Adler sees challenges as new opportunities
San Antonio-born Rabbi Benjamin Adler began his tenure as religious leader at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville on July 1. When he was interviewed for the position, Adler said, Adath Israel struck him “as a warm, inclusive community that I wanted to be part of, a community that does amazing programs, has a great staff, and a great group of leaders and volunteers.”
Adler succeeds Rabbi Daniel Grossman, who retired after his 25 years at the Conservative synagogue. Grossman, who will remain in the community as rabbi emeritus, said his plans include teaching, writing a book on special needs education, and other activities that are still in the planning stages. “The community wants to stay connected to me, and I want to stay connected to them,” he said. “It is my hope that we make a very smooth transition from the 25 years I’ve been here into the future.”
The first item on Adler’s agenda is to get to know the community through one-on-one and small group conversations, he said. He intends “to do a listening campaign to get at the heart of what Adath’s story is as a community — what are our strengths and challenges, how do we want to grow, and what do we want to achieve as a community together?”
Adler is coming to Lawrenceville from his position as religious leader at White Meadow Temple in Rockaway, which he assumed seven years ago, right after his ordination. His wife, Lisa, is a Jewish communal professional who has worked for HIAS, Union for Reform Judaism, and UJA-Federation of New York. They have three children, Ronen, 10; Jonah, eight; and Miya, five.
Growing up in a Conservative home, Adler said what really got him active in Judaism was attending Camp Ramah in California, and even as a kid he thought about becoming a rabbi.
He continued his Jewish search and became more observant while a student at Columbia University. “I wanted to go to a college that had a bigger Jewish community than in San Antonio,” he said. “At Columbia I found a very diverse Jewish community and could explore how I wanted to live my own Jewish life.”
After graduating with a degree in history, he worked in the programming department at B’nai Jeshurun on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and the influence of that community and its rabbis — known for their successful outreach first to young singles and then to families — was significant.
“I felt they were able to translate Jewish life, tradition, and texts for a modern life,” he said. “It mostly affected how I view my rabbinate as a rabbi who is trying to make Jewish tradition come alive and be relevant to people’s lives…not just dry tradition that has no meaning.” Also at BJ, he met Lisa, then a Hebrew teacher there.
After working in other jobs for a few years, he enrolled at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he received a master’s degree in Jewish philosophy as well as his rabbinic ordination. Adler also studied at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
Adler noted how much Jewish life has changed in the last 20 years and will continue to change regarding, for example, intermarriage. “It is a challenge for us and also a big opportunity,” he said. “It is important to embrace those changes and embrace people who are part of our community.” At White Meadow Temple he has focused on social programs that bring in both spouses, made life-cycle events as inclusive as possible, and offered learning opportunities for people who are not Jewish to learn about Judaism.
White Meadow Temple stated on its website that Rabbi Charles Popky had accepted the temple’s offer to succeed Adler.
According to Adath Israel president Seth Park, “Rabbi Adler is highly approachable and brings a warm style along with a deep intellect and a wide breadth of knowledge to the pulpit. He is passionate about inclusion and community building, and we are delighted to have him as our new rabbi.”
Adler said he looks forward to his new post. “I really got a feeling being there that I clicked and connected with the community,” he said. “I am excited about getting started and taking on a new challenge.”