Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rabbi Benjamin David comes home to lead Adath Emanu-El By Barbara S. Rothschild


Rabbi Benjamin David is coming home to South Jersey as the new rabbi at Burlington County’s only Reform synagogue.

In what leaders at Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel consider the perfect shidduch, the arrival of Ben David as the temple’s newest spiritual leader in July will mark the first time a father and son simultaneously guide two of the tri-county area’s synagogues.

David, 35, grew up in Cherry Hill as the oldest son of Peggy and Rabbi Jerome David, senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel. When the former Temple Emanu-El of Willingboro prepared to move to Mount Laurel in the mid- 1990s, it changed its name to Adath Emanu-El to avoid being confused with the larger Cherry Hill congregation.

A 16-member search committee at Adath Emanu- El unanimously chose David after receiving more than 50 resumes to replace Interim Rabbi Stacy Offner, who will complete her 18-month stint in June.

“We also have tremendous respect for what his father has done for the community. With his background, Ben David was attracted to Adath because of its sense of family – that’s the kind of person he is and that’s what he was looking for.”

The younger David majored in English with concentrations in creative writing and Judaic studies at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. , spending his junior year in London. After graduating magna cum laude in 1999, he attended Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem and New York, studying Talmud extensively. Following ordination, he taught at the Skirball Center for Jewish Learning and studied Hebrew Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University before becoming associate rabbi at Temple Sinai in Roslyn, N.Y., a position he has held since July 2005.

“I had it in the back of my mind to become a rabbi even as a teenager,” he said.

“Being a rabbi combines all my passions – teaching, writing, helping and inspiring people, bringing them closer to Torah and Judaism in ways appropriate for each individual.”

Jerry David was a tremendous role model. “I had a bird’s eye view from a very early age. He was a good rabbi, a good dad, a good friend to people. That was a big part of the equation for me, and he remains very much a guide for me,” Ben David said.

Jerry David said he and his wife are thrilled that their oldest son is returning to the area.

Ben David enjoys writing fiction and competitive distance running. He is a co-founder of Running Rabbis, which brings together Jewish clergy to run for causes such as autism research and feeding the hungry.

At Adath Emanu-El, he plans to focus on youth programs, adult education, social action and Torah worship – and, of course, getting to know the community and the congregation.

The Davids are buying a home in Mount Laurel. Ben and Lisa, who is the associate director of camping at the Union of Reform Judaism, have a daughter, Noa, 4, and a son, Elijah, 2, with a third child due in September.

Area native taking the helm of Mount Laurel synagogue By Kristen Coppock

May 28, 2012

Rabbi Benjamin David returning to South Jersey

Rabbi Benjamin David returning to South Jersey

Rabbi Benjamin David will assume the role of senior rabbi on July 1 at Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel. The Cherry Hill native is serving as associate rabbi at Temple Sinai of Roslyn in Roslyn Heights, New York.

MOUNT LAUREL — A New York rabbi is returning to his South Jersey roots as the new spiritual leader of Adath Emanu-El.

Rabbi Benjamin David will assume the post July 1. The former Cherry Hill resident succeeds Stacy Offner, who has led the community as an interim rabbi since early 2010.

About 500 member families worship at the synagogue on Elbo Lane. According to congregation president Ari Levine, Adath Emanu-El members spent a year searching for their next rabbi.

In a prepared statement, Levine said the congregation is “thrilled” to welcome David and his family to the community.

“He brings a youthful vision, a warm and engaging personality, and a sense of himself, both as a rabbi and a scholar, that will make him the ideal religious leader for our congregation,” he said. “As more people get to know our rabbi, we are confident that he will be seen as an inspiring leader, not only for us, but also for the South Jersey and the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community.”

A graduate of Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion and ordained in 2004, David has served as associate rabbi at Temple Sinai of Roslyn in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., for about seven years.

He is credited with nearly tripling the size of Temple Sinai’s Hebrew high school and increasing its number of graduates by 10 times. He supervised youth groups, leading trips to Israel and on missions to assist people in need along the Gulf Coast and in Southern California.

David also developed and facilitated a number of adult education courses and worked with a variety of congregation committees, according to Adath Emanu-El.

In addition, David has contributed to Jewish publications and has been recognized with several awards and nominations for his work.

During a phone call from New York, he said he is looking forward to the move to Mount Laurel.

“This is a great opportunity for me, and it’s something that I’m honored and humbled by,” he said.

David said his “big-picture” goals for Adath Emanu-El include building on existing programs and creating more educational opportunities for the congregation.

“We’re looking to do more with an already strong youth program, and to expand the popular nursery school,” he said. “I have a real passion for teaching, and I’m looking to lead as many discussions and courses as I can.”

David and his wife, Lisa, are enrolling their daughter, Noa, 4, and son, Elijah, 2, in the nursery school while preparing for the birth of their third child. Employed by the Union for Reform Judaism as its associate director of camping, Lisa David plans to take an active role in the synagogue and with other congregation parents.

David said Adath Emanu-El is a “very good match” for him and his family.

“It’s a wonderful congregation. They’ve had a remarkable past and have a bright future. I am thrilled to be a part of that future,” he said. “We’re excited to be raising our kids in Mount Laurel.”

The move back to South Jersey also brings David closer to family members, including his parents, Jerome and Peggy David. His father is senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill.

“As parents, we are exceedingly proud of Ben, proud of his accomplishments, and prouder yet of the mensch that he is,” Jerome David said in a prepared statement. “I believe that Rabbi David and Adath Emanu-El are a great match and know that their partnership will be long and fulfilling.”

Benjamin David’s predecessor in Mount Laurel also expressed support for the appointment.

“I have been impressed with Rabbi David from our very first meeting,” Offner said. “He is a thoughtful and devoted Jewish leader and will be the perfect fit for this vibrant community.”

A rabbi for more than 25 years and former vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Offner will complete her 18-month service at Adath Emanu-El on June 24. She has been named rabbi at Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, Conn.

Kristen Coppock: 609-871-8073;
email:; Twitter: @kcoppockbct

Father-son rabbis become colleagues By Sally Friedman


June 13, 2012

"Reform Rabbi Jerry David (left) of Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill and his son, Reform Rabbi Ben David of Temple Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel play with Ben's son, Elijah, 2. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer"

When Rabbi Jerry David wanted to practice his sermons, back when he was still relatively new in his role at Cherry Hill's Temple Emanuel, he always had one willing audience member. His firstborn son, Ben, then a toddler, would sit quietly and listen to his dad, seemingly engaged.

Jerry David, now 38 years into his pulpit, describes how Ben would then walk around the house muttering "Blah, blah, blah."

"I optimistically took that to mean that he liked my sermons," his father said.

While that may be a generous interpretation, something evidently did take for his son. He, too, became a rabbi, ordained in 2004, 30 years after his father's 1974 ordination.

And now, the father and son will reach a new milestone — and a first for the region. Starting July 1, Ben, who has been the associate rabbi at Temple Sinai in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., for the last seven years, will become senior rabbi at a Reform congregation five miles from his father's synagogue with a very similar name.

So it will be Rabbi Jerry David of Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill and Rabbi Ben David of Temple Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel. While some might assume this sets the stage for dueling clergy, this father-son pair have a healthy dose of respect and realism when it comes to their future as colleagues. There will be challenges (inevitable with two rabbis with the same name in same-sounding, nearby temples) and opportunities (like reviewing and discussing each other's sermons).

"People will want to compare us," says Ben. "And I'm entering a rabbinic community where my father has been for nearly 40 years now."

But the goal, Ben said, is not to emulate his father. And Jerry doesn't want to crowd his son.

"Most of all, I want to give Ben the space to develop and grow in his rabbinate, to be his own person. I want him to live the culture of his congregation, to meet the congregation where it is and to grow with it."

So it's not a contest to attract the most congregants, to be the most popular, Ben says. "My father is so well-known, and so well-respected. But we both understand very deeply that we're not in competition with one another. No loving father and son ever would be."

But this story doesn't start here, or even when Ben last year submitted his resumé, which synagogue president Ari Levine says "captivated" Temple Adath Emanu-El's search committee.

It started in 1939, when the seeds for Jerry's curiosity and passion for Judaism were planted. That's when Jerry's parents fled Nazi Germany — many other relatives and friends did not survive — and ultimately settled in Cincinnati.

"My home was first and foremost a home of Holocaust survivors," he says. "I can remember that by the age of about 5, I was asking my mother why I didn't have grandparents like my friends did. When she told me the truth — that the Nazis killed them — I was stunned. I then wanted to know where they were buried — and then why they weren't actually buried."

Yet when he was growing up, Jerry's family was not observant. They joined a Reform synagogue only at his insistence — this after a mortifying visit to a friend's synagogue where Jerry held the prayer book upside down.

"I was a Jew, my grandparents had died because they were Jews, and I didn't have the vaguest idea of what to do in a synagogue."

He became such an ardent student that by the time of his bar mitzvah, his rabbi — and mentor — told the congregation that they were probably witnessing the performance of a future rabbi.

Jerry eventually went to the University of Cincinnati, majored in psychology, and then headed for Hebrew Union College. "This is definitely what I was meant to do," he says.

The draw to be a rabbi was equally strong for the younger David, who once heard a professor in rabbinical school say, "Unless you have to become a rabbi, you shouldn't."

And Ben knew he had to. He was also driven by his great-grandparents' legacy. "So much of who I am can be traced to that history," he said. "I have that consciousness with me all the time. None of us would have been here if Hitler had his way."

By the time he was 8, he had started thinking about becoming a rabbi "and by 19, I was sure," says Ben, who saw close-up what that meant in terms of lifestyle.

"A lot has been written about the travails of being a ‘rabbi's kid,' and it was, at times, challenging. I certainly had to get accustomed to people approaching my dad wherever we were. It's a very public life."

So nobody had to caution Ben, an English major and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Muhlenberg College, that for a pulpit rabbi, days meld into nights, and personal plans often yield to the needs of others. Plus, his 14 summers spent at Camp Harlam in the Poconos — where he found Judaism, the outdoors, and his future wife, Lisa, at age 11 — deepened his commitment.

"Jerry and Ben David with the menorah presented to Rabbi Jerry by Temple Emanuel to celebrate his 15 years of service in 1990. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer"

These independent experiences are all the more reason why he wants to establish his own name and reputation in the community in which he grew up — and at least live in a different town than his parents. He and Lisa decided to move their family (daughter, Noa, 4; son, Elijah, 2, and one on the way) to Mount Laurel.

"Any concern we had that people might confuse father and son, and therefore conflate our two congregations, was quickly dispelled," said Levine. "Rabbi Ben David is his own man with his own approach. He is, quite simply, the right rabbi for us."

Ben's future congregation is smaller — about 480 families and still growing since a move from Willingboro, where it was established in 1959, to Mount Laurel in 1997.

Jerry's has about 1,000 families, and has a long history in Cherry Hill, where it was founded in 1950 as the town's first Reform congregation. It, too, has moved, but only from one end of Cherry Hill to the other.

The greatest frustration, it seems, will be the men's schedule conflicts.

"As much as I want to see Ben in action, the reality, and irony, is that we're in action at the same time. We work the same hours!"

But at least one thing is certain: For father and son, being back together in Eagles country is a major bonus.

"Long Island was not the best place for a devout fan of the Birds," says Ben. "Now, two rabbis can cheer for them together. Who knows? It may even help the cause."