To say that the handwriting was on the wall for Adena Blum to become a rabbi instead of a physician would be an understatement.
Blum, who took over the reins July 1 as the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Chaim in the Princeton Junction section of West Windsor Township, had always enjoyed learning about Judaism.
As a student at The Lawrenceville School, Blum was active in the Jewish Students Organization. She tutored children who were preparing for their bar or bat mitzvahs, and was also enrolled in a two-year program to become certified to teach in a Reform Jewish religious school.
But at the same time, Blum – who grew up in Lawrence Township and attended the public schools through the eighth grade – wanted to become a physician. Her father worked in the pharmaceuticals industry in drug development.
“Rabbi Lauren Levy was the chair of the Religion Department at The Lawrenceville School. I liked tutoring children who were getting ready for their bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. Rabbi Levy joked that I should take over her job,” Blum said.
One of Blum’s teachers at the school where she was studying to become a religious school teacher also pulled her over and asked whether she had considered studying to become a rabbi, she said.
“Both of them thought I should become a rabbi. I got excited about it. I was 18 years old. I don’t think I ever would have chosen this profession without that suggestion,” Blum said.
Following her passion, Blum enrolled at Brandeis University. She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern and Judaic studies, and a minor in religious studies.
Blum went on to study at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and was ordained as a rabbi in 2014. She earned a master’s degree in Hebrew literature and religious education, and joined Congregation Beth Chaim as an assistant rabbi soon after ordination.
Looking back, Blum said she enjoyed the bat mitzvah process when she was going through it herself at Har Sinai Temple, which was originally located in Trenton and later moved to Hopewell Township.
“I loved Hebrew. I loved learning. That may have been the handwriting on the wall,” Blum said.
Despite the apparent differences, there are more similarities between medicine and the rabbinate than meets the eye, Blum said.
“Doctors heal bodies and rabbis heal souls. I don’t think there is as big a gap between the two professions as might meet the untrained eye,” she said.
“As a rabbi, I love working with different ages, backgrounds and life experiences. As a congregation rabbi, there is some routine to the job, but the job looks different every day,” she said. “I get to be with people at the best of times and at the worst of times. They let me in and I take that trust very seriously.”
Now that she has become the senior rabbi, Blum said, she wants to ensure that Congregation Beth Chaim is a place for everyone to assemble and where everyone is included and feels valued. Every person – regardless of age, gender or status – matters, she said.
Blum will officiate at interfaith weddings under certain circumstances and conditions. She said she wants to welcome the “fellow travelers in our midst and show appreciation for their contributions to our community.”
Blum’s sensitivity to inclusion is rooted in her family’s history. Her father was raised as a Catholic and her mother was raised as a Jew.
Her father grew up as a devout Catholic, but be began to struggle with the church as a college student, Blum said. By the time he met her mother, who was Jewish and who belonged to a Reform Jewish congregation, he had become a lapsed Catholic, she said.
When her parents married, it was agreed to raise their children as Jews, Blum said. Her father wanted children to be raised with a moral and religious fabric. Her parents agreed on the need for a religious structure, which led to the decision to raise them as Jews.
“I would have big discussions with my dad about the meaning of life and the mysteries of the universe. I got the spiritual from my father – faith in God, something bigger than one’s self, and a belief in healthy religious values. He is spiritual, but not religious,” Blum said.
“From my mother, I got my commitment to the Jewish people, the holidays and Israel. It’s the cultural aspect of Judaism,” Blum said.
Congregation Beth Chaim has held discussions about being more inclusive, Blum said, and it has made progress in some areas. However, conversations are still needed in other areas, she said.
“One reason Congregation Beth Chaim looked to me (to become the senior rabbi) is that I am really committed to thinking about how to open the door in a way that we may not have done in the past,” she said.
“I feel incredibly blessed for the opportunity to serve as Congregation Beth Chaim’s senior rabbi,” Blum said.