After a thorough search, Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael recently welcomed Rabbi Adam Gillman as the synagogue’s first new rabbi in 35 years. He succeeds David Nesson, the beloved rabbi who led the shul from 1988 until he retired earlier this year.
Judaism has been a constant presence in Rabbi Gillman’s life. He grew up in Seattle with a family who valued Jewish tradition. “Judaism was the centerpiece and compass of my family,” he said. The Gillmans were active members of the Conservative synagogue Congregation Beth Shalom.
After earning his undergraduate degree at Western Washington University in Bellingham in 2013, Rabbi Gillman moved to Israel, where he lived for three and a half years. During that time, he studied at several schools, including the Conservative Yeshiva, the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and Mechon Shechter.
During his time in Israel, Rabbi Gillman strengthened his connection with Judaism. Holidays such as Sukkot and Tu B’Shvat were truly meaningful, he said, because everyone observed them in their own way, whether or not they were religiously observant. “There’s a familiarity that comes from being in Israel from going around to different communities and seeing menorahs in people’s windows to hiking in the wilderness surrounding Jerusalem,” he said.
He also saw at firsthand some of the many challenges that Israelis face. “In one sense, Israel is unique and special, but it’s also a country that faces some of the same economic, racial, social, and political issues as other countries,” he said.
When he moved to New York from Israel, Adam Gillman entered rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s flagship academic institution. He was ordained this year.
An active member of the Jewish community, Rabbi Gillman has served in a variety of roles, including a chaplaincy at NYU Langone Hospital, a summer fellowship at T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and as a student teacher at the Schechter Manhattan Day School. He also interned at Congregation Sons of Israel in Nyack, Rockland County, and the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre on Long Island.
Rabbi Gillman and Leah Silver are engaged; they plan to be married in November. Ms. Silver, a teacher, sits on the board of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on Manhattan’s Upper West Side; she leads weekday minyans and children’s services there.
Rabbi Gillman is excited about facilitating Torah studies exploring early Jewish history and its foundational commandments. During weekly Shabbat services, he will encourage congregants to think critically about each week’s reading, drawing parallels to their own lives. “You cannot read a Torah by yourself,” he said. “You need a group of people.”
By studying Torah communally, Rabbi Gillman hopes that people won’t take the text at face value but instead engage with him in active discussions about its themes. “What do you think about this?” “Do you agree with it? Does it connect with other beliefs or experiences that you’ve had?”
For recreation, Rabbi Gillman enjoys spending time with friends and family, hiking, gardening, and cooking.
He joins MJCBY at a time when places of worship throughout the United States are experiencing diminished attendance. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, many people are choosing to attend religious services virtually, if at all. To counteract this trend, Rabbi Gillman intends to bolster MJCBY’s programming. That will be a reminder that the synagogue isn’t just a place of worship, but also serves as a communal space. “Judaism isn’t just a religion,” he said. “It’s a culture, society, and family.”
As MJCBY approaches its 125th anniversary, which it will celebrate next year, Rabbi Gillman is looking forward to learning more about its rich history “This is a place that both holds onto tradition and looks toward the future,” he said.
“Rabbi Gillman’s knowledge, relatability, approachability, and rapport with young families and children are some of his most important attributes, which happen to be the priority qualifications of what our congregation desires in a new rabbi given the feedback from the congregational survey last spring,” Jason Navarino, the synagogue’s president, wrote to congregants. “He is open-minded and flexible, and has shown a willingness and ability to learn, grow, and develop. He is warm and asks a lot of questions, which indicate he is truly invested in providing the entire MJCBY community with what we are looking for in a spiritual leader.”