From left, Rev. Greg Foraker, assistant to the rector at St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church, Rabbi Samuel Cohon, senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El and Edip Yuksel, a leader of a local Islamic group discuss as they sit together for a Jerusalem-inspired meal with chef Janos Wilder at Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails, 135 S 6th Ave., on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in downtown, Tucson, Ariz.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

Arizona’s oldest Jewish synagogue has lost its senior rabbi.

Rabbi Samuel Cohon, former senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, 225 N. Country Club Road, was forced to step down in mid-September after roughly 18 years at the congregation.

Cohon said he resigned after a suspension by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and a request from the temple’s board. He said he is appealing the suspension, which prohibits him from doing rabbinic work.

“The backstory is that there were some personal issues involved, and I was going through a divorce that started in April,” Cohon said. “All divorces are difficult. It led the board to determine that they felt that I should no longer be the senior rabbi.”

Mona Gibson, the board president, said the requested resignation was a “personnel issue.”

In an email to the congregation after Cohon’s resignation, Gibson provided a “fact sheet” “drafted in conjunction with the CCAR ethics committee, Union for Reform Judaism and attorneys representing Temple’s employment and liability interests.”

The letter cited the national CCAR’s code of ethics that Cohon, a member of the organization, was held to and the requirement that rabbis “adhere ‘to an exemplary moral code.’”

For now, Rabbi Batsheva Appel, the rabbi educator, has stepped into the primary leadership position, Gibson said, adding that there are no hiring plans at this time.

The resignation has caused division within the congregation, with some members supporting the board’s move and others protesting it, according to emails provided to the Star.

Anjelina Belakovskaia, a finance lecturer at the University of Arizona, said she and about 60 families signed a petition protesting the forced resignation. She and her family stopped attending the temple after three years of consistent participation, following Cohon’s resignation. They want to see the rabbi reinstated.

While some families have already left, others want to move forward to preserve the temple’s future, she said.

Robert Jacobson, who started attending the temple about a year ago, attended a congregational meeting earlier this month and said tensions ran high.

“All of us wish that things could be fixed,” he said. “No one is anti-Temple Emmanu-El.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at jwillett@tucson.com or 573-4357. On Twitter: @JohannaWillett

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.