Peninsula Sinai becomes a homecoming for new rabbi

Since starting in July as the new rabbi at Foster City’s Peninsula Sinai Congregation, Adam Rosenthal can be spotted carrying around a not only a prayer book or tallit, but also a small and sleek digital camera.

“When it’s not Shabbat, and he sees a congregant he hasn’t met yet, he takes their picture,” said Sandy Backman, who served on the congregation’s search committee. “He immediately rolled up his sleeves and dove right into becoming our rabbi. He’s making efforts to get to know the community as quickly as possible.”

Rosenthal, a 27-year-old native of San Diego, was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in May. Though he’s thrilled to begin his first post as a head rabbi, for a long time he never predicted it would be his life’s work.

“There was a certain amount of resistance to being a rabbi since my father’s a rabbi,” Rosenthal said. “Then I realized it’s OK to do the same thing as my dad, and that I’m not the same rabbi my father is.”

Rosenthal, his wife, Sarah, and their 4-month-old son, Neriya, consider moving to California “a homecoming” because Sarah, also grew up in the state (in Davis).

Now that Rosenthal is leading his first congregation, he’s trying to embrace his father’s best qualities — his ability to care about people, to have a calm presence, to think clearly and not reactively, to stay open-minded.

“I continue to learn from my father,” he said.

Learning — from family, peers, professors, Torah — has always been Rosenthal’s favorite element of Jewish life. During rabbinical school, he worked or volunteered at congregations in Maryland, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, New York, California, Israel and El Salvador, and the diversity of the culture and demographics taught him that “we really are one Jewish people. We’re all connected … and concerned about our values and the unity and future of the Jewish people.”

A diverse Jewish community is one of the reasons he was so attracted to the Conservative Peninsula Sinai.

“Diversity can cause tension and controversy, but it’s a great opportunity to teach one about the other and to share more than one way to be Jewish,” he said.

Jerry Rosenblatt, president of Peninsula Sinai, said he’s been impressed by how Rosenthal has jumped into their community with both feet. He is especially pleased with how the young rabbi has balanced thinking up new ideas and respecting old ones.

“Without being asked, he’s started teaching the Torah portions — explaining what they’re about — at our Thursday morning minyans, and on Friday nights and Shabbat mornings,” Rosenblatt said. “He’s making a major effort to teach the congregation rather than just have us read something … But he also believes it’s best to get to know what the traditions are in our congregation, and make sure everyone’s comfortable with this transition.”

Stacey Palevsky