Jewish Tradition: Adat Yeshurun synagogue grows in observance

Adat Yeshurun (meaning “community of the upright” in Hebrew) is not an uncommon name for Jewish synagogues. Here in La Jolla, however, the Adat Yeshurun synagogue is unique, according to Rabbi Jeff Wohlgelernter. Its membership is one of great cultural and religious diversity.

“Our congregation is eclectic, we have one of everybody,” Rabbi Wohlgelernter explained. In addition to including almost 1,000 adults and children from across San Diego, the synagogue attracts many out-of-town travelers.

“It’s great to hear what visitors have to say. They’re not used to such diversity. There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. It’s very alive,” he said.

While appreciating this feedback, Rabbi Wohlgelernter emphasized that his role is to “focus on the synagogue and my members/ congregation, to represent and present Judaism as a community, having us all grow in observance of Judaism and the Jewish people.”

Adat Yeshurun is an orthodox synagogue. Although not all its members are orthodox, many are now drawn to this branch of Judaism. “They are returning back to being observant, to leading a more observant life,” said Rabbi Wohlgelernter. “They wake up and realize the importance of core belief, a different kind of life to live and transmit to their children. Otherwise, with just the philosophy, it remains nebulous. With a lifestyle, it is easier, something tangible.”

At Adat Yeshurun, there is a strong emphasis on ongoing education and many of the daily services consist of reading and studying Jewish writings, including the Talmud (primary source of Jewish religious law) and the Torah (sometimes called the Jewish Bible, with the first five books of the Christian Bible and additional psalms and words of prophets).

In addition to these, regular worship services take place daily in the early morning (Shacharis) and afternoon/evening (Mincha/Ma’ariv). Sabbath (Shabbat) services begin on Friday afternoon with a candlelighting, followed by a Kabbalat Shabbat service, which means “receiving the Sabbath.” Services held on Saturday, the Sabbath, are similar to those held during the week, but a bit longer. Additional services are held during Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Adat Yeshurun was first organized in 1987 by observant Jews who had a clear vision for a community without an exact location, or rabbi, for that matter. They reached out to Rabbi Wohlgelernter, who was leaving Australia and planning to move to Jerusalem. He agreed to help run the synagogue for a year — and has remained ever since.

For its first 14 years, the congregation met in the La Jolla Village Professional Center, an office building at the corner of La Jolla Village Drive and Villa La Jolla Drive. Finally, they were able to purchase land belonging to UC San Diego on La Jolla Scenic Drive and build the current synagogue. The building was dedicated in August 2001. It consists of one large structure with a wing for classrooms and administrative offices. Just outside in the courtyard is a large Torrey Pine, carefully left in place.

Inside, Rabbi Wohlgelernter offered a tour. The main room is modern, with high wood ceilings and partitions and bookcases, which can be moved for larger events such as weddings and Bar and Bat Mizvahs. The bimah (a podium) in the center and the ark (housing the Torah scrolls) are hand-carved wood, created by Rabbi Wohlgelernter’s father, an artist. His father also created the stained glass eternal light above the ark.

Rabbi Wohlgelernter was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up on Long Island. He attended high school and college in Baltimore, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Johns Hopkins University. He then went on to rabbinical college in Baltimore and Jerusalem. As Rabbi Wohlgelernter explained, there are no degrees in rabbinical studies. “We study Jewish law for the sake of studying,” he said.

In Jerusalem, the rabbi met his wife, Shoshana (“Shoshie”), a teacher from Vermont. The couple remained in Israel for another three years and then moved to Sydney, Australia for two years. They had planned to return to Jerusalem when they were invited to consider Adat Yeshurun in La Jolla.

In addition to serving as the synagogue’s leader, Rabbi Wohlgelernter teaches at Jewish high schools in San Diego. His wife also teaches and is the youth director of the synagogue. They have seven children (four sons and three daughters), ages 14 to 31, and 10 grandchildren. So far, none of the children has expressed interest in becoming a rabbi, but the majority of the adults are educators.

Congregation Adat Yeshurun

■ 625 La Jolla Scenic Drive, La Jolla

■ (858) 535-1196


■ Year Established: 1987

■ Leader: Rabbi Jeff Wohlgelernter

■ Members: 972

■ Average Weekend Attendance: 150-200

■ Worship Services: Talmud I, 6 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Talmud in Depth, 7:30 a.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. Saturday. Shacharis, 6:30 a.m. Monday, Thursday; 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 9 a.m. Saturday; 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Mincha/Ma’ariv, Sunday-Thursday, changes weekly, check website for times. Partners in Torah Learning, 8 p.m. Monday. Pirkei Avos “Ethics of the Fathers,” 8 p.m. Monday. Daf Yomi, check website for times. Women’s Class, 11 a.m. Tuesday. Prophets/Mishlei, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Parsha, 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Candles, Friday, check website for times. Mincha/ Kabbalat Shabbat, Friday, check website. Weekly classes for children, women, parent/ child learning, Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation (contact the office for details).

■ Community Programs: Guest speakers, films, Chesed program helping families in need. Terror Victim Relief Fund to aid Israeli citizens who are victims of terrorism.

This time, the congregation of Adat Yeshurun was able to buy the land and raise funds to build the new synagogue, which was completed in 2001.

For the Nissanoffs, it was a double miracle. Pinchas Nissanoff was a heart transplant recipient in 2008 and could not have walked the uphill route between Sabbath services at La Jolla Village Professional Center and their home. (On the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, Orthodox Jews cannot drive.) “Now we just have to walk two blocks,” said Erika Nissanoff. “It really was a miracle.” —Linda Hutchison