Temple B’nai Jacob of Wellington is welcoming a new spiritual leader. Rabbi David Sislen will become the temple’s full-time rabbi, cantor and education director starting next month.
“I’m very excited to be here. I think that this congregation, despite its small size, has so much potential, and so many nice, warm people,” Sislen said. “Coming to services here really feels like coming home for me, and that’s the kind of atmosphere that I’m hoping to help create and to maintain here.”
His first service as rabbi/hazzan will be Friday, July 1 at 7 p.m. His second service will be Saturday, July 2 at 9 a.m.
“I want this place to be a very comfortable, very welcoming, very warm institution where people will feel spiritually and communally at home and will want to become actively and meaningfully involved in the congregation and everything that we have to offer,” Sislen added.
Sislen takes over for Rabbi David Abrams, who announced his intention last year to step down as the Conservative Jewish congregation’s spiritual leader.
Sislen has a diverse background, starting when he was just 13 years old, conducting the entire service at his bar mitzvah. After that, his cantor encouraged him, saw potential, and Sislen continued working. At 15 years old, he led his first High Holidays service.
“From that point on, my studies continued with different voice teachers and different cantors who were working with me,” he said. “It culminated when I was accepted to the Cantors Assembly.”
In the meantime, starting in high school, Sislen was working as the technical director, or lighting and set designer, in the theater industry. He worked on shows in Washington, D.C., and a handful in New York, for almost 15 years.
After he was married, he found that the pulpit was calling him.
“Being able to do what I do and affect other people in a much deeper way really called me, so I retired from theater,” he said. “Now, every once in a while, I go to a show.”
Just like every show is different, every service is different.
“When you do what I do, there’s no such thing as a routine service,” he said. “Every one is very special and very unique. The previous rabbi who was here, Rabbi Abrams, told me that no matter what kind of mood you walk into services here with, when you walk out, you just feel wonderful. That’s what I’m hoping to maintain, and that has always been the way that it has been for me. I’m hoping that we can have an ever-growing number of people who will feel the same way.”
The roles of rabbi and cantor have diversified, becoming more focused on clergy and education, which makes Sislen’s becoming the education director, rabbi and cantor a unique, but perfect, fit.
“With the education component, we are very fortunate to have Andrea Cohan as our director of education, so I’ll be more of a supervisor in helping to establish curriculum and maintain curriculum in ways that haven’t been done before,” he explained.
Temple President Morry Silverman is glad to have Sislen on board. The temple began its search for a new rabbi in September 2015.
“We had multiple interviews; multiple applicants. We were actually looking for a High Holiday cantor. Rabbi Sislen gave us his resume, and we looked at it and said we had to invite him up to conduct a service,” Silverman said.
Sislen was well-liked, held a study class after the service, and the process of offering him a job began, Silverman explained.
“It took us eight or nine months before we found the right person,” Silverman said.
Now, Sislen is getting ready, meeting temple members, and will be introducing himself further in July.
There is a great deal of growth in the future for the congregation, which Sislen has found to be warm and inviting. Currently located in the original Wellington Mall, the temple owns land on Lake Worth Road for a permanent home. Sislen hopes to begin work on that permanent home soon, while still maintaining the intimate, small-town and family feel with the congregation.
“If we can keep it intimate, homey, friendly and welcoming, and everything else that an institution like this should be, I think we’ll have a very unique congregation,” Sislen said. “I’m hoping to keep our level of Jewish tradition fairly high, so people who are of a more traditional orientation are comfortable here, but I also want to keep things as accessible as possible so that somebody who knows very little about Jewish liturgy, ritual and practice, would still be comfortable coming in here and not feel alienated. We want them to feel welcome, and hopefully walk out of services feeling that same kind of energy and joy that we go for.”
ABOVE: Rabbi David Sislen is the new spiritual leader of Wellington’s Temple B’nai Jacob.