to make difficult choices and overcome obstacles at an early age. Having grown up in an orthodox community, religion was a very important part of his life. He met a Rabbi whom he admired very much and wanted to follow in his footsteps. "I wanted to become a teacher, and a Rabbi is a teacher." At age 15 his hopes of becoming a Rabbi were answered. The Anglo-Jewish Association awarded him a scholarship to study in London. This meant leaving the comfort of family and learning a new language - English!

The decision to pursue studies in London proved rewarding. He enjoyed the newfound freedoms and comfort that England had to offer. Upon completion of his studies he accepted an assignment to lead his first congregation in a sephardic community in Montgomery, Alabama. "My services were needed more in America than they were in England. America had very few Sephardic Rabbis. I remained there for five years."

At this point Rabbi Acrish's life journey took a new turn: he decided to go back to school to become a Reform Rabbi and completed his studies in New York City. He became an Assistant Rabbi in Newburgh, New York.

Rabbi Acrish's relationship with Temple Beth Elohim began in 1966 when he was hired as a part-time Rabbi. Temple Beth Elohim, with a membership then of 25 families, has grown to 264 families with 213 children in the religious school.

In addition to his rabbinical duties, Rabbi Acrish worked for the Brewster Central School District as a language teacher, making use of his fluency in seven languages, and then as a School Psychologist. The combination of his own interest in this field of study and the wishes of his late son Kevin motivated him to obtain a doctorate degree in Psychology from the Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Rabbi Acrish lives in Patterson, NY with his wife Terri and they take great delight in their son Brian and his two sons, Maximilian and Harrison and daughter, Lily - the lights of the Rabbi's life. When not working or playing with his grandchildren, Rabbi Acrish likes to read, exercise, and play the violin.

Rabbi Acrish's words summarize what Temple Beth Elohim and he are all about: "We are a very welcoming, down to earth, caring community. We love our children. Our mission is tikkun olam, to heal the world. If you are looking for a spiritual home and a religious family, we are the place."

Our Interview With
Rabbi Solomon B. Acrish, Ph.D.

Hilary C. and Samantha M., who were young students in our Religious School at the time of the interview, asked Rabbi Acrish some basic questions. Here are their questions and Rabbi's answers.

Q. Where were you born and when?
A. I was born in Morocco, North Africa on August 16, 1939.

Q. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
A. I have one brother and four sisters. I am the oldest.

Q. Where did you go to school?
A. I went to school in Morocco in a French school called Alliance Israelite until I was fifteen years old.

Q. Did you like going to school?
A. Yes, I loved it.

Q. Were any of your teachers strict?
A. Yes, they were. Discipline was very different from what is practiced in America. If a child misbehaved, the teacher would hit the child with a long stick. Children were expected to sit quietly in their seats, and if they did not sit properly or if they did not do their homework, they were punished physically.

Q. How many years did you attend college?
A. I went to college most of my life but I don't remember the exact number of years. I attended college in London, and then in America I continued my education at several schools before I received my Ph.D. just a few years ago.

Q. Did you have a Bar Mitzvah?
A. Yes, when I was a little over twelve years old.

Q. How were Bar/Bat Mitzvahs different in Morocco from Bar/Bat Mitzvahs in America today?
A. There were no Bat Mitzvahs, only Bar Mitzvahs. All I had to do was learn the torah prayers and blessings and give a 45 to 50 minute speech which I had to memorize.

Q. As you grew up, did you always want to be a Rabbi?
A. I didn't decide to become a Rabbi until I was in my late teens.

Q. What were your feelings about moving to America?
A. I wasn't sure I would like America. My friends in England said it was a very wild place.

Q. What is your favorite color and why?
A. My favorite color is blue, because it reminds me of the skies.

Q. What was it like when you visited Israel?
A. The first time I visited Israel, it was very, very exciting and very emotional. Now, my mother and sisters live there, so I visit quite often. Visiting Israel is visiting a very special place.

Q. What languages do you speak?
A. When I was growing up in Morocco, we spoke Spanish in our home. At school, we spoke and learned in French. When communicating with the natives, we spoke Arabic. Because we were Jewish, we learned Hebrew. Later in life I learned English, Italian, German, Japanese and Portuguese.

Q. What languages do you think in?
A. I usually think in English, because I speak it most often. But when I speak another language for a period of time, I think in that language.

Q. Do you have any pets? If so, what kind?
A. I have a dog named Sassy, and she is a bichon frise.

Q. What do you like to do in your free time?
A. I like to read and listen to classical music.

Q. What kind of books do you like to read?
A. I like to read about Judaism and psychology, which are my two areas of interest.

Q. Why did you want to be a Rabbi?
A. I wanted to be a Rabbi, because I met a person whom I admired. He was a Rabbi, and I wanted to be just like him.

Q. What are the responsibilities of a Rabbi?
A. The word Rabbi means teacher. I see teaching young people as my primary responsibility. I like teaching adults too. I do counseling as well. When people have problems, they ask for help and advice. I visit people when they are sick, represent the temple in the community. I belong to the Mental Health Association, the Childcare Council and many other organizations.

Q. What do you like and dislike about being a Rabbi?
A. I enjoy being with people, particularly young people. I dislike the stress and disappointments.

Q. What is the most difficult thing about being a Rabbi?
A. The most difficult thing is learning you can not please everybody. You have to do the best that you can.

We have concluded that Rabbi Acrish is a very important part of our temple community. We hope he continues to be with us because we know our temple would not be the same without him.

To contact Rabbi Acrish, please phone: (845) 279-4585 or send an e-mail.

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