As someone who naturally gravitates toward diverse communities, Rabbi Levi Welton said that Westhampton Beach—and the synagogue that serves the village and much of western Southampton Town—was the perfect fit for him.Today, nearly two years after his arrival, Rabbi Welton no longer carries the title of “assistant rabbi” like all of those who preceded him over the years in helping Marc Schneier, the founder of The Hampton Synagogue, run the Sunset Avenue house of worship. Rather, Rabbi Welton is now known by that exact title—Rabbi Welton, minus the “Assistant”—a significant accomplishment considering that he is the first to be entrusted with such a role in the synagogue’s 25-year history.
And Rabbi Welton could not be happier, he said during an interview on Friday, especially because the synagogue sought him out—not the other way around. Rabbi Welton explained that he was writing a range of articles for The Huffington Post when a congregant from The Hampton Synagogue read them and recommended that Rabbi Schneier check them out.
They had an interview and the rest is history.
“The community is a growing community, so I think that they wanted to promote me from being the assistant rabbi to the rabbi, as I am going to be more attending to their spiritual needs,” Rabbi Welton said, emphasizing that Westhampton Beach has a burgeoning Jewish community.
He added that he hopes to follow in Rabbi Schneier’s footsteps and facilitate the community’s growth even further.
Rabbi Welton noted that Westhampton Beach “has a big range of Jews of all backgrounds, and that’s what my wife and I like the most about this synagogue.”
He continued: “I like the fact that Jews of all backgrounds are encouraged, welcomed and accepted there, and that beautiful sense of unity in the synagogue is why my wife and I came,” he said.
Just on Friday, for Shabbat services, Rabbi Welton had Father Michael Bartholomew from the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Quiogue join him for dinner and a dialogue. It was during that visit that the two talked with the members of the congregation about religious extremism, as well as bridging their communities.
Rabbi Welton was raised in Berkeley, California, and graduated from the Machon Ariel Rabbinical Institute in Jerusalem with ordination. He also has a master’s degree in education from Bellevue University in Nebraska. His wife’s name is Chavi.
He followed in his father’s footsteps, he said, as his father, Benzion Welton, was the first in his family to become a rabbi. “He is a big inspiration for me, and I grew up under the shadow of my father,” Rabbi Welton explained.
As the synagogue enters its 26th year, Rabbi Welton’s presence will only strengthen it, Rabbi Schneier said, adding that he is “thrilled” to mentor him.
“I am very, very excited about his leadership position,” Rabbi Schneier said. “I think he adds to this dynamic rabbinic team, and he is particularly effective when it comes to outreach to the younger families and younger members of the community.
“Rabbi Welton is a very, very capable young man, and I think having him there in terms of the year-round presence will greatly contribute not only to the congregation, but to the greater community,” he continued.
As for Rabbi Schneier, who frequently travels, he said he has no plans to leave the synagogue that he founded a quarter-century earlier.
“I built this institution, and the congregation is more than just a congregation,” Rabbi Schneier said. “It is my family, and I’ll always be there for my family.”
Rabbi Welton, meanwhile, noted that one of his responsibilities is scheduling and attending meetings to ensure that the house of worship continues to operate smoothly. “Ever since they promoted me, I have more and more meetings,” he added, jokingly.