Deborah Gardner, Special to The Jewish Sound
In 1997, Adam Rubin was in services at Congregation Beth Shalom listening to Rabbi Dov Gartenberg. Rubin was spending the academic year in Seattle before returning to Los Angeles to finish his Ph.D. in modern Jewish history. He loved the synagogue and the Northwest. What would he have thought if someone told him he’d return to someday to Beth Shalom –– not as a congregant but as a rabbi?
“I would have been astonished,” he admitted.
He was happy teaching Jewish studies. He was also part of an egalitarian minyan in Los Angeles that intentionally had no rabbi. But over time, he felt a need for spiritual leadership. As members got older and started raising families, he felt smaller stand-alone minyans didn’t have capacity to provide childcare and fulfill other needs.
“So I came to feel more and more strongly that there’s a reason why synagogues are the main mode of institutional Jewish religion in the United States,” he said.
Rubin built a career as a professor of modern Jewish history at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. But the work was isolating, leaving him in front of a computer.
“I’m a people person, I like to be in the community,” he explained. With Hebrew Union College’s requirement for faculty to do community service, he went all over California and beyond, teaching at high schools and with seniors in havurot. He fell in love with the work.
“For a long time I’d been involved in Jewish community life on my own,” he reflected, “but the idea of making it my life’s work made it more appealing.” He entered the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, and was recently ordained.
It was a natural next step to Beth Shalom. Rubin’s strengths matched the needs of the community and he felt drawn to it.
“It’s a big move for the synagogue,” he said. Beth Shalom has never had a second rabbi, and he describes it as an indicator of success and growth to hire him and an education director alongside Rabbi Jill Borodin.
He started work on July 1, emphasizing how warmly welcomed he and his wife, Judith Schleyer, have felt with their two children, Elior, age 4, and Na’amah, 3 months old. He’s already learning the ropes from Rabbi Borodin and doing what he calls the “sacred work” of visiting congregants dealing with illnesses. He’s looking forward to performing lifecycle ceremonies, teaching, and nurturing the synagogue’s existing strengths.
“One of the things that attracted me to this place is that while the rabbis are important, it’s not a rabbi-centric community…the community itself is very participatory,” he said.
Rubin is planning a class on the Talmud’s tractate on blessings, and possibly another exploring the environmental and economic symbolism of the shmita year, a traditional agricultural sabbatical cycle, and the relationship of the diaspora to the land of Israel.
But for now he’s exploring his relationship to this land. Gushing about Seattle’s scenery, he said, “I can’t believe we live here.”