By Andrew Adler
“I once thought there are no second acts in American lives,” F. Scott Fitzgerald famously remarked, and almost forty years ago when I joined the staff of the Courier Journal as a performing-arts critic and reporter, I might have echoed his maxim. But now, twelve years after decamping to the exotic realm of New Orleans, my second act is upon me: I’m the new Managing Editor of Community, the monthly newspaper published by the Jewish Federation of Louisville.
Call this a rare opportunity to meld two of my abiding passions – journalistic writing and connecting to the Judaism that helped shaped my view of the contemporary world. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that I reclaimed my Jewish identity in the mid-1990s, exchanging Manhattan’s Upper West Side for Louisville’s Highlands in April of 1983.
I’d grown up the son of a father steeped in Orthodox worship and a mother who was proudly, resolutely secular. Not surprisingly, mom and dad seldom agreed about how I should be reared Jewishly. There was never any doubt in their minds (or in mine) that I was foundationally Jewish, but they were at odds as to the specific tenets of my spiritual upbringing.
My father wanted me to attend Hebrew school as an adjunct to the private-school education I enjoyed from age four onward, working toward a traditional Bar Mitzvah. My mother, on the other hand, was convinced that the pressures of learning Hebrew and prepping for a Bar Mitzvah would do me considerably more harm than good. Eventually her arguments prevailed, a decision my father regretted for the remainder of his life.
My dad died in 1994 at age 68, felled by cancer and a long history of cardiac distress. Had he lived even five years longer, he would have witnessed a transformation in his son that likely would have stilled those bitter regrets. I’d met a woman in Louisville who, when it was evident we were heading toward marriage and parenthood, made it clear that our children needed a religious upbringing. A product of New Orleans, unabashedly liberal in politics and social issues, she was a disaffected Southern Baptist in search of a faith community that was egalitarian and progressive in dogma and practice. At one juncture she suggested some flavor of christianity that while I was no model of Jewish normative observance, I simply couldn’t countenance our contemplated offspring being brought up in anything but a Jewish household. Fine, she said, we can rear him/her as a Jew, but it wouldn’t be enough just to lean in that direction. No, our Judaism had to be lived, not merely espoused.
Ok, but how to begin? A few inquiries pointed us in the direction of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, landing one afternoon in the office of Rabbi Laura Metzger. As a Reform-ordained rabbi she couldn’t officiate at lifecycle events (B’nai Mitzvot, marriages, etc.), so she took on the role of counselling interfaith couples.
I presumed that Rabbi Metzger would launch us on some stringent, academic course of study. I was mistaken, at least in the immediate term. Because the first thing she told us had nothing to do with study or rigor or anything approaching same. Instead, she urged us to attend a Friday night service: Kabbalat Shabbat, the joyous welcoming of the Sabbath. Not long afterward my fiancée and I found ourselves in the AJ lobby, greeted by people we’d never met, but who belonged to a faith community in which spirituality and joy were powerfully linked.
Something clicked within me – reaching back to the times my late father would implore me to at least poke my head in a synagogue during the High Holy Days, to “remember that I was a Jew.” He would have been stunned to witness his son learning to read Hebrew, attend services three times daily and lead afternoon/evening minyan services most every Thursday. We bought a house on Millvale Road barely a five-minute stroll to AJ, kashered our kitchen as we shared Friday night dinners with fellow congregants who lived within walking distance, and welcomed a son and daughter into a collective life whose sacred and secular elements existed in resonant symbiosis.
As life changes occurred, we ended up leaving Louisville for New Orleans in 2006. We joined the area’s single Conservative shul, Shir Chadash, where Jack and Naomi were bar and bat mitzvahed, and I refashioned a life in which parenthood, not journalism, became the prevalent imperative.
And life being, well, life, divorce thrust me back into singlehood, and with my children now young adults I was ready for a new set of challenges. So here I am.
Not surprisingly, my new role is decidedly multifaceted. But my principal imperative is telling stories within the greater context of Jewish Louisville. Community is a publication that connects with multiple constituencies, reflecting a mission that itself is constantly evolving. I’m especially excited about delving into the recently released Community Study of Jewish Louisville, which offers extraordinary opportunities for exploring who we are and where we want to go. And if there are barriers preventing people from fully embracing Jewish life in our city, it’s in all of our best interests to identify them and figure out how we can make them less formidable.
To accomplish all this, I need your help. If there are issues you believe need to be written about, tell me. I want to emphasize that I’m not some sort of editorial sole practitioner. I’ll be collaborating with some great people who are part of what we call the Jewish Community of Louisville, particularly Matt Golden, who recently came on board as the first full-time director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. I’ve already had several conversations with Matt, and I can’t think of a better advocate.
Though Community’s core imperative is local coverage, I’m fully cognizant about sharing news — nationally and internationally — that affects us. And while a fair number of you continue to read the print edition of Community, I’ll be spending a good chunk of my time advancing what I call the digital footprint of what we do. That could mean posting stories in real time on our website, leveraging social media to make sure you’re able to keep up with happenings of the moment, and a bit down the line producing podcasts that let you check out conversations with people on the front lines of Jewish affairs.
Meanwhile, I hope you’ll keep me in the loop by emailing, texting or (gasp) calling me. While I can’t promise that everything you share will make it into Community, I will promise to listen with as much of an open mind as I can muster. Lots of good stuff awaits as my Act Two moves forward – I’m eager to plunge in.
Andrew Adler is the new Managing Editor of Community and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.