At Mount Laurel synagogue, Cherry Hill rabbi will help install the new rabbi, his son

Rabbi Benjamin David is to be installed tonight as the new rabbi of Adath Emanu-El Synagogue in Mount Laurel - with help from his father, who is also a rabbi.
Rabbi Benjamin David is to be installed tonight as the new rabbi of Adath Emanu-El Synagogue in Mount Laurel - with help from his father, who is also a rabbi. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 13, 2012

The Friday-evening service at Adath Emanu-El will mark a fresh start for Rabbi Benjamin David and the Mount Laurel synagogue.

David, who will be formally installed as the spiritual leader of the congregation, asked one of the speakers - the rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill - to read, appropriately, from the Torah's Genesis and relate it to new beginnings.

The presence of this speaker will be unusually opportune: Rabbi Jerome David is the father of Benjamin David, and he can celebrate his son's homecoming at the 8 p.m. service.

"I want to inspire our members to live their greatest Jewish life," Adath Emanu-El's new rabbi said.

The younger David has been giving Friday and Saturday sermons since arriving in July. He's led the teen program, met with committees, visited congregants in hospitals, and helped the needy through clothing and food drives.

Clearly, his beginning has been busy.

"The best advice I received when I was in [rabbinical] school is: 'If you don't absolutely need to do this, you shouldn't,' " said Benjamin David, 35, a Cherry Hill native now living in Mount Laurel. "It's a busy life, but I can navigate the schedule and handle long days because I love the work."

Friday's 11/2-hour installation service "will be extremely emotional," Rabbi Jerome David said. "We're colleagues in the same close-knit community . . . but this is Ben's moment, and not about father and son."

Speakers at the service will cover the past and future of the congregation, and its new leader, who served seven years as an associate rabbi at Temple Sinai in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., before returning to the area where he grew up and met his future wife, Lisa, formerly of Yardley.

The senior rabbi from Temple Sinai, Michael White, and the rabbi emeritus of Adath Emanu-El, Richard Levine, will take part in the installation. Congregants from the New York synagogue also will attend to show support.

"We received 50 resumés" for the rabbi position, said Ari Levine, immediate past president of Adath Emanu-El, one of 14 members of the search committee seeking a new synagogue leader. "The decision was unanimous."

They decided on David, whose homecoming would be unusual because there are few father and son rabbis, and even fewer in the same community.

He was the best choice "because of his warmth and approachable persona and the sense that this was a teacher and rabbi in the truest sense of the word," said Levine, son of the synagogue's rabbi emeritus.

At times, Benjamin David's work could seem overwhelming with so many needs, including those at home. He's the father of three, Noa, 5, Elijah, 2, and a newborn, Samuel.

"But I find it incredibly meaningful," he said. "I want to create a reform Jewish world that's accessible and vibrant."

David said he was drawn to the rabbinical path only partly by his father's example.

Another strong influence was Camp Harlam, a reform Jewish youth facility in the Poconos, where he was spiritually inspired and motivated, he said.

As David grew up - graduating from Cherry Hill High School East and Muhlenberg College in Allentown - he began to realize that as a rabbi, he could combine his interests in teaching, writing, and working with young people.

He started his rabbinical education at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and completed it at the college's campus in Manhattan. After field work and internships in the New York area, he served at Temple Sinai in Roslyn Heights.

"I learned a tremendous amount there," David said. "I was thrust into every conceivable situation, working with families, conducting services, everything a rabbi does."

David leads a congregation that traces its beginning to 1959 and Willingboro, where the first services were conducted by student rabbis in a converted house on Pinafore Lane. In 1964, congregants dedicated a new synagogue on John F. Kennedy Way in the township.

During the next few decades, though, "the Jewish population in Willingboro declined, and we realized that to continue growing, we would have to be where the population was," Ari Levine said.

"There was an opportunity to move to a Mount Laurel property that had been donated" to the Catholic Diocese of Camden, he said.

The congregation approved the purchase of the land in 1993, and with Rabbi Richard Levine leading the way, three Torah scrolls were carried into the new synagogue on Elbo Lane in 1997.

Congregant Eva Klein, chairman of the installation committee, joined the synagogue six years ago and enrolled her son in the religious school there. Adath Emanu-El has at least 500 households.

"Rabbi David was our top choice, a perfect match for the congregation," said Klein, second vice president of the synagogue. "My mother-in-law was sick, and he visited her in the hospital and later called when she got home.

"Those things mean so much to everybody," she said.

David is looking forward to the formal installation, though he says he's already had "a great beginning."


Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.


 

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