|The materials for the new sanctuary were imported from Israel.|
Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck celebrated the completion of its expansion project by dedicating the newly constructed 450-seat sanctuary to its spiritual leader, Rabbi Yosef Adler, and his wife Sheryl.
At the dedication ceremony held after last week’s Shabbat morning services, Adler marveled over the congregation’s transformation since a handful of families began meeting for services in each other’s homes in 1978 and appointed him rabbi.
The normally reserved scholar choked up as he thanked his congregants for allowing him the privilege of serving as their leader for the past 32 years, and thanked the Kukin family for donating the sanctuary and opting to dedicate it in his and his wife’s honor.
“I wouldn’t trade this job with anyone,” he said.
The new sanctuary – whose beechwood pews, aron kodesh, bimah, and mechitzah were imported from Israel – is only one component of the $5 million construction project that broke ground in December 2008 and was completed before Rosh HaShanah.
The extreme synagogue makeover transformed the 8,000 square-foot building into a nearly 24,000 square-foot structure, with much of it underground. Among the features of the renovation are a social hall, youth wing with eight classrooms, a parking lot, and a Shabbat elevator. The old sanctuary was converted into a 250-seat beit midrash (house of study), said synagogue president Orin Golubtchik.
The need for expansion had been discussed among Rinat members for nearly 10 years, amid complaints that the synagogue had grown overcrowded. The facility built in 1991 on West Englewood Avenue could no longer accommodate the swelling Modern Orthodox community flowing into Teaneck and through Rinat’s front doors.
Longtime members and newcomers alike found the process of finding a seat at packed Shabbat services a challenge. Families who came together to services often had to split up. Additional space at the Whittier School had to be rented on the High Holy Days to accommodate the overflow of worshippers.
The worst consequence of the shrinking space, said Charlie Eisenberg, an expansion steering committee member, “was that people wanted to come here but there was no room so they had to go to other shuls.”
Eisenberg, an architect, added, “We wanted more space for tefillah and expanded social space for us to celebrate together in our own house.” Just as critical, he said, was the need for more youth space so that children would find the experience of coming to shul a pleasant one. Rinat bought a house next door several years ago, to be used as the youth wing, which it quickly outgrew.
Membership surged after the expansion, with an additional 20 member-families and another 15 who became affiliates, bringing total membership to 300 families and 150 affiliate families, said Golubtchik. Because one sanctuary cannot hold everyone, three Shabbat morning prayer services are held at different times.
That the synagogue has become a popular destination comes as no surprise to old-timers in the congregation.
“This is a place for learning,” said Golubtchik, “with the rabbi giving nine shiurim to men, women, and children every week – a place for davening and a place where families get together, a real second home.”
Jonathan Kukin who, with his wife Leora, donated the sanctuary, said, “The essential spirit of Rinat Yisrael is defined by the people that comprise our kehillah, not the bricks and mortar that form our building.” The Adlers, he added, “personify the beauty of our kehillah in both word and deed.”
In fact, many attribute the popularity of the shul to the rabbi, who is praised for his vast Torah knowledge and courage to take a stance on controversial issues.
A 2001 study undertaken to determine the expansion needs of the membership revealed that most congregants joined because of the rabbi, said Kenneth Hoffman, an expansion steering committee member. “People have unending respect for and appreciation of the rabbi because of his approach, focus, and orientation relative to our community and Judaism, and he has succeeded in building a vibrant community based on his vision,” he added.
Adler is the sole Orthodox rabbi in Teaneck to endorse a yoetzet halacha – a woman halachic consultant – and to employ one on staff. Also, he was among the rabbis who signed the “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community,” issued over the summer, which urges greater sensitivity toward people who are gay. He is also a fervent supporter of the State of Israel and of women taking on greater roles in Jewish life.
In his teachings and writings, Adler often aims to convey the wisdom of his mentor, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who was widely revered as the major rabbinic figure of Modern Orthodoxy in America. The principal of Torah Academy of Bergen County, Adler is also credited for his skill as an educator, ability to engage young people, and unwavering enthusiasm for the Yankees, noted Eisenberg.
“His Torah knowledge is unsurpassed,” Eisenberg continued. “When he is speaking Torah, he’s like Fred Astaire on the dance floor.”
Such qualities have left an indelible impact that is felt beyond the walls of the sanctuary that bears Adler’s name. “He’s not afraid to put himself out there for the things he believes strongly in,” said Golubtchik. “He’s inspired us with his learning and leads us by example.”