North Tahoes Reconservadox congregational leader dies at 50

Hanging off the side of a mountain, dangling 500 to 1000 feet in the air? “It’s no big deal,” Yitzchak Irnie Aaron Nadler told the Jewish Bulletin in 1988.

For a professional mountain climber, sure. But for a rabbi?

Nadler, who presided over what he repeatedly referred to as “the temple of your dreams,” died Feb. 26 of pancreatic cancer. The spiritual leader of North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation was 50.

Nadler was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on Jan 24, 1954.

He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, and later was ordained as a rabbi. He also obtained a master’s degree in geology from the Mackay School of Mines.

On May 20, 1984, he married Yudi Messinger.

He served as spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid in San Francisco from 1987 to 1991, after which he and his family moved to North Tahoe.

Though the congregation was affiliated with the Reform movement, Nadler called it “Reconservadox” because he tried to cater to Jews of all backgrounds.

According to his congregants, he succeeded. “He was able to bring people together of such divergent backgrounds, and really make us feel like community,” said temple member Judy Friedman.

Moving to Tahoe was “the nicest gift we’ve ever given to ourselves and our kids,” Nadler told the Bulletin in 2001. When he moved to Tahoe, the Jewish community there had fewer than 50 families, and no building. They met in a church, even in a casino at times — where, in between prayers, the ka-ching of slot machines could be faintly heard.

Nevertheless, Nadler was not one to force the idea of a building on his congregation; rather, he waited until they were ready for it.

“People always come and say, ‘Oh let’s see the place,’ and when you don’t have that, you have to introduce the people. It’s better that way,” the rabbi used to say before the temple was built in Tahoe Vista. But Nadler was as happy as any congregant when the synagogue was completed in 2003.

Ed Gurowitz, a past president of the synagogue, said even though the synagogue received many visitors who were not members, Nadler’s warmth always made them feel welcome and at home.

“We heard it most often from people here for the first time,” he said.

Friedman, who became an adult bat mitzvah with Nadler, said he was a wonderful teacher. Though she grew up in a Reform congregation in Utah, she said, “when I started studying with him, I knew nothing.”

She began with a six-week crash course in Hebrew, and at the end of it, Nadler brought a cake to class that he had baked himself. “He wouldn’t let us cut it until we could read it,” she said. “We had to struggle over it.”

It read: “Mazel tov.”

Outside of the synagogue, Nadler was an artist, musician and avid climber. He later became an ice-climbing enthusiast, conquering Mt. Dana, near Yosemite.

The rabbi started an annual tradition of blessing people’s pets in the synagogue around the Torah portion about Noah’s Ark. He also worked closely with clergy of other faiths. He studied Bible with them, and a Catholic priest and Lutheran pastor spoke at the synagogue’s dedication.

Nadler is survived by his wife, Yudi, of North Lake Tahoe; son Ruven and daughter Katri of North Lake Tahoe; his mother, Frances Nadler, of Los Angeles; and sister Simma Robbins of Arizona.

Donations can be made either to an education fund for Nadler’s children, or to the synagogue. Checks should be designated to which cause, and sent to North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation, P.O. Box 201, Tahoe Vista, CA, 96148.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."