By Ellyn Wexler
First in a series of profiles of new rabbis in the Washington region.
Among the consequences of taking on his new role at Temple Emanuel in Kensington is that Senior Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser has not yet seen the congregation’s sanctuary full. All the services and meet-and-greet events he has conducted during the pandemic have been virtual.
“Despite the weirdness of the transition, everyone has been lovely,” said the 38 year old who previously served six years as associate rabbi at Temple Sinai in the District. He was able to meet some Temple Emanuel congregants in person during job interviews at the end of 2019 as well as just before the shutdown in early March. “I’m having a great time meeting them on Zoom. I feel really blessed to be in this heimish [congregation].”
Born and raised in a Reform Jewish family in Ann Arbor, Mich. — one of two sons of a social worker and a doctor, Rosenwasser realized he wanted to be a rabbi at age 13 while on a bar mitzvah gift trip to Israel with his paternal grandparents.
“Something clicked in me, a feeling of being home,” he recalled. As a result, he became active in his high school youth group and attended the Union for Reform Judaism’s Kutz Camp for teen leaders.
Rosenwasser said his family was excited about his goal. “They raised me to be whatever I wanted to be,” he said, noting that his maternal grandmother is a “passionate atheist, a founder of the Humanistic Birmingham Temple, outside Detroit. We disagree on a lot of issues, but I’m glad to have her.”
He majored in history at the University of Michigan, then proceeded to Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. That is where he met his husband, Shalom Rosenberg, whom he describes as “much more interesting than I am.” The couple has two children — Eliza, almost 4, and Simon, 15 months.
Rosenwasser has found being gay mostly “a non-issue” in his work, although he is particularly “relatable to people who come to me about gender issues. I’m lucky to be a gay man in the 21st century,” he said.
After being ordained, Rosenwasser interned at Congregation Emanuel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, “an intense and wonderful place to intern.” He relocated to Los Altos Hills, Calif., to become assistant rabbi at Congregation Beth Am. His role models, he said, are Beth Am’s Rabbi Janet Marder and Rabbi Jonathan Roos at Temple Sinai — as well as his childhood rabbi,
Robert Levy, now retired and, to Rosenwasser’s delight, living in the Washington area. He said the cultures at all three congregations where he has worked are similar: “very educated, dynamic and forward thinking, eager to be challenged to connect to tradition in new ways and to make a difference in the world.”
He said his “primary goal is to make relationships — between the community and God, between congregants, between congregants and staff. Only when we get to know each other through teaching, learning and sharing can we join to do the sacred work of repairing the world.”
Of his new congregation, Rosenwasser added, “Not only have they been welcoming to my family, but also they share my passion for social justice.”
In Temple Emanuel’s Anti-Racist Group, “We are working on making sure our congregation is anti-racist and a welcoming home to people of color, along with working for racial justice on local, state and national levels.”