Seekers of Meaning 10/13/2023: Rabbi Lance Sussman on his new book, “In His Own Words: Portrait of an American Rabbi”

On this week’s episode of the Seekers of Meaning TV Show and Podcast, Rabbi Lance Sussman, rabbi emeritus of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, Elkins Park, PA, discusses his new book, In His Own Words: Portrait of An American Rabbi.

Excerpt from the book:

In short, I believe, a little bit of religion is a good thing whether or not you fully embrace the idea of God. I believe that Judaism should accept this approach and help its adherents translate their deep, inherent religious needs with the symbols and practices of our ancient tradition. Judaism understands that not only does it have to adapt as part of its cultural dance, but it also has to choose and to create in order to complete its mission: to help modern Jews, the children of Spinoza, and the disciples of Einstein, to stay on course, to see the poetry written into the cosmos, and to help one another on the road to contentment with kindness, with concern and with love. Every once in a while, somebody comes to me and says: “Rabbi, I’m so glad I’m Jewish.” “Rabbi, I’m lucky. I have what I need. I have what I want.” And I smile and count my blessings, too.

Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.

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About the Guest

Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.

Since beginning his service as the eighth Senior Rabbi of KI in July 2001, Rabbi Sussman has had a transformative impact on the congregation and the greater Philadelphia region, as well as nationally, through his scholarship, leadership, and diverse community and educational activities. Rabbi Sussman is Chair of the Board of Governors  and Professor of Jewish History. of Gratz College in Melrose Park, PA.  Gratz College is the oldest non-denominational Jewish institute of higher learning in the world and is the home of the first online Ph.D. program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Sussman serves as Senior Scholar of Roots of Reform Judaism and was a past national Chair of the CCAR Press, the publishing arm of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He formerly served as a  Trustee of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania  and the American Jewish Historical Society; and is an active member of the Academic Advisory and Editorial Board of the American Jewish Archives (Cincinnati). He is the founding  president of the Cheltenham Area Multifaith Council and a former Chair of the Delaware Valley Association of Reform Rabbis.

Sussman has been involved nationally in promoting Jewish-Muslim dialogue.   In recent years,  KI has intensified its Social Action programs and now offers monthly home cooked meals to the food insecure and runs a tutorial program at the Lowell School in Olney.   Sussman has also helped developed an outreach program to residents of Federation Housing including an annual Hanukkah dinner.

Previously, Rabbi Sussman served as Chair of the Jewish Studies Department at Binghamton University-SUNY. He has taught courses in Jewish History at Princeton University, Hebrew Union College in New York City, Rutgers University, Temple University and Hunter College.   Rabbi Sussman has appeared in several PBS specials on Religion in America and is currently working on a documentary on the Philadelphia Jewish experience with with film producer Sam Katz.

Rabbi Sussman has published numerous books and articles, including Isaac Lesser and the Making of American Judaism, and Sharing Sacred Moments (a collection of his sermons); he also served as an editor of Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Most recently, he published a memorial study of the 24 members of KI who fell in service to the United States from the Civil War to the present. His dynamic, illustrated lectures on a wide array of topics range from Biblical to American, military and world history to Jews in arts, sports, film and more.

As KI’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Sussman nurtures a diverse and accepting congregation that represents a broad constituency in its nearly 1,000-member families. KI welcomes interfaith and LGBQT+ families and demonstrates a strong commitment to inclusiveness and social action in its many programs. Among Rabbi Sussman’s many initiatives at KI was the development of the synagogue’s seven Core Values, which are proudly displayed on colorful banners for all to see at KI’s main entrance. Rabbi Sussman also created the KI Puppets, and enjoys teaching young children through his role as “Torah Turtle”—one of the puppets that appears regularly in KI’s preschool and at Tot Shabbat services.  A pioneer in Visual Prayer,  Sussman led the initiative to create  PowerPoint art-liturgy at KI and install the complex technology to support the process.   Nationally,  Rabbi Sussman was Chair of the Press of the Central Conference of American Rabbis when it launched its new Mishkhan prayer book series and oversaw the production of the ground breaking project.  For over fifteen years, Sussman has led monthly Shabbat services at the Rydal retirement community in Jenkintown.

A prolific historian, Rabbi Sussman  writes on a wide range of topics from the history of  Art in Judaism to Jews and the American Civil War.    He enjoys researching the history of KI, which was the fourth congregation to be established by the expanding Jewish community of Philadelphia when it was founded in March 1847. In 1855 the previously Orthodox congregation adopted Reform Judaism, becoming the first progressive congregation in Philadelphia and only the fifth in the country to embrace the movement of radical experimentation. Sussman is now leading an effort to create a digital, online KI Archives, the first of its kind,  called with plans to post 100,000 historic documents online.   He has also led numerous international trips focusing on Jewish heritage in Israel, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Holland and Cuba.

Under Rabbi Sussman’s leadership, KI has been at the cutting of the Reform movement while maintaining the core and essence of Jewish practice and values. In July of 2022, Rabbi Sussman begins a new chapter at KI as Rabbi Emeritus.

Rabbi Sussman and his wife, Liz, Director of the KI Preschool and founder of KI’s Shir Joy Choir, share the joy of raising their children Benjamin & Kelly, Joshua & Sheri ,Micah, Judah and Chana. The Sussmans have two grandchildren, Sophie and Charlotte.

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