Strength in Faith
For over 180 years as a congregation, our connections at The Temple have fostered our communal Jewish lives. We are fulfilled through our faith as a community, taught and guided on our Jewish paths by Rabbi David and Cantor Lauren.
Follow this article series, “Strength In …,” to learn more about how our Temple’s faith leaders, member support, and operations team maintain the stability of our Jewish community.
The Temple is where our Jewish lives are nurtured through community, learning, and spirituality. Rabbi David and Cantor Lauren are at once our teachers, our counselors, our sources of inspiration, and our conductors. They lead our Jewish life-cycle celebrations, support us in times of crisis, and offer positive experiences that fulfill our lives. We asked Rabbi David and Cantor Lauren to tell us about their vocations to serve, teach, and preserve our Jewish legacy to hand down through the generations. Their answers explain how our collective voices, prayers, and connections link us to the meaning of life and the Divine.
Rabbi David Ariel-Joel
WHY DID YOU BECOME A RABBI?
I began a search to find a place for religion in my life while growing up in Israel in a secular home and witnessing a faith crisis for the nation after the Yom Kippur War almost destroyed it. I found a Reform synagogue and joined a youth group. I fell in love with the services, and the Rabbi positively influenced me. He offered me an opportunity to become an exchange student in Detroit to live with an American Reform family. I spent a year there, developing a connection to Reform Jewish life. The Rabbi in Detroit urged me to consider becoming a Rabbi. He inspired me to take the meaning and positive experience I discovered to as many people as possible. That seed later resulted in a commitment to my Rabbinate.
My early Reform Jewish life continues to influence my Rabbinate to this day. I strive to serve the congregation and offer them positive experiences that will fulfill their lives. I did not become a Rabbi to tell people what they need to believe or what they should do. In Israel, there is no separation of religion and state. I reject that with sensitivity instead toward positive Judaism. I prefer to meet people where they are and to serve their needs. I want to be present for them when they need me, and connect them to their own faith.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT YOUR RABBINATE?
There are several important things, not just one. I love sharing Jewish learning; I love to study and teach. Another even more important part are my visits twice a week to comfort members at hospitals and at nursing homes. On my first day as a Rabbi here, Rabbi Diamond explained that personal visits between a Rabbi and members create the most profound relationships for a Rabbi, the congregants, and their families. Touching people’s lives when they need me is the most meaningful moment for me. I will visit a member in hospice today. It will be challenging, but they need me and asked me to come. When I provide comfort, the encounter is the meaning of being a Rabbi.
The need for officiating interfaith marriages is considerable and conducting them is another important part of my Rabbinate. When I came to Louisville, I brought with me the prejudice many have about interfaith marriages. But, I met a couple that was genuine in their commitment to each other. I saw that if I officiated at their wedding, I would welcome a family into the Jewish community rather than rejecting them. Marrying them fulfilled a commandment of my Rabbinate. I don’t come with preconceived theological dogmas for our members; I am here to serve them.
The proudest service I have performed as a Rabbi was in 1996. I officiated the first same-sex wedding in Israel. I knew it would cause controversy. A statement was made in the media from the Conservative movement to fire me and warned of no cooperation with the Reform Movement. My life and the life of my wife, who was working at Yad Vashem Museum (the Holocaust Memorial Museum), were threatened. It was the bravest thing I have done as a Rabbi. The two women I married send me a thank you with flowers on their wedding anniversary every year. Both came from an Orthodox background, making their ceremony the most genuine and powerful religious experience of my life. There was so much spirituality and Divine energy in the room.
WHAT MADE YOU COME TO LOUISVILLE? WHY DID YOU STAY IN LOUISVILLE FOR SO MANY YEARS?
I had never heard about Louisville but knew about Kentucky Fried Chicken from the kosher branch in Jerusalem. The director of the placement committee for the Central Conference for Reform Rabbis met with me and told me that Louisville, Kentucky, is “The perfect fit for you, the place you are meant to be.” I knew and trusted him and said, “OK, I’ll interview there.” I came with the plan to have an experience as a family for three years and then go back to Israel. I even looked forward to returning to a job I had lined up when I went home. But once I started working with the congregation, I saw that the people here are warm, supportive, and loving– what we say in Yiddish is Mensch, a good decent person. After two years, The Temple President offered to renew my contract. So I went to Rabbi Diamond to discuss that it was a big decision for my family and me. “I feel that I am in the honeymoon stage, and I want to know when the mask will go down to expose the true nature of the congregation, and I may regret signing the renewal.” He said, “I don’t know the answer. I’ve only been here 40 years. I am still in the honeymoon stage with this place.” Now, after all this time, I feel the same as Rabbi Diamond. I love the congregation and Kentucky. People are generous with their time, their kindness, and their money. I love this congregation. I am the luckiest Rabbi, and I am in the best place.
Cantor Lauren Adesnik
WHY DID YOU BECOME A CANTOR?
I connect to Judaism, community, and God through music, which has guided my journey to the cantorate.
I have been singing my entire life, which is astonishing, considering I was born with significant hearing loss. Luckily it has to do with loudness and softness but doesn’t affect my ears’ pitch or nerves. As a young adult, I reflected on how miraculous it was that I overcame my hearing loss. As I began forming my theology, my philosophy of life, I determined there could only be a Divine being present to explain it.
Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, I am a bonafide “Valley Girl.” I started classical music training and singing at 15, and attended the University of Southern California on a music scholarship. After hearing me sing, people would tell me, “You have such a beautiful voice. You should become a cantor.” My reply was always, “I am going to be an opera singer,” and I did that. I spent my early years of post-college life as a young artist. But, I could not understand why I was fulfilling my dream but not feeling fulfilled. The more I performed on stage, the more unfulfilled I felt. Then I remembered the moments after becoming a Bat Mitzvah when I was on the bimah filling in for the Cantor or teaching other kids– those moments were full of meaning. So, I began searching for fulfillment by calling every Reform and Conservative synagogue in the San Fernando Valley to see if they needed a B’nei Mitzvah tutor. The last temple I called was Temple Judea, and they answered, “yes.” It was a great fit. Still, I did not intend to become a Cantor.
Then I watched my first student complete his Bar Mitzvah. He was a troubled kid from a broken home. A child of addicts, living with his grandmother. My mission was to be his cheerleader, providing confidence and support. I will never forget watching his face as he chanted Torah. He stood up straighter, bewildered because he was proud he had done it, but couldn’t quite believe that he had. Finally, his grandmother asked me, “why are you not a cantor? Look what you have done for my grandson.” I spent the entire next year contemplating her question, and almost exactly a year to the day, I decided this was my path. It is a sacred charge for me to be a grounding presence. I am grateful for my gift– to create Jewish connections and meaning with others.
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHAT A CANTOR DOES:
Cantors are ordained clergy. The focus and platform of a Cantor are to facilitate faith connections within the community. A Cantor fosters relationships through the medium of Jewish music. That encompasses worship and engaging the congregation to actively participate in creating music together. It’s practicing with the choir and with instrumentalists, it’s music education and fostering pastoral care. I would have just freelanced as a Jewish musician if it were only about music. But, in synagogue life, I engage with my voice and soul to create religious connections. Sometimes that is singing on the bimah during services or working with B’nei Mitzvah students teaching the Torah, which is a song that is meant to be chanted. And sometimes, it is offering someone a final confession or singing with seniors at elder care homes because it brings up memories for them that create holy moments full of meaning. If a cantor is well trained, and if they are brave, when sharing our voices through song, we are also sharing our souls. Our mission is to encourage those we share our souls with through our music and prayers to do the same. Every time I am engaged in work as a Cantor, I am relaying my whole soul. Creating sacred relationships is why I became a cantor. I am elevated, and the people I am connected with are, too. Ultimately, my interpretation is that we are connected to God in those moments.