For Rabbi Eric Yanoff, joining Conservative synagogue Adath Israel in Merion Station wasn't just about finding a new spiritual home, it was a literal homecoming.
The 34-year-old was previously a rabbi at Shaarey Zedek — with facilities in both West Bloomfield and Southfield, Mich. — but he grew up in Dresher and graduated from Upper Dublin High School.
"When this opportunity for a homecoming came about," says Yanoff, "it was really too perfect to even imagine."
He began his tenure at the Main Line shul on July 1, and comes to the region with his wife, Dava — a native of Harrisburg, Pa. — and their 3-year-old son, Aiden.
Yanoff earned a degree in comparative literature and Judaic studies at Princeton University before heading off to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where he was ordained.
He takes the place of Adath Israel's longtime leader, Rabbi Steven Wernick, who left the congregation last year to lead the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement's governing body.
His predecessor, explains Yanoff, "left this community with considerable strength — and they're excited, and ready to grow and build upon those strengths."
'Every Day, a Confirmation'
Among his initiatives for his first year will be doing outreach to the community at large, but in particular, to young families.
Overall, however, he says that he looks forward to "sharing my excitement of what it means to be Jewish."
Yanoff says that he has always loved being active in Jewish life, which was part of what led him to enter the rabbinate. Along those lines, he recalls a moment from working at Camp Ramah in the Poconos during the summers between college semesters.
"I was sitting by the lake on a Friday night for Shabbat services, and I thought to myself, 'This is what I should be doing with my life,' " he explains. "And every day since then has been a confirmation of that."
Yanoff's parents and siblings, along with their spouses, still reside in the area, and in addition to being closer to home — and meeting and greeting his new religious community — he has also had the chance to re-establish some connections from his younger days, including his time at Ramah and his involvement with USY as a youngster.
Still, he says, he wasn't just looking to come back to the region he knows so well.
Instead, he elaborates, it was the right mix of timing and location that did the trick — plus, of course, the warm welcome he says that he received when he originally visited the congregation for an interview.
"I didn't apply nationally," he says.
"I applied to come to Philadelphia — to come to Adath Israel — and had that not happened, I certainly would have still been in Michigan."