Rabbi Adam Dubin doesn’t own a TV. But he owns a computer, and he is very active in using it to help generate interest in Congregation Mount Sinai in Jersey City Heights. The synagogue was founded in 1906, and Dubin has inherited both the distinction and the problems associated with running the oldest continually operating Jewish house of worship in Hudson County.
While money is needed for repairs on the historic building on Sherman Avenue, a more significant problem is to rebuild the congregation.
The main sanctuary can accommodate about 200 persons. But because only a small number attend regularly, most of the services are held in the lower hall. The space is filled with a sense of reverence, but is not nearly as emotionally powerful as the main sanctuary.
“Even though we’ve been here over 100 years, many people do not know about us,” Dubin said.
So he is using every means possible to bring people back. While this is an orthodox synagogue, he said he doesn’t discriminate. He just wants people to come back and reconnect with God.
Didn’t always want to be a rabbi
Dubin was born on Long Island, but spent most of his life in North Carolina, and also lived Boston, Massachusetts for a number of years. When a child, Dubin was told he would become a rabbi some day.
“I was first told when I was elementary age, I was going to be a rabbi, I said, ‘No, I could never do that,’” he said. “My goal was to work in the legal profession. I thought about it since I was a kid, maybe, but I don’t know if it’s for me.”
But after working a little bit in the legal field he questioned himself even more.
“What’s my purpose, why do I want to be in the legal field? Because I want to help people. Unfortunately, I’ve found not all lawyers are looking just to help people. I was a little naïve about that. Then I asked, ‘How can I help people in a way I’m going to feel good about?’ ”
While studying in Israel for a year, he was again told he might make a good rabbi.
“So I said, I’ll look into it, and decided to take the plunge,” he said.
Dubin has a bachelor’s degree from Boston University in Political Science and philosophy, and is currently working to complete his master’s in Social Work from Boston University as well.
His religious studies brought him to Israel, where he studied at Yeshivat Darche Noam; Monsey, N.Y., where he learned at Yeshiva Ohr Somayach; and finally Rabbinic Ordination from Yeshiva University’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, where he became a close disciple of Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, and where he was also a member of the Marcos and Adina Katz Kollel.
After a time, he decided it would his life’s work.
“I hate to think of it as work. It’s just living. What’s a rabbi but an educator who gets to lead a community?” He said. “I don’t even see myself as ‘the leader,’ I just am leading by example.”
How he came to Jersey City
Dubin has lived in the New York area since starting rabbinical school in summer of 2007. He lived in Washington Heights and then moved to Englewood. He met a colleague from the Orthodox Union, who said he’d heard of a synagogue looking for a rabbi.
“The truth is I’m pretty busy, but if the right opportunity were to avail itself, I would look into it, I told him. Then I got a phone call from the congregation,” Dubin said.
He came, visited the synagogue, and decided to accept.
Dubin is also the project manager at Manhattan Jewish Experience and a psychotherapist in-training at Hudson River Care & Counseling in Englewood and Hoboken.
How to bring people back to the synagogue
Dubin said he is aware that there are other synagogues in Hudson County, and pointed to one in nearby Hoboken.
“We’re not looking to take people from other synagogues,” he said, noting that there are a large number of Jewish people unaffiliated, and that his role will be to try to attract them to his synagogue in The Heights.
“Authenticity is a big part of the attraction,” he said, “and tradition, the ability to have a connection to the community, the ability to have a more personal connection with God that is lacking in a lot of the other denominations.”
He said he read article about some American Jews and their disassociation with their religion, how going to the synagogue is boring.
“A lot of this, I think, comes from not coming to the synagogue on a regular basis, and being part of the community, if you come from a background only come once or twice a year, then it’s going to seem boring, it’s going to seem foreign,” he said. “So what I am to do, to make the observances and services more of a personal experience and have a connection to God? It’s not just some rabbi standing up in front and screaming down at you, or whatever summon it is going to be, but to really engage you.”
“No one is going to look askance or look at you funny. Everyone is welcome with a smile and open arms, so to speak.”– Rabbi Adam Dubin
“And at the same time, my goal here is to revitalize the community. We would like people to be more observant,” he said.
He said people do not have to be orthodox Jews to pray here.
“No one is going to look askance or look at you funny,” he said. “Everyone is welcome with a smile and open arms, so to speak. Our services are conducted traditionally in Hebrew, but the sermon is in English. We are trying to make it warm and inviting. While men and women still sit separately, as you can see, it is not two separate rooms.”
A more modern approach
Congregation Mount Sinai is considered a modern orthodox synagogue
“This has been around 50 or sixty years,” Dubin said. “Yeshiva University in Manhattan, where I studied has been around for 100 years. It is considered the bastion of Modern Orthodoxy. All of us Modern Orthodox rabbis come from there.”
He said there is diversity even in this.
“While I hate labels, I’m more centrist,” he said. “I live in the real world. I read newspapers. I have the internet. I don’t own a TV. That’s something some more right wing denominations won’t do.”
Many denominations cut themselves off from the outside world.
“They speak Yiddish, not even Hebrew,” Dubin said. “I can weave between, interact in that world and feel fairly comfortable, but I don’t live in that world. I do everything according to Jewish law as my rabbis taught it to me and it was taught to them, back to Moses and Mount Sinai.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.