Adath Emanu-El Rabbi Benjamin David bids farewell


RABBI BENJAMIN DAVID

After leading Adath Emanu-El for 10 years in Mt. Laurel, Rabbi Benjamin David leaves at the end of June. He will replace Lance Sussman, who is retiring, as chief rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (KI) in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

To celebrate his time in community service, Adath Emanu-El will host a “Teaching and Gratitude” gala on Saturday, June 11 (for more on the event, see page 8 of this issue of The Voice).

“I love South Jersey,” David told The Voice. “I grew up here, my family is here. In many ways, it will always be home. I’m glad I’m not far away.

The son of Temple Rabbi Emeritus Emanuel Jerome David and Peggy David, he attended Cherry Hill East High School and then Muhlenberg College, where he majored in English literature. He wrote his honors thesis on Holocaust literature and earned his Phi Beta Kappa degree.

A rabbinical career always figured prominently in his mind. It combines so many things that David loves, “learning, teaching, working with children and helping those in need,” he said.

In 2004 he was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. For seven years before joining Adath Emanu-El in 2012, he served as an assistant and associate rabbi at Temple Sinai in Roslyn, New York.

A former chairman of the Tri-County Board of Jewish Clergy, David is pleased with what he has achieved during his tenure in South Jersey. “I am proud that we have written a new Torah scroll and the social justice work that we have undertaken,” he said. “The ways the congregation has come together to endure Covid, the popular Talmud class each month, there’s so much to feel good about.”

The evolution of Adath Emanu-El’s confirmation program is another source of pride for David. When he arrived, programs were lacking for 11th and 12th graders. As a result, he began hosting regular dinner parties to catch up on their busy lives. “I am proud that our teenagers have dedicated time to the Jewish community in a really special way,” he noted.

About six years ago, David’s world changed. Just before his 39th birthday in January 2016, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Thankfully, after weeks of aggressive chemotherapy and 19 rounds of radiation therapy at Penn Medicine, he emerged healthy and armed with a new perspective. “I think I can better understand what it means to live with illness, what it means to live with fear and uncertainty in your life.”

A competitive distance runner, David has run 20 marathons, including the Boston Marathon twice and the New York Marathon four times. For each marathon, he raises funds for cancer research and other important causes. The first Boston Marathon he ran was in 2013, the year a terrorist attack took place. He had just finished the race when there was sudden confusion and commotion. His phone started ringing non-stop. “I feel lucky to be safe,” he said. “It was pretty scary.”

As to why he is leaving, David noted KI as one of the preeminent synagogues and that he wanted to challenge himself. “I think it’s time,” he said. “It’s just an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”

David met his wife Lisa when they were 11 year old campers at Camp Harlam, where she is now the camp director. They have three children: Noa, Elijah and Samuel. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, writing, and cheering on Philadelphia sports teams.

His final service as spiritual leader of Adath Emanu-El will be on Friday evening, June 24.

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