June 18, 2024
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Rinat Honors R’ Adler’s Legacy

This past Shabbat marked the end of an epoch—not just for Congregation Rinat Yisrael, whose founding rav was retiring, but also for the entire Teaneck Jewish community, whose growth was immeasurably impacted by the decades-long service of Rabbi Yosef Adler.

It was an epoch that started 43 years ago, when six observant Jewish families decided to explore the possibility of establishing a shul in the West Englewood section of
Teaneck and each invested $500 to pursue the idea. At a meeting at one of the families’ homes, they considered names for the new kehilla and one of the founding members, who prized his Rinat Yisrael siddur, suggested “Rinat Yisrael.” The name stuck and Congregation Rinat Yisrael was formally launched.

That fall, Rabbi Yosef Adler was voted in as the rav of Rinat and the following Shabbat he began offering the Shabbat morning drasha. Two and a half years later, he added a shiur on Friday nights. Within the next few years the shul purchased a sizable property at 389 W. Englewood Ave. and became noted, throughout Teaneck, for offering the first women’s adult education series for the entire community.

In the intervening decades, Rinat has grown tremendously in membership and stature—all through the guidance of Rabbi Adler.

“As founding rabbi, Rabbi Adler has overseen Rinat’s growth from its house minyan roots to a shul that serves as religious home to 430 families,” said Bina Faber, shul president. “Under Rabbi Adler’s leadership, Rinat has grown into a community recognized as one that values thoughtful davening and high-level learning. Also notable are the significant number of members who have made aliyah and the shadow program pioneered by our youth department. We have been truly blessed to have his leadership.”

Given the impact he’s had over four decades, it was a sobering moment for the whole shul family when he sent out a letter on July 26, 2020, announcing his plans to retire in one year’s time. The shul leaders, after absorbing the news, mounted a rabbinic search and were pleased to select Rabbi Chaim Strauchler as the new rav.

The months leading to Rabbi Adler’s retirement seemed to move quickly, and then the shul arrived at a bittersweet moment—Shabbat Ekev, July 30-31—his last Shabbat as morah d’asra of Congregation Rinat Yisrael.

That Shabbat, this past weekend, featured a well attended “thank you kiddush” in honor of Sheryl and Rabbi Adler. Rabbi Adler shared with the congregation that, as rabbi emeritus, he plans to speak on Shabbat mornings once every seven weeks, with the bulk of the heavy lifting going to Rabbi Strauchler and Associate Rabbi Ezra Wiener. He will be turning over his Gemara shiur, on Shabbat afternoons, and his Friday night Halacha shiur to Rabbi Strauchler. He will retain his Monday night Gemara shiur, his Wednesday afternoon chumash class for women and his Wednesday evening Mishna class for women.

He also shared that he will be moving his seat to the left side of the Aron Kodesh, taking a front row chair by the mechitza.

As the finality of Rabbi Adler’s last Shabbat as rav sunk in, many people at Rinat—both leaders and members—had glowing words to describe their longtime spiritual leader.

“Rabbi Adler is synonymous with Rinat and what Rinat stands for,” said Erik Kessler, a member of the board of directors. “Over the past 43 years, he has built a shul committed to serious davening and learning. He has guided the shul to be at the forefront of Modern Orthodoxy, and as the congregants, we are indebted to him and Sheryl. As a rav, Rabbi Adler’s knowledge of halacha is unparalleled. No matter the day or time, we have been able to text or call him with a shaila and he can answer on the spot with a thoughtful answer.”

“I have had the privilege of having Rabbi Adler as my morah d’asra for over 15 years,” reflected shul member Robert Mendeles. “The rabbi has not only been our religious leader but has been a source of tremendous comfort during times of sickness and other challenges that our community has faced. His personal journey with Project Renewal has spurred many to test and donate kidneys! During these past 15 years, the shul has dedicated a new building and membership has exploded. It is bittersweet to see the rabbi step down, but we look forward to being able to still share Torah thoughts with him and know that he has left the blueprint for success for Rabbi Strauchler and the shul.”

Joseph Kaplan, a member of Rinat Yisrael for over 30 years, spoke about a friendly disagreement he had with Rabbi Adler on one point the rabbi made, in a sermon on Kol Dodi Dofaik, Rav Soleveitchik’s seminal speech on Zionism and theological reactions to the Holocaust. Rabbi Adler arranged to meet with Kaplan on a weeknight, with the text of Kol Dodi Dofaik in front of them, so they could review it together and consider the point Kaplan raised. As Kaplan recalled, they spent half an hour talking that night and while neither convinced the other, “it was a very good discussion.” As Kaplan said, “I was very impressed that Rabbi Adler spent time with me on this question and treated me as an equal in the discussion. He showed deep respect for my views.” Kaplan said that this trait is a consistent part of Rabbi Adler’s character and Kaplan has seen the rabbi demonstrate the same respect with children’s questions on a Rashi and with serious scholars’ questions on complicated halachic/hashkafic matters.

“Rabbi Adler has been a driving force in spreading Torah learning for all ages and all levels of ability and both my husband and I take advantage of his many shiurim,” said Riki Landa, a member of the board of directors. “Growing up as a ‘rebel’ in a right-wing, Ultra Orthodox community, I had just about sworn off anything with the word ‘shiur’ in it. After moving to Teaneck and joining Congregation Rinat Yisrael, a friend convinced me to try coming to Rabbi Adler’s Wednesday women’s Chumash shiur. Well, I was hooked and have been attending this shiur for about 25 years now! His Shabbat sermons are always meaningful and he is an amazing and inspirational baal tefillah on the Yamim Noraim. I also respect his approach to psak (answering halachic questions) as he is never afraid to take a lenient or more permissive stance when that is supported by the halacha. We will miss his leadership as rav, but his influence on our lives will continue.”

“Growing up in Boston, I was quite familiar with Rabbi Yosef Adler’s reputation as one of a small cadre of Rav Soloveitchik’s talmidim who could eloquently articulate many aspects of the Rav’s Torah,” said David Schiff, gabbai rishon for four years. “But it wasn’t until our family moved to Teaneck some 13 years ago that I was formally introduced to Rabbi Adler and experienced firsthand how he could mesmerize an audience as he artfully taught a complicated topic with such ease. It was a privilege to hear shiurim, divrei Torah—and even mussar—from him on a regular basis and it added to our sense that we had arrived at an exceptionally special shul.

“Rabbi Adler has always taken great care to ensure that the tefillah experience at Rinat reflects an awareness that when we daven, we are encountering the Ribono Shel Olam. It was clear from the outset that the role of shul gabbai was to help ensure the integrity of the davening. Rabbi Adler was always available to answer any of my questions—halachic or procedural. In particular, during the pandemic, he demonstrated incredible sensitivity to the tzibbur, and incredible patience with me, in allowing the shul to function in the best way possible during impossible circumstances.”

“Rabbi Adler is a ‘Renaissance rabbi’ who does it all and all that he does is done well,” said shul members Marty and Rhonda Leibowitz. “He is a true talmid chacham, master teacher and a most extraordinary baal tefillah. We and our whole family have learned much Torah from our involvement with Rinat. We are very grateful and appreciative to Rabbi Adler.”

It’s also readily evident, from their statements to The Jewish Link, that senior staff of Rinat have tremendous respect and admiration for their retiring rav.

“I am privileged to have both a personal and professional relationship with Rabbi Adler, who is one of the finest human beings I know, and one of the most highly experienced and effective communal leaders I have encountered,” said Tova Warburg Sinensky, yoetzet halacha. “High-level Torah learning for men and women alike at Rinat is not a conversation; it’s a fact. Having a yoetzet halacha is not a discussion, but simply an organic part of the shul and larger community. Since Rinat hired its first yoetzet halacha, four other shuls have joined the Teaneck Yoetzet Initiative… One of the most striking phenomena at Rinat, which is not to be taken for granted in our autonomous culture, is the immense respect that members at all stages in their religious journeys feel towards Rabbi Adler. I believe that is sown from Rabbi Adler’s palpable respect for each and every member’s mind and heart.”

Rabbi Wiener stated: “Rabbi Adler is responsible for elevating the level of learning at Rinat and supporting the broad array of shiurim in a typical week and a typical Shabbos. Rabbi Adler himself, as a part-time rabbi only, has managed to prepare and deliver three shiurim during the week and multiple divrei Torah and shiurim on a typical Shabbos. Additionally, he is so frequently in attendance at adult education shiurim. He is always eager to learn from others and at the same time show his support for the time and effort that others have invested.

“Our shul is known for its beautiful prayer services. Rabbi Adler, a professional chazzan himself, has led by example and reminded our gabbaim about the importance of choosing a proper chazzan to lead the services. Shabbos and Yom Tov davening in Rinat is a moving and memorable experience for all in attendance.”

Asked about finally reaching this Shabbat of transition, Rabbi Adler told The Jewish Link that he has very mixed feelings. “I’ve enjoyed the role of rav immensely,” he said. On the other hand, he noted that he has preached about the importance of aliyah so often and yet he is still here. One priority he’s set in his retirement is to start making plans to make aliyah, so he can fulfill his own Zionist dreams and spend more time with his two children and their families who live in Israel.

By Harry Glazer

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