Rabbi Jacob Best Adler, 32, joined Congregation Kehilat Shalom this summer, shortly after graduating from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia.
The Montgomery News caught up with Rabbi Jake as he was preparing for the High Holy Days, the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur considered the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. This year, Rosh HaShanah begins in the evening of Sept 9. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins the evening of Tuesday, Sept 18 and ends the evening of Wednesday, Sept 19.
Q: Thinking back on your early life, what was your religious upbringing?
A: I was raised in a fairly secular Jewish home in Montclair with little traditional observance, but my family was deeply connected to our synagogue. Being part of a Jewish community where I was presented with many inspiring examples of Jewish traditions, I asked tough questions that
helped me to feel a sense of connection and ownership – that my experience and viewpoints were also an integral part of present day Judaism.
Q: What is atonement? Answer the question through a story in your life.
A: Like many people, I didn’t have a very healthy self-image during adolescence. When I was a teenager, I would often disparage myself about making bad decisions. I viewed myself as a bad person because of the mistakes I was making. I had to change my self-perception — see myself
as a person who was capable of doing and being good — before I could get to a point where I could view my actions as separate from my self-identity. Only then could I grow and recognize that I was capable of changing my behavior.
Although kapparah, or “atonement,” gets a lot of attention, the true focus of the High Holy Days is teshuvah. Typically translated as “repentance,” the word is connected to the Hebrew root of “return.”
Maimonides, the medieval commentator and physician known as the RaMBaM, said the sign of true teshuvah is that when one is presented with a
scenario like the one in which they previously erred, they respond differently.
In Siddur Derekh ha-Hayyim, a 19th Century annotated prayerbook, Rabbi Ya’akov of Lissa adds: “The essential purpose of teshuvah is to regret the past and commit oneself not to return to that folly again in the future; for even if a man fasts frequently from Sabbath to Sabbath and performs every known form of chastisement, if he has not taken it upon himself not to return to his sin — behold, he is as one who takes a ritual bath while holding an unclean reptile in his hand.”
In other words, without changing the way in which you engage with the world, you're trying to be pure while clinging to impurity. It’s not enough for
us to beat ourselves on the chest and wallow in regret. We must fully acknowledge our wrongdoing with honest self-reflection and commit to changing our behaviors so as not to return to that sin in the future.
Q: Who really enriched your life in a big way in the last year or two and why?
A: My son, Daniel, is almost four years old. Having conversations with him is always illuminating. He’s taking in and processing so much information. It’s amazing to see him reflect on his world. Plus, he’s got a great sense of humor.
Q: What led you to the path of becoming a rabbi at this point in your life?
A: Although I’ve known for 20 years that I wanted to be a rabbi, I didn’t pursue rabbinic studies directly after graduating from college. It felt important for me to be a rabbi who had some “real world experience.”
I wanted to have a job, start a family – and engage in self-reflection and growth – before diving into an intensive six-year course of study. I am grateful for the stability that I had during my time in school as a result of those decisions. I decided to enter rabbinical school when I felt like I couldn’t wait any longer. ■
Rabbi Jake was born in Brooklyn, NY, and raised in Montclair. His parents, Bob Adler and Anne-Marie Nolin, were active members of their synagogue and community. His mother served museums and arts organizations, including the Montclair Art Museum, as director of communications, while his father did market research in the insurance industry, working for Insurance Services Office and Chubb.
Jake graduated from Earlham College with a bachelor of arts in fine art
photography. Prior to entering rabbinical school, Rabbi Jake worked as a case manager at a Jewish social services agency in Chicago.
He is married to Jillian Best Adler, a senior early learning specialist at First Up: Champions for Early Education, a non-profit agency working to improve Early Childhood Education quality and access in southeastern Pennsylvania. He and Jillian are parents of Daniel, 3. He enjoys board games, reading, and being in the woods. ■
CKS welcomes visitors to their regular Friday night services. Their High Holiday services are also open to non-members, although guests are requested to register for free tickets at www.ksnj.org.