2016-07-20 / Home

Cancer free, Rabbi Ben David will lead Tri-County Board of Rabbis


RABBI BEN DAVID RABBI BEN DAVID When tapped to take over the presidency of the Tri-County Board of Rabbis (TCBR), Rabbi Ben David took a few months to consider whether or not to take on the role.

Although honored to have been asked to lead the group comprised of rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, Adath Emanu- El’s spiritual leader was in between treatments for cancer at the time. A competitive marathoner who has gained some fame as a “Running Rabbi,” David was both emotionally and physically drained after enduring months of grueling treatments to fight the Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosed one day before his 39th birthday in January.

“I thought about it for a few months, but I think I was always going to say yes,” said David, who underwent four rounds of chemotherapy, three of them in-patient at the Hospital of the University or Pennsylvania and requiring a week in the hospital, as well as 17 rounds of radiation. “For a long time there, life was pretty difficult, uncomfortable and challenging. But now, I’m walking around with a lot of hope and optimism. I see this new role as part of that—it’s something I’m looking forward to.”

David, who assumes the TCBR presidency this summer, takes over the mantle from Cong. M’kor Shalom’s Rabbi Jennifer Frenkel, who was the first woman to hold the position. Not lost on David is the fact that his father, Rabbi Jerry David of Temple Emanuel, and Adath’s esteemed Rabbi Richard Levine, both served in the position. The elder Rabbi David in fact served two times in his 40- year career at the Cherry Hill Reform synagogue.

“I do remember my dad talking about it and me feeling a sense of pride he was serving in this capacity,” he recalled.

He also considered taking on the role a great honor for his Mount Laurel congregation.

“It brings to the Adath community even greater nachas and pride,” he said. “There’s a sense that, even if we’re in Burlington County and a little removed from Cherry Hill, this is a synagogue of great substance doing incredible work.”

David said the same sense of optimism he feels about working with his rabbi peers has pervaded all aspects of his life.

“It’s such a cliché but I do feel like I have a new lease on life,” he said. “I feel so motivated with regard to my kids and family, my synagogue and with running.”

With regards to running, David said that after competing in 17 marathons—making his best time of 3 hours and 15 minutes in the Philadelphia Marathon in 2013, he is basically starting over.

“The road is long and winding but I’m on it,” he said. “I was left with absolutely no strength or endurance when the treatment ended. I was out of breath going up steps. Luckily I’m patient.”

About a month after ending all treatments, he ventured out for his first post-cancer run. It only lasted five minutes before he stumbled home. At his height of marathon training, David was running 75 to 80 miles. He is now up to roughly 15 miles a week.

His goal at the moment is to get in shape to run the London Marathon in April 2017 with fellow rabbi running mates.

“I think we’re all sort of curious to see how far can I take it now,” he said. “Can I get back to where I was? Can I go further? I’m coming up on 40, post-cancer, a father of three and a senior rabbi now. But I feel highly motivated. I have so much to look forward to.”

In the role as TCBR president, David is looking forward to working with his peers. He sets the agenda and hosts the group’s monthly meetings to discuss matters affecting the South Jersey Jewish community.

“The beauty for me is that this rabbinic group is its own community,” he said. “We respect each other, admire each other and learn from one another. I love my colleagues and am very proud of the work they’re doing.”

He said his goal is to work with the group to continue finding ways to work together for the good of the Jewish community.

“Especially in these times when anti-Semitism and intolerance are growing, it’s important for us to band together,” he said.

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