Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth welcomed a new Spiritual Leader, Rabbi Abraham Rabinovich, in 2023. AKSE congregants and Rabbi Abe, as he prefers to be called, shared the excitement as the congregation embarked on the next chapter in its 138-year history.
Email Rabbi Abe: RabbiAbe@AKSE.org
Read More about Rabbi Abe
Rabbi Abe is a graduate of RIETS, the Rabbinic Seminary of Yeshiva University, where he received the prestigious Beren Graduate Research Fellowship in Higher Talmudic Studies. He also holds a B.A. and M.A. in Jewish Philosophy from YU and a Ph.D. in Religion and Education from Fordham University.
Rabbi Abe has 18 years’ experience as a spiritual leader, chaplain, pastoral care provider, and religious educator. While leading congregations, he has also served as a chaplain for hospitals and nursing facilities. Since 2012, he has been the Director of Religious Education and Interfaith Affairs for the New York State Chaplains Task Force, an organization of several thousand volunteer chaplains of different faiths.
Rabbi Abe is proficient in ancient and modern Hebrew, Yiddish, and Aramaic. His broad education enables him to teach a wide range of courses, including history, philosophy, theology, Jewish mysticism/Kabbalah, medical ethics, moral education, Jewish Law, and Talmud. We look forward to the benefits that his broad knowledge and teaching skills will bring to the congregation and community.
Rabbi Abe embodies the ideals of AKSE, being committed to tradition, while also being open-minded and progressive within the bounds of Halacha (Jewish law) and a strong advocate for a pluralistic Judaism. His philosophy of life is aligned with the teaching of Rabbi Akiba that “to love thy fellow neighbor as thyself is the essence of Judaism. The highest values,” he proclaims, “are kindness and respect. No one should be judged. We are family and friends—Chaverim Kol Yisrael.” Rabbi Abe exhibits a loving and caring demeanor to all and is personable and engaging with both those he is first meeting and those he already knows.
On September 3, 2023, Rabbi Abe and Ariel Hauptman were married in a wedding ceremony in New Mexico. Having moved from the New York area, they now make their home in Wilmington.
Cantor Yehoshua Redfern has served as Cantor and Torah Reader of Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth since 2011. Born and raised in Chicago, Cantor Redfern received his Cantorial Certificate from the Philip and Sarah Belz School of Jewish Music in 1977. He has served several congregations throughout North America since 1974.
Read More about Cantor Redfern
Cantor Redfern studied vocal technique with Cantor Daniel Gildar for over thirty years. He has three professional recordings: Kol Yehoshua,1982, Kol Yehoshua II 1992, and Cantor Yehoshua Live, 2014. Cantor Redfern’s recordings can be heard on www.soundcloud.com and at www.cantorredfern.com. He serves as a Scholar-in-Residence lecturing, writing, and offering classes in Jewish liturgical music. Cantor Redfern was the recipient of the Dr. Karl Adler Memorial Award for the Preservation and Enhancement of Jewish Music Education at the 51st Annual Convention of the Cantorial Council of America in 2011.
Cantor Redfern lives with his wife Roberta in Silver Spring, MD. He travels to Wilmington to co-officiate with Rabbi Abe at most Shabbat services. He also prepares and directs our High Holiday Choir.
Eleanor Epstein, Artistic Director of Zemer Chai, Washington, DC’s premier Jewish community chorus (in which Cantor Redfern participates), has noted “Cantor Redfern’s dedication to Chazanut and to the preservation and perpetuation of the Jewish tradition through the liturgy is unparalleled. His singing is filled with warmth and reflects a deep understanding and love of Jewish prayer.”
Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth Congregation is more than a synagogue. We are a family. The Kesher Committee coordinator arranges for members to do mitzvot for other members, especially when rides, meals, or visits are needed.
The Kesher Committee is always looking for individuals who can drive, visit, cook, or do errands, or even make a friendly phone call. If you are interested in helping, please get in touch with me. Also, if you know of someone who might need help, please contact me.
Sisterhood has been an indispensable part of AKSE for decades and continues to be so. Activities over the last year included holiday glass pin sales, Break the Fast treats, a brunch in our Sukkah, sending out Leket Purim greetings and regular Shabbat Kiddushim. We ended the summer with a lovely bridal shower for Ariel Hauptman, a truly joyous occasion.
Once again Sisterhood started the year 5784 out on a sweet note by sending a jar of honey and New Year’s greetings to all members of our synagogue. A big thank you to those that participated in sending greetings to our members and to friends and family! Through your support of this fundraiser and our annual dues drive last year, we were able to present AKSE with a check for $8000 at the annual meeting in June!
We hope to repeat some of these activities and add more. Please don’t hesitate to share any ideas about programs that you would like to see happen. We already organized a successful Friday night dinner to welcome Rabbi Abe and Ariel. Your help with any of our events is welcome!
Adult Folk Dance Group
AKSE has the only performing adult Israeli folk dance group in the State of Delaware. The group calls itself “Lanetzach Tzi’irim,” meaning Forever Young. Every year the group performs both new and classic dances at the Café Tamar musical celebration of Israel. The group has also performed in other venues, including regional cultural festivals and the New York Israeli Folk Dance Festival.
High Holiday Choir
Shortly after the merger of Adas Kodesch and Chesed Shel Emeth in 1957, the High Holiday Choir was formed under the direction of Cantor Abraham Vegh. Subsequent cantors have added to the selections and traditional melodies of the service. The choir assists the Cantor during High Holiday services, adding an additional musical dimension to the spirituality of the service. Congregants are invited to sing along with both the choir and the Cantor. The choir also occasionally appears in special performances during the year. If you have an interest in the group, please contact Cantor Redfern through the synagogue office at 302-762-2705 or office@AKSE.org.
For a special treat: Hallelujah – Cafe Tamar
Adas Kodesch charter 1889
The theme of tradition is embodied in the religious practices of the congregation and the dedication to passing Jewish practice and teaching from one generation to the next. While tradition has been a constant at AKSE, that does not mean that the congregation has not seen many changes throughout its history. No institution can flourish for more than 138 years without renewing itself to meet the challenges of the constantly changing community and world around it.
Much of the Adas Kodesch story revolves around the groups of Jews that settled in Delaware, at times finding common ground and at other times needing to express their unique differences. In her acclaimed book, “Becoming American, Remaining Jewish: The Story of Wilmington, Delaware’s First Jewish Community, 1879-1924” (Associated University Presses, 1999), Toni Young details the early history of Adas Kodesch. “During the 1880’s, the Jewish population of Wilmington expanded quickly [from fewer than 100] to some 500 people.” By 1885, the new arrivals were mainly from Eastern Europe. There were now “two vastly different groups of Jewish immigrants in Wilmington, those who danced in satin at fancy balls, and those who struggled to make a living in a new land.” The newcomers did not feel comfortable among the existing population of Americanized and mostly Reform Jews and “immediately established a more traditional synagogue, Adas Kodesch.” Incorporation followed in 1889.
Adas Kodesch 1930
The old joke “two Jews, three opinions” has played out in the Wilmington Jewish community and at Adas Kodesch over the years. At times, diversity has been met with tolerance; at other times, with tensions. Already in 1888 a second Orthodox synagogue was formed, Ahavath Achim. By 1890, the two congregations jointly purchased the Lombardy Cemetery. This purchase also resulted in the merger of the two congregations. In 1900, a group of Jews who preferred the Sephardic ritual formed Chesed Shel Emeth Congregation. Eventually, in 1957, the two traditional congregations merged to form Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth.
Beginning in the 1940’s, Adas Kodesch implemented a series of changes to meet the needs of an increasingly Americanized Jewish community. The congregation introduced “mixed seating” and engaged an American born rabbi, Rabbi Joseph Singer. Rabbi Singer delivered his sermons in English (rather than Yiddish) and initiated a “late service” at 8:00 p.m. on Friday nights.
In December 1947, Rabbi Leonard B. Gewirtz became rabbi of Adas Kodesch. With his dynamic personality and intellect, Rabbi Gewirtz brought a dedication to making traditional Judaism relevant to modern American Jews. Reacting to a debate in the congregation at the time concerning whether an Orthodox or Conservative rabbi should be engaged, Rabbi Gewirtz, an Orthodox rabbi, suggested that Adas Kodesch be considered “Traditional”—neither strictly Orthodox nor Conservative.
Over the next 42 years, Rabbi Gewirtz led a period of growth and innovation in the Jewish religious life of the congregation and community. He started several of the institutions we take for granted today, including the Rabbinical Association of Delaware, the Va’ad Hakashruth and the “Rabbi Speaks” on WDEL. He loved to engage teenagers, teaching Confirmation classes, the Minyonaires prayer group, and classes at Gratz Hebrew High School. In 1956, he organized the first Bat Mitzvah in Delaware. Among Rabbi Gewirtz’s admirers and friends was President Joseph Biden, who, when he was our Senator, fondly called him “my rabbi.”
Since 1989, three Spiritual Leaders have led and made their mark on Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth and the community–Rabbis Nathan Schorr, Sanford Dresin, and Steven Saks. Notable innovations include enhanced opportunities for women’s participation in services, expanded availability of kosher food locally, and extensive programming and advocacy for Israel. We are excited for our future as we welcome Rabbi Abe Rabinovich as our new Spiritual Leader.
Adas Kodesch building 1908-1962 at 6th and French Streets
Though a congregation is defined more by its people than its brick and mortar, part of the history of renewal of AKSE is certainly told through its synagogue buildings. In 1898 Adas Kodesch bought the Zion Lutheran Church at Sixth and French Streets for $5,625. This building became the first synagogue in Delaware. Interestingly, the building was also the first Lutheran church in Delaware, as well as the site of the first free public school in Delaware. The congregation outgrew the building before long. In 1907 the building was razed, and a new synagogue was built there and dedicated in 1908. In reporting the laying of the cornerstone, the Wilmington newspaper (The Star, August 18, 1907) declared that the synagogue “will be one of the most magnificent structures of its kind in this section of the country.” Only seven years later, in 1915, Chesed Shel Emeth dedicated its new synagogue building on Shipley Street. This was a period of change for the entire Wilmington Jewish community: the reform Temple of Truth also dedicated a new building in 1908.
AKSE building 1963-2019 on Washington Blvd.
By 1959 the growth of Adas Kodesch and the recent merger with Chesed Shel Emeth led to the establishment of a Building Committee. Percival Goodman, the leading synagogue architect in the United States, was engaged. The beautiful building at Washington Blvd. and Torah Way, was dedicated in 1963. In 1994 the Sanctuary was completely renovated and dedicated to Rabbi Leonard and Gladys Gewirtz. Between 2007 and 2010 additional renovations were made throughout the building.
AKSE sold its Washington Blvd. building in 2019 to a church and then was hosted by the Conservative congregation in Wilmington, Congregation Beth Shalom, while it was identifying its next home. In 2021, AKSE moved into its current home, a beautiful mansion at 2412 Pennsylvania Ave. The facility, being leased from a neighboring church, is the perfect size for our current congregation.
AKSE building 2021-present on Pennsylvania Avenue
It is a sign of its vitality that AKSE continues to renew itself to this day, even as it rededicates itself to the values of family and tradition.
History written by AKSE member Mark Wagman
The AKSE Endowed Honors Program honors pillars of the congregation who have worked tirelessly for the benefit of our congregation and community. Generally one individual is honored on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and a second individual is honored on the second day. Occasionally groups of individuals are honored. A testimonial is followed by presentation of a beautiful certificate designed and hand engraved by Riva Brown. Donors “endow” these honors with their contributions.
Below is the list of 68 individuals and groups that have been honored since the program began in 1991:
Rabbi Leonard Gewirtz
Narda and Herb Silon
Rabbi Sanford Dresin
Cantor Joel Kessler
Rabbi Steven and Anne Saks
High Holiday Choir
High Holiday Committee
Cantor Yehoshua Redfern
Rabbi Search Committee
Torah Talk Presenters