Rabbi Eric Bram remembered as teacher, colleague and friend

Rabbi Eric Bram remembered as teacher, colleague and friend

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Rabbi Eric J. Bram, who served as associate rabbi at Temple Israel in St. Louis from 1986-1995, and who was spiritual leader of Suburban Temple-Kol Ami in Cleveland, died Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010. He was 52. Rabbi Bram, who had served at Suburban Temple-Kol Ami from 2002-2010, had stepped down from its pulpit on Aug. 1 to focus on treatment for a brain tumor.

Both in Cleveland and in St. Louis, Rabbi Bram was warmly remembered for his rabbinical service and wisdom, his sense of humor and the love of his family and many friends. Barbara Feldman, president of Suburban Temple-Kol Ami was quoted in the Cleveland Jewish News as saying, “We can’t easily put into words how deeply we feel about Rabbi Bram and his family. His legacy is one we will build on long into the future. He embodied tolerance, inclusions, learning, and especially a spirit of close community. He has forever changed who we are.”

In St. Louis, Rabbi Mark Shook, Emeritus of Temple Israel, recalled that Rabbi Bram had been engaged by Rabbi Alvan D. Rubin in 1986, and had stayed on when Rabbi Shook became senior rabbi. “He was a warm, caring, funny and very loveable rabbi, teacher, colleague and friend who made Judaism very accessible to people who may have drifted away,” Rabbi Shook said. “He taught the ‘Jewish Life and Thought’ course at St. Louis University and was a gifted teacher who had an almost magical connection with his students. It is still unbelievable that he is gone. It was clear to me at the funeral that all the things we loved about Eric in St. Louis continued on with his congregation in Ohio. Words cannot describe how much he will be missed. Our hearts go out to Debbie, Jessica and Daniel Bram and the rest of their family.”

Rabbi Jim Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth, considered Rabbi Bram to have been his best friend; the two shared a 30-year friendship. Rabbi Bennett, who said he was “devastated” by Rabbi Bram’s passing, offered a eulogy to Rabbi Bram at the funeral service last week. “Eric was always my lifeline, my consultant when I didn’t know what to do or say. He would have known exactly what to do and say today. He’d say, ‘Keep it short. Our people have short attention spans.’ Sorry, buddy. I can’t do that today,” Rabbi Bennett said.

Rabbi Bennett added, “Eric loved humor, especially the odd, the ironic, the kitsch, the strange…He loved to keep people guessing, to catch us all off guard. Sadly, his joke cannot be truth today – we know that Eric is gone from this world. We mourn, we weep, we hold each other close, and we remember.”

Another St. Louisan who remembers Rabbi Bram with fondness and respect is Rosalyn Borg, former regional director of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. She said Rabbi Bram served on the board of directors of the St. Louis Chapter of the AJC, chairing the citywide Annual Interfaith Lecture Series, sponsored by nine different denominations and coordinated by the AJC. Borg said under Rabbi Bram’s “outstanding leadership” attendance at the lecture series events – held in conjunction with Passover and Lent – grew from approximately 35 participants to more than 175. “The lecture series had a devoted following,” she said.

During his 10 years of service at Temple Israel, Rabbi Bram was also active in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, American Jewish Education and the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, which he led as president in 1992-1993. He also served as Jewish chaplain for the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, Ill.

In 1995, Rabbi Bram accepted the position of senior rabbi of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation in Indianapolis, a congregation of 1,400 families. In announcing his acceptance of that position, Rabbi Bram expressed his gratitude to the members of Temple Israel. “I have learned much from my colleagues, but you have each been my teachers, my students and my friends, and I will deeply miss you.” As evidenced by his many friends in St. Louis as well as in Indianapolis and Cleveland, Rabbi Bram maintained close ties with his friends in each of the communities in which he served.

A native of Chicago, Rabbi Bram earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a master’s in Hebrew Letters with a concentration in Jewish religious education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where he also received his rabbinic ordination.

Rabbi Bram, a member of the Union for Reform Judaism Outreach Commission, had many interfaith families in his congregation. He made it a priority to help non-Jewish families feel included in b’nai mitzvah ceremonies and other joyous occasions. He once invited all of the non-Jewish parents who were raising Jewish children to the bimah to receive a blessing during a Yom Kippur service.

While on the faculty at St. Louis University, Rabbi Bram taught courses in Jewish life and thought for the Philosophy Department and a course on “Working With Dying Patients and Their Families” at the SLU Medical School.

Rabbi Bram is survived by his wife of 30 years, Deborah (nee Yochim); daughter Jessica; son Daniel and brother, Brian Bram. Funeral services were held Thursday, Aug. 19 at Suburban Temple-Kol Ami in Cleveland.

Contributions are suggested to the Suburban Temple-Kol Ami, Rabbi Eric J. Bram Scholarship Fund, c/o Goldman Union Camp Institute, 9348 Moore Road, Zionsville, Ind. 46077.