Former U.S. Rep. John Adler liked to watch silly movies, play catch, and attend his sons' sporting events. But the thing he enjoyed the most was family dinners, his sons Andrew and Oliver said at his funeral Wednesday.
About 1,400 people, including his wife, Shelley, and other two sons, Jeffrey and Alex, packed Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill. The synagogue filled to capacity a half-hour before the service began, so the staff opened another room where mourners could watch the service on closed-circuit television.
Beyond the state's prominent politicians, including Gov. Christie and current and former legislators, Adler's four sons' teachers and friends, including Andrew's soccer and lacrosse teams from Cherry Hill High School East, attended the ceremony.
Burial was private at an undisclosed cemetery earlier in the day, according to Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt, whose Platt Memorial Chapels handled the funeral.
Christie ordered all state buildings to fly flags at half-staff Friday in Adler's honor. Adler died Monday at 51 from complications related to a staph endocarditis infection.
Speaking as if to her late husband, Shelley Adler said, "It was a sudden illness that traveled viciously to your heart that took you from us. It was also your heart and my heart that worked so well together which caused us to create your greatest legacy: the most loyal, loving and joyful family that either of us could imagine."
Known for his sharp wit, generosity of spirit, and erudite command of public policy, Adler was a standout in the state Senate, where he served from 1992 to 2008.
When Republicans held the Senate, and when it was split between the major parties, he reached across the aisle to cosponsor a state ban on indoor smoking. He helped pass a bill in 2004 that put tough emissions limits on cars sold in New Jersey, and he was a strong supporter of open-space conservation in the nation's most densely populated state.
During his one term in Congress, from 2008 to 2010, Adler developed an expertise in veterans affairs in order to serve the Third District's large military population. Among those in the crowd, which reflected almost every race, age, and ethnic group, were several wearing military garb.
Adler also served on the Financial Services Committee, where he worked on regulating the financial industry after the collapse of the mortgage market.
His brother-in-law, Steven Levitan, a cocreator of the TV comedy Modern Family, raised the service's somber mood as he began his eulogy saying, "First of all, I want to apologize to the synagogue because I accidentally blew my nose in a yarmulke."
He recalled a time in the 1990s when Adler was accepted as a contestant on Jeopardy! As he waited in the green room, Adler was asked whether he knew anyone who worked for ABC. Adler responded that he went to Harvard Law School with a lawyer who worked for the network, but they hadn't spoken for 20 years. He was disqualified.
Levitan asked Adler why he would tell the network. Adler replied, "I didn't want to lie."
Levitan said, "This is L.A. It's what we do."
When Levitan finished, Rabbi Jerome David of Temple Emanuel, where Adler was a member, joked: "Steve, after that tribute you can forget about the yarmulke. It's OK."
Before being elected to the state Senate, Adler served on the Township Council in Cherry Hill.
He battled the odds throughout his political career. Adler was the only Democrat to beat a sitting Republican for the state Senate in 1991. And in 2008, he became the first Democrat in decades to win the congressional district, which cuts through much of Burlington and Ocean Counties and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County. He was swept out of office in November by a Republican wave that carried in Rep. Jon Runyan, a former Eagles player.
Adler was born in Northeast Philadelphia and spent his youth in Haddonfield, where his father operated a dry-cleaning store at Kings Court in the heart of town. His father, also John, died at 47 of a heart attack. Adler, an only child, was 16 at the time. He and his mother got by on Social Security.
Adler earned high grades, played soccer, starred in a school play in his senior year at Haddonfield Memorial High School, and went to Harvard College on a scholarship, supplemented by student loans and part-time jobs.
"What he accomplished, he did it on his own," said David. "He died knowing he used his intellect and skills to really help people."