Beth El in Yardley Hires New Rabbi

Rabbi David Cantor (Courtesy of Rabbi David Cantor)

It’s not every day that a man from California falls in love with a town in the Philadelphia suburbs and migrates across the country.

But the new rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Yardley, David Cantor, is doing just that.

In the winter, the rabbi was looking to leave his Long Beach congregation due to rising rent prices and the unattainable price of a starter home (about $1 million) in the area. During his interview process, he visited Yardley and felt a connection with Beth El officials and congregants. He drove around the town’s neighborhoods, dined on its main street and fell in love.

Between June 20-24, Rabbi Cantor, Rebbetzin Kedma Cantor and their four children, all between 16 and 25, packed their van and drove across the United States. Cantor begins his new role at Beth El, a Conservative congregation with 211 member families, on July 1.

“It felt kind of like home,” he said of his February visit to the synagogue’s lower Bucks County locale.

During that weekend, Cantor met with temple officials, spoke at Beth El’s Hebrew school, talked to different synagogue groups and led services. He found the congregants to be lively, cordial and curious, as well as unafraid to ask questions about their priorities, his values and his vision.

The rabbi, though, didn’t have to ask the members about their values. Those were made clear to him throughout the three-day visit.

“This notion of, I’ve become a better person by being involved in the community, and I want to give back by making this community even better,” he said.

Cantor saw that Beth El offered a well-established internal structure. There were “committees and committees and committees” for initiatives like adult education and social action. There were also twice-daily minyans and great uses for community space, the rabbi explained.

Additionally, though the synagogue does not offer a preschool, it does have a bar and bat mitzvah program and a religious school with 50 students.

In an institution that already functions well, the rabbi believes he can focus on what he’s good at — playing a more therapeutic role where he tries to talk to each member regularly. Cantor once studied to leave the rabbinate and become a family therapist. But he realized halfway through the program that his listening ear was best used in a shul.

“My highest priority is being there for the congregant,” the rabbi said. “There’s nothing so important in a book that can’t be set aside when someone walks in the door.”

But it was not just Beth El that was perfect for Cantor. It was Yardley, too.

Cantor, 51, is from Winnipeg, Canada, and he said the architectural style in the Bucks County town reminded him of his childhood home. During that February visit, he ate on Main Street with Beth El leaders at “lovely local restaurants.”

Cantor realized that he could afford to buy a home in the area, too. His Yardley house will have a forest, a farm and a river within a mile, he said. He also mentioned that he liked an oft-cited quality of the Philadelphia suburbs: If you are looking for a city experience, both Philadelphia and New York are just a day trip away.

“We wanted to live the American dream and own a little bit of paradise,” Cantor said.

Congregation Beth El in Yardley (Photo by Alan Gilbert Photography)

The rabbi is talking like a man who is ready to settle down somewhere, and that’s the type of leader Beth El is looking for as well. Out of the temple’s last three rabbis, one of whom was interim, none stayed longer than seven years, according to Mindy Albuck, the synagogue’s vice president.

Candidates were honest with Albuck, who chaired the search committee, during this most recent hiring process. They viewed the small synagogue as a career stepping stone.

The longtime member was not mad; she understood. But she quickly realized that Beth El needed someone different than the well-published, big personality, good talker archetype that kept walking through the door.

Someone like Cantor, in other words.

“It was clear that he wants to make personal connections and get to know people,” Albuck said. “He’s not a performer.”

Beth El congregants often get together outside of the synagogue, too. Albuck thinks Cantor will fit right into that culture.

“The relationships are kind of long. The people stay around long. We’re just not a transient type of group,” she said. JE

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