As a late bloomer, Rabbi Cantor Eva Robbins really resonates with Psalm 92: it states that the righteous will flourish, bear fruit and stay vigorous and fresh in old age.
It wasn’t until Eva had already worked as a secretary, an artist, an interior designer and a cantor — and raised three children — that she decided to also become a rabbi. In 2005, her husband, Rabbi Stephen Robbins, with whom she’d run Congregation N’vay Shalom, fell ill. Eva had to decide what to do. Would she hire someone to work with her? Or would she step forward?
“I took the risk and started stepping forward,” she said. “I filled in for the work for the synagogue.”
She took on her husband’s duties, and in 2009, she decided to become ordained through the Academy for Jewish Religion, where she also became a cantor. In 2015, she completed her studies.
Eva was always spiritually connected, but it wasn’t until later in life that she had the opportunity to truly express it. The child of Holocaust survivors, she was born in Sweden, raised in Toronto and went to a Conservadox shul growing up.
“There was no mechitza, but it was male-focused,” she said. “Women couldn’t sing in the choir or be called up to the bimah. I couldn’t participate religiously, but my parents insisted I go Monday through Thursday to cheder at the synagogue for religious studies.”
Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when Eva was coming of age, she said that women became one of three things: a nurse, a teacher or a secretary. She chose to work as a secretary. Later on, she started her own business creating Jewish objects out of fabric, like chuppahs and mezuzahs. She moved to Los Angeles and attended UCLA for interior design.
“My true gift and passions were singing and music, but it was squelched and suppressed by my Eastern Europe environment, my Judaism and my family,” she said. “I started singing in my late 20s and my husband supported that.”
Eva began leading services for N’vay Shalom, which doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar building but instead meets in different spaces and, during the pandemic, on Zoom three times a month. Along with serving her congregation, she teaches Torah to a group of women, writes, conducts life cycle events and holds meditation classes.
“I’ve been shocked at how powerful and spiritual our experiences have been online,” she said.
Prior to starting N’vay Shalom with Eva, his wife of almost 49 years, Stephen led Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Now that Eva is also a rabbi, she said it’s been “kind of a challenge” to find her own way.
“In my husband’s heyday, before he became ill, he was a vibrant presence in the community,” she said. “Words were much more challenging for me; the music was the easy part. I never thought I could write. He was so articulate. It was hard for me to follow in his footsteps and feel I could reach the level he had emulated for me. Over these last few years, I’ve really discovered my own path and realized I can’t be someone else. I have to be me. I need to be me.”
Now, Eva has discovered her unique talent of helping people recognize their own spirituality and connect with the Almighty.
“God is here and we may not always know it, but we really are the living embodiment of God. The most important thing I can teach is that the divine presence is embedded within us.”
“God is here and we may not always know it, but we really are the living embodiment of God,” she said. “The most important thing I can teach is that the divine presence is embedded within us.”
Fast Takes With Eva Robbins
Jewish Journal: What Jewish song do you most like to sing?
Eva Robbins: “L’dor V’dor.”
JJ: What do you do to relax?
ER: I sit by my fountain. I have one in the front and one in the back of my house. I like to be near water to hear the soothing sound.
JJ: What’s the key to a strong marriage?
ER: Being willing to do more than you expect, being willing to give more than you receive and being a good listener.
JJ: What’s your favorite Jewish food?
ER: It’s become hummus: my own homemade hummus with lots of garlic and olive oil and lemon juice, fresh out of my food processor.
JJ: How about your favorite thing to do in L.A.?
ER: I love going up to Griffith Park and being amongst the trees.
JJ: What are you binging on TV right now?
ER: I binge on English detective stories on BritBox because they’re always set in the countryside near water. It’s kind of a Zen experience for me.