Rabbi Seth Adelson, who becomes a senior rabbi at Beth Shalom on Aug. 10, did not always want to be a rabbi.
After growing up in a “very small town in the rural Berkshires of Massachusetts” and attending Camp Ramah every summer, where he would join the staff in his teens, he studied chemical engineering, graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s from Texas A&M. He was working as a chemical engineer in Houston while singing in a synagogue choir.
Adelson says he “realized that I was not entirely satisfied with being an engineer … that something was lacking in my life, and while I was considering what I really wanted to do with my life, I was fortunate enough to get laid off.” From Houston, Adelson headed to Israel. While there, he decided he wanted to be a cantor and enrolled in the cantorial school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He started his training in Jerusalem and transferred to New York to complete it. He received cantorial investiture in 2004. Somewhere along the way, however, Adelson says he realized he wanted to be more than a cantor: “I wanted the tools from the other side of the bimah,” and so after completing his cantorial training, he enrolled in JTC’s rabbinical school. After being ordained in 2007, he got a job at Temple Israel in Great Neck, N.Y., and has been there ever since.
Adelson says that although he’s “been very happy” in his position and is “grateful for everything I’ve learned here,” he feels “ready” to be a senior rabbi and take on all of the challenges and opportunities for personal growth inherent in that role. While the “increased level of responsibility as senior rabbi is somewhat daunting,” he is excited to have the chance to “to craft a vision for my own congregation.”
Adelson is joining the congregation after a year-long search for a new rabbi. David Horvitz, president of Beth Shalom, says that Adelson was a good fit because “he’s a young, energetic forward thinker, willing to help lead us to the vision he has for the congregation.”
Horvitz says that Adelson fit the criteria that the congregation determined could best lead it into the future. “We were looking for someone who would have energy, and help guide the congregation and grow it, while making Judaism personal, and he exhibited those traits. He has a presence and a warmth about him — when you meet him, you feel comfortable right away. He’s ready to help us meet the challenge of being 21st-century Jews.”
While in Pittsburgh for a wedding in Beth Shalom many years ago, Adelson remembers thinking to himself “what a remarkable congregation it was and what a fantastic neighborhood.” When Adelson began the search for senior rabbi positions, he saw that Beth Shalom was in the market “and jumped at the chance to apply.” He adds that, when looking at the available congregations, only a few would be a good fit for him and his family and that Pittsburgh was “at the top of the list.”
He laughs as he recalls when, last week, he was reading The New York Times and he saw a travel feature titled “36 hours in Pittsburgh.” To see that in the paper the week before the move “was serendipitous.”
Masha Shollar is an intern for The Chronicle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.