Rabbi Blair Nosanwisch
Rabbi Blair Nosanwisch. (Jerry Zolynsky)

As Rabbi Blair Nosanwisch prepared to take on her new role, Nosanwisch recalled a moment of “serendipity” that compelled her to take on this type of rabbinical work.

After serving several rabbinical intern posts in New York and Connecticut, trying her hand as one of the country’s few schochetet (a female ritual slaughterer) and teaching classes that wove common threads between the transformative nature of studying Torah and pickling food, Rabbi Blair Nosanwisch returns to her Detroit roots.

This April, she joined the clergy at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills as its first director of spiritual care. 

As she prepared to take on her new role, Nosanwisch recalled a moment of “serendipity” that compelled her to take on this type of rabbinical work. 

About three years ago, she and her husband and life partner, Phreddy Nosanwisch, found themselves needing spiritual care and nurturing as they waited in the hallways at the University of Michigan Hospital. Their two-month infant son Honi had just been brought to the hospital and needed emergency heart surgery.

Then, in the fall of 2020, six months into the pandemic, Rabbi Nosanwisch found herself back in the halls of that same hospital, and this time it was she who was doing the nurturing and caring in her pastoral internship as a chaplain. It was her job to provide spiritual care to patients and their families in their most challenging moments in the height of the pandemic. 

“At that moment [when our son needed surgery], Phreddy and I felt like our eyes were opened,” said Nosanwisch, who this spring completed her rabbinical training for pastoral care at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City 

“We were so cared for in a terrifying and traumatic moment in our lives. The hospital had done so much for me and my family. At that moment, in the hospital, it dawned on me. Stripped down from all the spiritual and intellectual components, being a rabbi is all about helping people.”

Rabbi Aaron Bergman said Nosanwisch’s skills and training in pastoral care and her empathetic and approachable personality make her a welcoming addition to the Adat Shalom clergy. He said at this time, Nosanwisch’s personal touch will be most welcome. 

“As we reemerge from the pandemic, we are moving into a good place,” said Bergman. “There will be those who are eager to come back into the building and those who will want to remain on Zoom for health or mobility reasons. We feel like Rabbi Nosanswisch has the smart sensibility that will help us all as we go into this great unknown.”

Nosanwisch finished her rabbinical degree remotely from her parents’ home in Franklin while Phreddy took a position teaching Judaics at Hillel Day School. Honi is now 3 and their daughter Erev Willow is almost 2. 

“As young parents, we are still going through our own process in understanding who we are and what traditions and values we want to pass down to our own children,” Nosanwisch said. “Young people have their own culture on how they approach gender and sexuality, and it would be beneficial if parents could support them and give them the space to articulate that. It is a process.

“This is the same outlook I have about the study of Torah. Torah to me is a process and not a stagnant text,” she said. “How do we consider all views and give them equal importance? How can we sit with different views emotionally, spiritually and intellectually? How healing is it to young people to know that the way they see society matters? That is what I think about when it comes to the way I want to care for young people.”

During the pandemic, Nosanwisch said she yearned for physically being with people in shared spaces, whether in synagogue or in a favorite restaurant. Above all, she misses singing in the same room with others, especially the liturgy of Shabbat services. 

“A lot of my job at the beginning will have to do with listening,” said Nosanwisch. “During the pandemic, we have all been grappling with so much. Our lives became small as work, family and home became all blended together. 

“Now, I am excited to learn about the pulse of my new congregation and am eager to see how we can have new experiences, either in person or online, that will make us deeply rooted and feel nurtured as we move forward past the pandemic.” 

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com