Rabbi David Thomas
Rabbi Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in Hebrew and Semitic studies from the University of Wisconsin and received his ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in 1998—but his path to becoming a rabbi had a few detours in between.
After graduating from college, he made aliyah, moving to Israel where he became a freelance sound engineer for television and film. After working for several international news organizations in the Mideast, he became manager of crew and equipment operations for ABC News based in London. By 1983, he and his wife Marcy had moved to New York and he worked freelance for such prestigious programs as 60 Minutes, NOVA, and Nature.
When their first child, Eve, was born, the couple affiliated with the congregation where Marcy grew up in Chappaqua, N.Y. David gradually reconnected with his Jewish faith and at the age of 36, he rediscovered the path that others had predicted for him in his teens.
At Congregation Beth El since 2001, Rabbi Thomas has supervised the implementation of Project HiBuR, an exchange program for Beth El high school students with students from Chugim High School in Haifa, Israel, Boston’s sister city. He has enabled the launch of the award-winning MetroWest Free Medical Program and the Beit Midrash program (a community of adult learners), and has led the community to a vote declaring the congregation a Sanctuary in Support of Immigrants in 2017.
Rabbi Thomas is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, an intensive three-year program that trains an elite cadre of North American rabbis to serve as religious and educational leaders in their communities. He has been a board member for the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Cantor Lorel Zar-Kessler
Lorel Zar-Kessler has served as the cantor of Congregation Beth El since 1990. In that time, she has led countless kiddush blessings, named babies, taught more melodies for “Adon Olam” than could be imagined, danced around the bimah as Belle in “Beauty from the East,” helped numerous young people become B’nai Mitzvah, served potato latkes to the masses, brought theater and live music and dance to our four walls, and missed only one Shabbat evening service because of inclement weather. With the help of the wonderful and participatory Beth El community, she has learned that all music serves as a pathway to inner growth, community strength and, hopefully, to God.
Lorel has also taught many workshops in the Boston area focusing on the music of the soul and the joy of communal song. She has led women’s seders, is an active member of the Women Cantor’s Network, and the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. She has studied Jewish Music Education at Hebrew College. Her husband, Arnie, is former head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston. The Synagogue Council of Massachusetts honored Lorel with a Community Service Award in 2012.
Rabbi Emeritus Lawrence Kushner
Lawrence Kushner was Beth El’s rabbi from 1971 to 2000. During his tenure, he changed the face of the Reform Movement through his innovative rethinking of rituals from creating the first Torah Class for Bar & Bat Mitzvah students and their families, to unrolling the entire Torah on Simchat Torah to passing down the Torah through the generations on the occasion of a Bar or Bat MItzvah. Rabbi Kushner has written dozens of articles and authored or co-authored more than 18 books for children and adults that have been translated into several languages. Among his books are Honey from the Rock: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism; The River of Light: Spirituality, Judaism, Consciousness; The Book of Miracles: A Young Person’s Guide to Jewish Spiritual Awareness; and Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary.
Kushner now lives in California where he serves as scholar-in-residence at Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco and a visiting professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.He is also an accomplished artist.