By Sharon Wisch-Ray
After 10 years on its pulpit, Rabbi Ben Sternman retired from Adat Chaverim in Plano May 31. For Sternman, his time at the Plano synagogue saw growth in its education program and membership, and culminated with a move into a permanent home last month at Custer and Independence.
Sternman has relocated to Shaker Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, surrounded by close friends and equidistant between his sister in New Jersey and his brother in Milwaukee.
He is back to where his journey to become a rabbi began. Sternman, a Long Island native, was living and working in Cleveland for the Eaton Corporation, an industrial manufacturer. Calling himself “reasonably observant,” he was an active member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, leading services and classes from time to time. His rabbi approached him and said, “You know, you’re good at this; you should become a rabbi.” Sternman began his rabbinical training at age 32, which he explained was “the older side of average” for his class at Hebrew Union College.
As he reflected on the last decade at Adat Chaverim, Sternman said that the congregation’s warmth was what attracted him in the first place and that hasn’t changed.
“The part that I just love is the warmth and the people that I’ve gotten to be a part of their families. They’ve let me in, and to have those human connections and to make a difference in people’s lives — that I am most proud of.”
Sternman said that the pandemic took its toll on him. He’s grateful that he’s been a diligent saver and has the ability to “retire modestly.” Right now, he has no plans to return to the rabbinate in a formal way. He’d like to just relax and be a member of a congregation and enjoy Shabbat and the High Holy Days where he’s “just in the pews.”g9jl
He said he does love to teach, and that he might do that at some point.
Terry Sigle, the congregation’s immediate past president, said that Sternman brought stability to the congregation, which, when he assumed the pulpit in 2012, had had three different rabbis in the span of five years.
During his tenure, Sternman impacted the religious school, the families and their children. For many of the families he is the only rabbi they’ve known.
“Ben took a personal relationship with each kid when it came to preparing them for their bar and bat mitzvahs,” said Sigle. “His fingerprint is on the children who have gone through our school and the education program in general.”
Sternman was known to deliver powerful and accessible sermons. “He allowed himself to be vulnerable, which, particularly during the High Holy Days, really resonated with the congregants,” Sigle said.
Sigle added that Sternman was more than just the synagogue’s rabbi; he was a fellow member, participating in Brotherhood, poker games with fellow congregants and interacting with everyone.
Sternman said the hardest part was leaving the community he loves so much, but the burnout he was feeling was just too much to overcome.
“I still love everyone at Adat. And I’m very sad to be leaving the community. But, sometimes you just have to take care of yourself,” he said.
He hopes that he left the synagogue better than he found it: with a more robust membership and a new home.
“The next rabbi to come in full-time will have a solid foundation to grow upon and Adat Chaverim is poised to really thrive,” Sternman said.