One Tree, Many Branches: Lehigh Valley Jewish Clergy

By Jennifer Lader

The tree with its many branches seems a fitting place for the Lehigh Valley Jewish Clergy Group to gather during one of its monthly meetings. “It’s like an embrace,” Rabbi Seth Phillips of Congregation Keneseth Israel said of the tree, but he could just as well have been referring to the group itself.

Rabbi Melody Davis of Temple Covenant of Peace, who recently took over for Cantor Kevin Wartell of Temple Beth El as chair of the clergy group, described the group as a community founded on the need for a universal code of ethics that has grown to include 16 clergypeople from all the major movements — Chabad, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Reform, as well as Hillel. “It’s a joy to collaborate,” she says. “It teaches me that I must be aware and considerate on a constant basis of others’ beliefs and practices.”

Rabbi Moshe Re’em of Temple Beth El finds it remarkable that the group can “talk about the touchiest of subjects — sometimes we resolve them and sometimes we don’t — and know that we are all working to strengthen Judaism in the Lehigh Valley.”

Likewise, Cantor Ellen Sussman of Temple Shirat Shalom said she knows of clergy groups elsewhere but that “it’s not often that the entire Jewish community is represented and the tone [within the group] is very respectful,” Sussman said.



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