CLEARWATER — Rabbi Yankel Adler grew up watching his parents reach out to the Jewish community in north Pinellas County. Now an ordained rabbi with a family of his own, it seemed natural that he should come back here and help the community grow.
He and his wife Chanie recently moved here from Brooklyn to establish a new Chabad Center serving Clearwater, Clearwater Beach and the surrounding beach communities.
"It's nice to continue on," Rabbi Adler said. "To continue what my parents have been doing, I feel, is very fulfilling."
Adler is the only second-generation rabbi in Pinellas County. His parents Rabbi Shalom and Chanie Adler (yes, mother and daughter-in-law share the same name) have been directing Young Israel-Chabad of Pinellas County for more than 20 years, first in Clearwater, and now at 3696 Fisher Road in Palm Harbor.
"It is every parent's dream to have their child follow in their footsteps," Rabbi Adler said. "It is even sweeter when he comes back to the area where he grew up to give back to that community."
Chabad-Lubavitch began 250 years ago in Russia and now has thousands of rabbis around the world. The word "Chabad" is a Hebrew acronym representing wisdom, comprehension and knowledge. "Lubavitch" is the name of the town in Russia where the movement was based.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known simply as "the Rebbe," inspired thousands of rabbis like the Adlers to do Jewish outreach in countries around the world.
"We're trying to create or build a sense of Jewish community in the Clearwater and Clearwater Beach area," Yankel Adler said. "To unify Jews, bring them together."
Adler, 25, attended Hebrew Academy of Tampa Bay, then studied in New York, Chicago and Montreal. He received his rabbinical ordination from the Chabad Yeshiva of Bal Harbor. He has done Chabad outreach in the Ukraine, Poland, France and Germany. Adler has also taught in the Aleph institute, a program for prison inmates. He plans to continue prison visitations locally, helping his father, who has visited prisoners for years.
The Adlers live in Island Estates with their 6-month-old daughter. This summer they held the first Jewish high holiday services on the beach. About 40 people attended.
"It was inspiring," Adler said. "One person said they hadn't heard the shofar in 50 years."
Adler learns with people one on one, helps put up mezuzahs, and eventually plans to offer Shabbat services. In December, he will hold a public menorah lighting for Hanukkah.
Chanie Adler, 22, is starting a monthly "bagels and babies" on Clearwater Beach for Jewish moms with babies and toddlers.
"Our goal is to bring Judaism alive," she said.