On Friday nights you can find me leading services at Temple Shearith
Israel in Ridgefield, Connecticut. But on Sunday summer afternoons chances are
I’ll be waist-deep in a cold-water stream, casting my dry flies to those
mysterious and hidden trout. On the pulpit I am known as Rabbi Eisenkramer; on
the river I am The Fly Fishing Rabbi.
My introduction to fly fishing was the film A River Runs Through
It, which interweaves fishing, religion, Montana, and early 20th-century
life. As the narrator Norman Maclean explains, “In my family, there was no clear
division between religion and fly fishing.” The wondrous Montana scenery, the
graceful casting, the excitement of the rising fish—to put it simply, I was
hooked. Not long afterwards I purchased my first fly fishing rod, a St. Croix
5/6 weight 8'6" which serves me well to this day.
I have since discovered a kindred spirit in the Reverend John Maclean,
Norman’s father, who dedicated much of his adult life to searching for trout and
for God, both of which can be equally elusive. Fly fishing is indeed a spiritual
experience—one of the two sanctuaries of my life. On the trout stream it’s just me, the water, and the fish. All my worries disappear. I am
in the moment, so caught up in the casting for trout that everything else
One of my favorite rivers is in a nature preserve. Sometimes a family of
ducks swims by, first the mother, then six young ones rustling their baby
feathers. In silence I watch them pass. As I walk to my car at sunset, I
sometimes see a small herd of deer among the trees. I stop. In silence we stare
at each other. I feel in harmony with nature: man and ducks, man and deer, God’s
creatures, spending a moment together, sharing the same space, suspended in
Of course, the trout and I do not have such an idyllic relationship. I am
either catching and releasing them or getting frustrated that they will not take
my fly. Still, when I’m standing in a river fishing, not moving, not talking,
hearing only the sounds of insects and flowing water, I feel at peace with all
It is when we are in harmony with our surroundings that we find
shalom, peace. The root meaning of shalom is wholeness or
completeness. Psalm 34 teaches us, bakesh shalom v’rodfeihu, “Seek peace
and pursue it.” Here shalom has a double meaning—not only to end conflict
and war, but to seek harmony and wholeness in our lives.
On one fishing trip in rural Missouri, I decided to hike to the source of the
river. There I discovered a cold-water spring rushing forth from the rocks,
feeding a large circular pool, sending thousands of gallons of pure water down
the river. Watching it, I felt the wonder of nature and of its Creator. I
thought of the Israelites in the desert, parched and without water, of Moses
striking the rock and releasing a copious stream.
Feelings of appreciation and connection to nature are doorways that can lead
to the Divine. The story is told of a doctor who watched a solar eclipse. Awed
by the beauty of this event, he clapped and cried out: “Encore, Encore!”—and
then, upon reflection, he added: “Author, Author!” When fly fishing I feel the
same impulse. Sometimes I find myself moved to say, “Baruch Atah Adonai,
eloheinu melech haOlam, Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who creates all.”
One need not be a rabbi or a fly fisherman to unearth the spiritual
possibilities of the natural world. We need only open our eyes to God’s
sanctuary to find beauty, awe, and peace.
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer is the rabbi of Temple Shearith Israel in
Ridgefield, Connecticut and author of the blog The Fly Fishing Rabbi: www.flyfishingrabbi.com.