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Cancer Scare Gave Him a Goal

September 18, 2008 By:
Aaron Passman
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Rabbi Joshua Kalev

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, Joshua Kalev had an unusual pastime.

"As a child, I used to arrange my stuffed animals as a congregation and lead services for them," he said. "I was always in awe of my rabbi and what he got to do."

Kalev, who now leads Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell, said he'd always dreamed of being a rabbi, yet seeing his parents build a business made him want to do that, too.

But something unexpected got in the way. At age 19, Kalev was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, an event he said felt like God giving him a second chance at life.

"Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I was always very socially oriented and not very serious academically," he said. "It really shook me as to getting on a straight path and getting on the right path."

He got down to business, literally, and entered the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, where he pursued a combined bachelor's degree in business finance and MBA. But his heart was in the rabbinate, and when the university's rabbinic school was opened during his undergraduate tenure, he said it seemed like a natural progression to stay there and continue his Jewish education.

Prior to arriving in Philadelphia he led a synagogue in New York, and he said that he knew TBI was the right place for him from the moment he arrived.

He said he hoped to create a "vibrant, fun, exciting place to worship, to study and to explore our Jewish journeys together."

Funnily enough, Kalev's wife, Selilah, is also a rabbi, and serves as education director at Congregation Kol Ami in Elkins Park.

"I married my havruta -- my rabbinic study partner. That's what happens when you're paired up with a [stately] blonde!"

The couple is expecting their second child in March. 

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