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Temple Israel of Lehighton prepares for Holy Days, welcomes new rabbi

Published September 05. 2013 08:11AM

"Shanah Tovah" - Hebrew for "Have a Good Year" - is what members of Temple Israel of Lehighton are wishing for all as they join others of the Jewish faith throughout the world in preparing for what are called the "High Holy Days."

Known as "Elul," this is a time dedicated to preparing for the New Year by opening one's heart to personal reflection and spiritual preparation.

The High Holy Days begin this year at sundown on Wednesday, September 4 with Rosh Hashanah. Literally meaning "Head of the Year," this first day of the Jewish year is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve - the first man and woman. The two-day celebration emphasizes the special relationship between God and humanity.

Yom Kippur follows - this year beginning at sundown on Friday, September 13. Observed as a day of fasting and prayer, this "Day of Atonement" is the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Rabbi Eli Leiter will be conducting the High Holy Days Services for Temple Israel of Lehighton. As they have done for each of the past 32 years alongside Rabbi Leiter, Allan Newman will serve as cantor and Sarina Berlow will sound the "shofar" - a hollowed-out ram's horn.

"Our doors are open and all are welcome to join us in celebrating our High Holy Days," said Temple Israel of Lehighton Treasurer Vickie Semmel. "You don't have to be a member and there is no fee to participate."

"We are always looking for new people to join us at synagogue," agreed Dan Rockman.

Helen Torok quickly added, "Whether that may be as a member or as a neighbor."

In addition to preparing for the High Holy Days, Temple Israel of Lehighton is also welcoming a new Rabbi to lead the congregation.

Continuing on her spiritual journey, Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael - or simply Rabbi Rayzel as she prefers to be called - followed the path that has led her to Temple Israel of Lehighton.

"It has been an adventure and a joy," said Rabbi Rayzel. "I was looking for a warm-hearted community to share the Jewish wisdom teachings I have learned and a community to sing with."

Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, Rabbi Rayzel earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religious Studies from Indiana University and a Masters in Contemporary Jewish Studies from Brandeis University. She then followed her path "over the border" to Toronto, Canada where she served as Director of the Jewish Student Federation at York University.

Rabbi Rayzel then journeyed to Israel to follow a calling that led her to live and study at Machon Pardes and the Melton Center for Jewish Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. While there, she received a higher calling to the rabbinate and made the decision to move to Philadelphia and attend the Reconstructionist Rabbinical School. She graduated in 1997.

With her creative use of art, music, and performance, Rabbi Rayzel describes herself as an "unorthodox rabbi." According to members of the congregation, her services are exciting, joyous, and filled with music.

In addition to "kabbalah," which is the ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible, she also enjoys teaching about "The Mysteries" - spirituality, angels, the soul, and dreams.

Rabbi Rayzel and her life partner, Dr. Simcha Raphael, are the parents of two children - Yigdal and Hallel - and a Pomeranian named Sherlock.

According to Rabbi Rayzel, "Temple Israel of Lehighton is the last Jewish 'outpost' in Carbon County. Many dedicated people have worked to keep its doors open for years - trying to preserve the Jewish heritage, as well as the building."

At age 103, Herman Rockman of New Ringgold is the oldest member.

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.

Looking forward to the 90th anniversary of Temple Israel of Lehighton in 2014, the congregation recently elected the board that helps to guide the synagogue. Currently, Marvin Schwartz serves as president; Allan Newman as vice president; Vickie Semmel as treasurer; and Jeanine D'Andrea as secretary. Members serve on various committees - which include hospitality; kitchen; maintenance; new membership; and publicity.

In addition to the High Holy Days, upcoming events at Temple Israel of Lehighton include Pot Luck Communal Meals at 6:30 p.m. - followed by Shabbat (Hebrew for "Sabbath") Services at 7:30 p.m. - on Fridays, September 27 and October 11. A Nosh and Natter ("To Talk and Eat") Social Gathering is scheduled for Sunday, October 27 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Shul Social Hall.

For more information about Temple Israel of Lehighton, visit or call Vickie Semmel at 610-703-2854. Additional information on Rabbi Rayzel can be found at

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