To the pulpit by way of the classroom
When Rabbi Adena Blum “hit 11th grade,” she told NJJN, “I didn’t know what to do with myself in terms of Judaism.”
Blum, 31 — who joined senior Rabbi Eric Wisnia as assistant rabbi at Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction in July — grew up in an interfaith family in Lawrenceville. She became a bat mitzva and was confirmed at Har Sinai Temple in Pennington.
Blum decided to attend the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College at Shir Ami synagogue in Newtown, Pa., to earn a certificate that would qualify her to teach at Reform movement schools. The program also required students to be assistant teachers at their home synagogues.
“I did that and fell in love with being a religious school teaching aide,” Blum said. She also tutored unaffiliated children to become bar and bat mitzva.
“Between those two experiences I appreciated learning more so I could be teaching and sharing with young people my love of Judaism.”
That was just part of the journey that led Blum, now 31, to the rabbinate.
While she was still in high school, two Jewish role models suggested, independently, that she might want to think about becoming a rabbi. One was Lauren Levy, the rabbi on faculty at the Lawrenceville School, where Blum was a student. Levy, said Blum, “started joking that one day I should take her job.” Then Larry Sernovitz, one of her Gratz teachers, pulled her aside and said, “You seem to enjoy this. Have you ever thought about becoming a rabbi?”
This got her thinking. “If two people who don’t know me think I should do this with my life, maybe I should,” Blum said.
So although she had started out looking at colleges chiefly for their quality pre-med programs, she switched her focus to those with good Judaic studies programs. She ended up at Brandeis University. Her years on the campus near Boston “transplanted me from a community in central New Jersey that does not have a super-large Jewish community to a place where most everybody I was interacting with was Jewish,” she said. “I was learning that there are so many different ways to be Jewish and how these Jewish groups interact with one another.”
Blum spent her junior year in Haifa. She learned to speak Hebrew and found herself having to explain what a Reform rabbi is and why a woman would want to become a rabbi in any case. “I really had to defend my spiritual choices,” she recalled.
For two years after college, she worked at Temple Isaiah in Lexington, Mass., combining religious school teaching with service as a camp liaison, bar/bat mitzva tutor, and adviser to the youngest youth group.
She attended Hebrew Union College in New York, studying for six years so she could get a master’s degree in religious education, “because education is such an important part of how I envisioned my rabbinate,” she said. She also received a master’s in Hebrew literature and was ordained last May.
While in New York, she took advantage of the different Jewish opportunities, getting especially involved in the young adult scene, and figuring out ways to engage members of her generation in Jewish life. “I am very interested in how we can do outreach to people my age who are unaffiliated or unconnected to the Jewish community,” she said.
Prior to coming to Beth Chaim, Blum served as rabbinic intern at two other NJ synagogues, a Hillel, two hospitals, and two URJ summer camps. She is a member of the National Association of Temple Educators, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, the Women’s Rabbinic Network, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
On March 19, Blum led Village Grande Hadassah’s third Women’s Seder at the West Windsor community, where participants paid tribute to several women who made a historical impact on the Jewish world: philanthropist Estee Lauder; Ruth Popkin, who served as president of Hadassah, the Jewish National Fund, and the World Zionist Congress; Hannah Solomon, the first president of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah.
At the seder, which was chaired by Terry Forman, the 145 participants spanning three generations used a Haggada — written by the chapter’s members and revised and enhanced each year — that weaves together stories of biblical characters with those of modern women.
“The Women’s Dayenu,” written by Michelle Landsberg, includes such verses as “If our mothers had been honored for their daughters as well as for their sons, Dayenu….” Participants also sang “Miriam’s Song,” shaking tambourines as they danced around the ballroom.
“My big contribution to the seder was adding a moment for healing,’ said Blum. “I have found that in a women’s seder and in regard to other women’s spirituality, having a moment to acknowledge people in our lives who need healing is very powerful.”