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Completing the "family"

  • MICHEAL A. HEERY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Rabbi Melody Davis of Temple Israel of Lehighton reads from the Torah - the Five Books of Moses - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
    MICHEAL A. HEERY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Rabbi Melody Davis of Temple Israel of Lehighton reads from the Torah - the Five Books of Moses - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Published March 30. 2011 05:00PM

"Bashert" - a term meaning "ordained by God, meant to be" - is how Rabbi Melody Davis explains her journeyto Temple Israel of Lehighton. After receiving several invitations to attendthe High Holy Days at the Temple,she decided to accept. In a short period of time, the congregation formed a special relationship with Rabbi Melody that can now be labeled "family." According to Treasurer Vickie Semmel, "Rabbi Melody's leadershiphas lifted the congregation to new levels of spirituality."

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rabbi Melody's grandparents were Orthodox and her parents were culturally Jewish. She attended a Conservative Talmud Torah and Day School. Today, Rabbi Melody is what she terms "transdenominational." She graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University with a bachelor's degree in history. Continuing her studies, Rabbi Melody received a Master of Arts degree in history from New York University . While serving as a music and Hebrew teacher at Temple Beth-El in Allentown , she received a higher calling to the rabbinate.

Located in Riverdale, NY, the Academy for Jewish Religion is not really located within commuting distance from Emmaus - her home for the last 23 years. So, for six years, Rabbi Melody happily lived three days a week with Rabbi Peg and Dr. Aaron Kershenbaum in New York. While attending AJR, she also earned a Master of Arts in Judaic Studies from Gratz College in Philadelphia and was salutatorian of her class. Rabbi Melody has been awarded numerous academic awards - including graduate prizes in Liturgy, Hebrew, Continuing Education, and the Rema Feinberg Award for Excellence in Jewish Studies.

After servingasstudent rabbi at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Allentown for two years, she was ordained on May 13, 2010.

Rabbi Melody will be married to her "hubbetzin," Edwin, for 27 years in May. They are the proud parents of three children - Spencer, 25; Jonathon, 21; and Annelise, 18. She credits her family - including her beloved Mother, Pearl Glatt - with their love and support throughout her journey.

"My objective as a rabbi is to help the people find a way to connect to God. There are many, many paths and I'd love to explore them. The good people of Temple Israel of Lehighton are willing to tread this road with me - going off the beaten path a bit," reflected Rabbi Melody.

The "transdenominational" congregation of Temple Israel of Lehighton boasts 55 active members, with more out of the area and even some who live outside of the country, who continue their support. It has the distinction of being the only synagogue in Carbon County. Members come from Allentown , Bethlehem , and the Poconos - in addition to the Carbon County area. The oldest member is Herman Rockman, 100, of Tamaqua.

Located on Bankway Street , Temple Israel of Lehighton had its origin on the second floor of First National Pharmacy on First Street in Lehighton. In June of 1924, a few Jewish men met in an attempt to plant the seed of Judaism in the Lehighton and Weissport areas. After a few active months of organizing, election of officers was held. William Weiss became the first president. Around the same time, a group of Jewish women met at Kelly's Hall in Weissport to help establish a house of worship in the area. It was their desire to give Jewish womanhood its due place in synagogue life. After the charter was officially issued, Temple Israel Sisterhood called its first meeting to order on August 17, 1924. L. C. Gruneberg was elected the first president.

A Sunday school was organized under the chairmanship of Emanuel Rauscher. Children gathered together there to receive instruction in Jewish history, customs, and ceremonies of the Jewish religion. A daily Hebrew school was established under the chairmanship of William Cohen and the guidance of Rabbi A. Rosenberg.

The first High Holy Day services were conducted at the Temple by Rabbi Maxwell M. Farber, assisted by Rabbi Rosenberg. Rabbi Goldfinger served the congregation in the 1940s - followed by a few temporary rabbis until the early 1950s when Rabbi Poplak led the congregation until he moved to Long Island . At that point, Rabbi Zoly Fenikel conducted weekly services until the mid-1960s. When the congregation diminished in size, Dr. David Ruderman held High Holy Day services for about ten years. Rabbi Eli Leiter of Edison, NJ,has been conducting the High Holy Days for Temple Israel of Lehighton for the past 29 years. OnWednesday, September 28, Rabbi Eli will return once again to lead the services for Rosh Hashanah and also for Yom Kippur.

Last year atRosh Hashanah, the congregation elected a new board - President Marvin Schwartz,Vice President Allan Newman, Treasurer Vickie Semmel, and Secretary Jeanine D'Andrea. Members serve on various committees - which include kitchen, hospitality, new membership, maintenance, and publicity.

All are welcome and invited to attend the upcoming events at Temple Israel of Lehighton. The first is a Lunch &Learn entitled "How to Kasher the Kitchen for Passover" on Sunday, April 10 at 11:30 a.m. A "hands-on" experience, wearing work clothes is recommended. A light lunch will be served. The only fee is the donation of a Kosher food item for Passover for the Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley 's Kosher Food Bank. A congregational Passover Seder of Song and Spirit will be celebrated on Tuesday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m. There is a fee for the Passover Seder. Reservations are required for both events.

For more information concerning Temple Israel of Lehighton, visit www.TempleIsraelLehighton.comor call Vickie Semmel at (610) 703-2854. Additional information on Rabbi Melody can be found at

Mary Rockman summed it up best when she said, "This synagogue has been a well-kept secret for way too long. With our new board and Rabbi Melody, we have been blessed with a complete family. It's like the windows have been opened and a breath of fresh air has come in." She continued, "Our faith is alive and well!"

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