Rabbi Jeff Wohlgelernter worries about “the distancing of people from God.... In the world, it manifests itself in terror and evil.”
8625 La Jolla Scenic Drive, San Diego
Pastor: Rabbi Jeff Wohlgelernter
Born: Brooklyn, New York
Formation: Yeshivas Ner Yisroel Rabbinical College, Baltimore, Mishkan HaTorah Yeshiva, Jerusalem
Years Ordained: 29
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?
Rabbi Jeff Wohlgelernter: I usually spend a few hours preparing. I start thinking about it during the week, and I wake up early Saturday morning and usually put it together. The sermon is always looking at scripture in the sense that we read a portion of the Bible each week and focus on that or a particular high holiday we might be celebrating. I use that and apply it to either something that’s a pertinent message for life in general or a particular event that’s happening. It’s not just an explanation of the text but an explanation with an eye toward application.
SDR: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?
RW: It’s all ultimately the same message. If you boil down every sermon and all of life, it’s all ultimately the same: Build a relationship with God, perfect yourself, and make yourself the best you can. There are a hundred thousand ways to get to that same place, but it’s all basically going there. God is the center of our lives, and the purpose we are put here on Earth is to perfect ourselves.
SDR: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?
RW: The main concern — and there are a lot of little concerns — but if you put them together and boil them down to what’s common among them, it’s the distancing of people from God, which manifests itself in an environment that lacks religiosity, and the pulling away from synagogue and from religious service and traditional observance. In the world, it manifests itself in terror and evil; it’s all a pulling away from God and what God wants in the world.
SDR: Why Orthodox Judaism?
RW: It’s not like I choose this as opposed to another religion. I was born Jewish, and the Bible we believe is the word of God. And God says that those who are born Jewish have to serve God. He has a plan for the entire world — and for the Jewish people he has one plan and for the rest of the world he has another plan. It’s all ultimately to serve God.
SDR: What is the mission of your congregation?
RW: Our mission is to build a community of people who are excited and enthused about Judaism and that in themselves are strengthening their own Judaism and are inclusive of others to bring them closer to Judaism. It’s a complete package — from the friendliness and openness of the services and the joy in worshipping, to the classes — a lot of classes and educational things.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
RW: The quick answer is we go through a passage of cleansing; and after the passage of cleansing, we go to a place called the world of souls, where souls are gathered. And these souls are gathered where they wait until the end of time, the world to come. That’s a very quick answer, leaving out all the details. There is also the possibility of being given a second chance, for souls to come back in and [be] reborn into a body. It’s an opportunity for everyone — or anyone who hasn’t perfected himself, which is most of us. So, there will be a need to reenter the world.