President & Dean: Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz
Rav Shmuly studied at the University of Texas as an undergraduate, Harvard University for a Master’s Degree in Leadership and Psychology, Yeshiva University for a second Master’s Degree in Jewish Philosophy, and at Columbia University for his Doctorate in Moral Development and Epistemology. He has taught as an instructor of moral philosophy at Barnard College and at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. Shmuly was ordained as a Rabbi by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah as a Wexner Graduate Fellow. Rav Shmuly has served as a congregational rabbi and as a campus Senior Jewish Educator and Hillel Director of Jewish Life.
As a global social justice activist and educator, Shmuly has volunteered, taught, and staffed missions in five continents including Israel, Ghana, India, France, Thailand, El Salvador, Britain, Senegal, Germany, Switzerland, Ukraine, Argentina, South Africa, and Haiti. Shmuly served at the World Economic Forum in Geneva and Davos, Switzerland as the rabbinic representative, a facilitator, and motivational speaker. Rav Shmuly is the Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, and is the author of eight books.
A film crew followed Shmuly for over a year to produce a PBS documentary (“The Calling”) about the training of religious leadership which aired nationwide in December 2010. In 2012 and in 2013, Newsweek rated Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America. Shmuly, his wife Shoshana, his daughter Amiella, and his son Lev, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.
For some articles written by Rav Shmuly, click here.
AJ Frost is the operations fellow for Valley Beit Midrash. A Phoenix native, AJ graduated Summa Cum Laude from Arizona State University with a Bachelors of Science in Political Science and a double minor in History (American) & Religious Studies and went on to earn a Masters at Columbia University in American Politics and Religion. In his spare time, AJ is an active member of Moishe House Phoenix, an editorial consultant for Avalanche Comics Entertainment, and a freelance writer and editor.
Tamar Feinson graduated from The University of Maryland with a degree in Communication and Public Relations. Since her graduation she has worked and volunteered in the Jewish community, focusing her efforts on various marketing and programming initiatives. Tamar was born and raised in Israel. She moved to the Valley eight years ago and has served as director of PJ Library, Phoenix since its launch five years ago.
Board of Directors
Mark Feldman serves as Chief Executive Officer for Miller/Russell & Associates. Mark was appointed as the Commission Chair for the Arizona Commission on the Arts by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. He is Chairman of the Board for Free Arts of Arizona and serves on the board of the Arizona Citizens for the Arts.
Past Chair: Stan Hammerman
Stan has been active in the Greater Phoenix Jewish community for over 30 years. He has served in numerous leadership positions, including President of the Board of Beth El Congregation for four years. Stan and his wife, Cheryl, are a founding family of Congregation Or Chadash. Stan has served on the strategic planning committee for the Pacific Southwest Region of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. He is a founding partner of Hammerman & Hultgren P.C.
Treasurer: Josh Wertlieb
Josh Wertlieb, a recent transplant from Boston, is an entrepreneur and Wholesale Wine Trader. Josh is a founder of The Young Jewish Funders of AZ and the Pilot Light Mentor Conference for Free Arts of Arizona. He is also a board member of the Howard & Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation. He and his wife Rebecca currently live in the Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood of Phoenix.
Leslie Goldman first learned the importance of understanding and articulating her Jewishness as a college student over 30 years ago. She now dedicates much of her time serving Jewish organizations in Phoenix, including past and present leadership positions with the Weizmann Institute, the Jewish Federation (now the Jewish Community Association), and Congregation Kehillah. Leslie is also on the Executive Committee for Women’s Philanthropy for the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. She derives great satisfaction from continuing to learn and stimulate creative collaboration with others.
Samantha Hirsch has an extensive background in education and non-profit organizations. Samantha graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelors’ degree in Family Studies and received her Masters’ degree in Early Childhood Education from National-Louis University. Mrs. Hirsch went on to teach in Jewish schools in both Chicago & San Francisco before settling in the Valley in 2002. In Arizona, she sought out opportunities to assist within the Jewish community and became the Coordinator for Young Jewish Phoenix at the Jewish Federation in 2008. While working at the Federation, she also assumed the role Director of Admissions and Advancement at Jess Schwartz Academy. Currently, Samantha is the Director of Admissions at New Way Academy, an independent K-12 specializing in students with learning differences. Samantha and her husband Larry are both actively involved in the local Jewish community, members of Temple Kol Ami and were part of the first Phoenix Honeymoon Israel group.
Dr. Jeff Packer practices medicine in Arizona. He has participated in advanced educational seminars and classes and has been privileged to have the opportunity to study with some of the most intriguing teachers from all over. Jeff has traveled extensively to learn about other cultures and religions and has an interest in photography. He also serves on the Board of Directors of a small foundation that serves children with special needs.
Start Me Up! Advisory Committee
- Steve Goldstein
- Bryan Kort
- Eddie Lange
- Gil Rosen
- Harriet Rosen
- Elana Storch
- Alan Jablin
- Randi Jablin
National Advisory Board
Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson
Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson is President of The Wexner Foundation. She oversees the Foundation’s full range of activities and, in partnership with Foundation chairmen Abigail and Leslie Wexner, imagines how the Foundation might further strengthen and education Jewish professional and volunteer leaders in North America and public service leaders in the State of Israel. She was ordained at HUC-JIR, New York, in 1985. She began her career as associate rabbi at Peninsula Temple Beth El, San Mateo, CA. and then, with her husband, Rabbi Martin (Misha) Zinkow, she served as co-senior rabbi at Mount Zion Temple, in St. Paul, MN. Rabbi Abrahamson has been published in magazines, books, and journals including Moment, Shma and the CCAR Journal. Rabbi Abrahamson received the Bernard Reisman Award as an outstanding member of the professional Jewish community. She serves on the Faculty of the URJ as a resource and speaker on leadership. She was twice named one of the 50 most influential rabbis in North America and is a popular teacher and public speaker.
Rabbi Professor Alan Brill
Rabbi Prof. Alan Brill is the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Professor in honor of Sister Rose Thering at Seton Hall University. He is the author of the Thinking God:The Mysticism of Rabbi Zadok of Lublin (Ktav:2003), Judaism and Other Religions: Model of Understanding (Palgrave-Macmillan 2010) and Judaism and World Religions (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012). He has also authored many articles on the interface of traditional thinkers with philosophy including articles on the Maharal, Vilna Gaon, and Rabbi Soloveitchik. Currently, he is working on a volume on the theological history of Modern Orthodoxy. In addition, he was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar award for study in India to write a Jewish-Hindu encounter.
Rabbi Sharon Brous
Rabbi Sharon Brous is the Founding Rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles. Brous was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2001 and received a Master’s Degree in Human Rights from Columbia University, where she also received her Bachelor’s Degree. After ordination, she served as a Rabbinic Fellow at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in NYC. In 2013, Brous was recognized as the most influential Rabbi in the United States by Newsweek and the Daily Beast, and as one of the Forward’s 50 most influential American Jews.
Dr. Beth Cousens
Beth Cousens is a consultant to Jewish educational organizations, working in areas of strategic research and evaluation. Her clients have included American Jewish World Service, The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, Kevah, Repair the World, and the Shalom Hartman Institute – North America. Recently, as the Associate Vice President of Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Experience, Beth led Hillel’s Jewish educational strategy. Beth holds a PhD in the sociology of Jewish education from Brandeis University; she also holds an MA with Honors in Judaic Studies from Baltimore Hebrew University and an MSW from the University of Maryland. A specialist in adult Jewish education, emerging adulthood, and the Millennial generation, her dissertation research is entitled, “Shifting Social Networks: Studying the Jewish Growth of Adults in Their Twenties and Thirties.” She lives in San Francisco with her husband.
Dr. Marc Dollinger
Dr. Marc Dollinger holds the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University. He has served as research fellow at Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Religion as well as the Andrew W. Mellon Post-doctoral Fellow and Lecturer in the Humanities at Bryn Mawr College, where he coordinated the program in Jewish Studies.
He is author of Quest For Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism In Modern America published by Princeton University Press and California Jews, co-edited with Ava Kahn, published by Brandeis University Press. He is currently at work on two projects, Is It Good For The Jews? Power, Politics, and the 1960s, and American Jewish History: A Documents Reader, which will be published by Brandeis University Press.
He serves on the California advisory committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the board of the Bureau of Jewish Education, Camp Newman-Swig, and is immediate past president of Brandeis-Hillel Day School. He was recently named Volunteer of the Year by the SF Jewish Community Federation.
Dr. Michelle Friedman
Dr. Michelle Friedman is the Founder and Chair of the Department of Pastoral Counseling at YCT. She received an MD from the NYU School of Medicine and has completed advanced training at the Columbia University Psychoanalytic Center for Training and Research. Dr. Friedman is a highly respected psychiatrist who focuses on the Jewish community and has a special interest in the rabbinate and pastoral counseling. In addition to her private practice and her role at YCT, Dr. Friedman is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York.
Sue Fishkoff is the editor of J., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California. Most recently she was a national correspondent for the JTA Jewish news service, focusing on Jewish identity. From 1991-1997, Sue lived in Israel where she was a staff writer for the Jerusalem Post.
Sue received her BA in history from Cornell University and her MA in Soviet politics from Columbia University. Her first book, The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch, was published in 2003 by Schocken Books. Her second book, Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority, was published in October 2010. She lives in Oakland, CA.
Rabbi Dr. Irving “Yitz” Greenberg
Rabbi Dr. Irving “Yitz” Greenberg is the most influential American Jewish thinker of the past half century. As counsel to the leaders of American Jewry for decades, Rabbi Greenberg has helped set the agenda of the American Jewish community. In 1974, Rabbi Greenberg founded CLAL – The National Center for Leadership and Learning, a pioneering pluralistic program that has trained and educated a generation of lay-leaders and rabbis. In 1979, Rabbi Greenberg was appointed the Director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust which led to the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., of which he was the chairman from 2000-2002. From 1997-2007, Rabbi Greenberg served as the President of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation. Under Rabbi Greenberg’s leadership, the foundation developed Birthright Israel, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), Makor, and the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative (JECEI). Rabbi Greenberg is the author of The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays, and numerous other books and articles, and is currently completing work on a new book to be published in 2012.
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman
Donniel is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training and enrichment programs for scholars, educators, rabbis, and religious and lay leaders in Israel and North America.
He is the author of The Boundaries of Judaism, co-editor of Judaism and the Challenges of Modern Life, co-author of Spheres of Jewish Identity, and lead author of Speaking iEngage: Creating a New Narrative Regarding the Significance of Israel for Jewish Life. In addition, he is a prominent essayist, blogger, and lecturer on issues of Israeli politics, policy, Judaism, and the Jewish community.
His new book, Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself, is scheduled for publication by Beacon Press in February 2016. He is currently working on his next book, which is entitled, Who Are The Jews: Healing A Divided People.
He is married to Adina, has three children and two grandchildren.
Rabbi Arthur Kurzweil
Rabbi Kurzweil is an author, educator, editor, publisher, and illusionist. Kurzweil’s book From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History is considered to be a definitive introductory guide on the topic. Rabbi Kurzweil has also authored two books in the “For Dummies” series: Kabbalah for Dummies and The Torah for Dummies. Some of his other books include: On the Road with Rabbi Steinsaltz, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy and My Generations: A Course in Jewish Family History, which is commonly used as a textbook at synagogue schools across the country. During his 17-year tenure at Jason Aronson Publishers, he commissioned and published over 650 works of Jewish interest. Kurzweil has also been editor-in-chief of the Jewish Book Club, president of the Jewish Book Council, and editorial consultant for Jossey-Bass.
Rabbi Danny Landes
Rabbi Danny Landes was a founding faculty member of The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles (Director of Education) and of Yeshiva of Los Angeles (The Van Lennop Chair of Social Ethics), as well as Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at Loyola Law School. He was Rabbi of the Upstairs Minyan which he merged with the renewed Congregation Bnai David Judea – a center for spirituality, intellectual ferment and social action. He has taught for the Wexner Foundation for over 20 years.
Rabbi Landes came to Pardes in Jerusalem in 1995 as Director and has been active in creation of advanced Talmud classes, Bekiut Talmud, the Fellows, PEP, the Kollel, the Executive Seminar Programs, the annual Blaustein and Brettler Scholar Series, Pardes USA and strengthening of the Pardes Beit Midrash. He is an exponent of Jewish Unity and also was the first Rabbi to be invited by Indonesia to speak publicly (at the Forum of Religions). He and his wife Sheryl Robbin, a social worker and author, write on Biblical and ethical issues.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Rabbi Asher Lopatin is the President of the YCT Rabbinical School. He was previously the spiritual leader of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, received his ordination from Rav Aron Soloveichik and Yeshivas Brisk and also from Yeshiva University in New York . He holds an M.Phil. in Medieval Arabic Thought from Oxford University as well as a BA in International Relations and Islamic Studies from Boston University. He has done doctoral work, also at Oxford , in Islamic Fundamentalist Attitudes Toward Jews. Rabbi Lopatin won a Rhodes Scholarship in 1987 from Massachusetts and was a Wexner Fellow. Newsweek Magazine has listed Rabbi Lopatin as one of the top 25 rabbis in America.
Rabbi Leon Morris is one of the leading educators in the field of adult Jewish study. He was the Founding Director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, the premier adult Jewish learning program in the United States. Rabbi Morris was ordained from Hebrew Union College in 1997 where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow and is a contributor the recently published book, Jewish Theology in Our Time: A New Generation Explores the Foundations and Future of Jewish Belief (Jewish Lights, 2010). Rabbi Morris now lives in Sag Harbor where he is the rabbi of Temple Adas Israel.
Professor Jonathan D. Sarna
Professor Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History in the department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University and the director of the Hornstein Program in Jewish Professional Leadership. He is regarded as one of the most prominent historians of American Judaism. Sarna is a prolific author, including the seminal work on the 350th anniversary of the founding of the American Jewish community, American Judaism: A History. The book won a number of awards, including the National Jewish Book Award for 2004 and the Publishers Weekly Best Religion Book 2004 award. Sarna received theAssociation for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry‘s Marshall Sklare Award in 2002. Professor Sarna is a regular contributor on religion to the Newsweek–Washingtonpost.com joint project On Faith.
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Chaim Seidler-Feller has been working with students and faculty as the Executive Director of the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA for thirty-eight years. He is also the director of the Hartman Fellowship for Campus Professionals. He was ordained in 1971 at Yeshiva University where he completed a Masters in Rabbinic Literature. Chaim is a lecturer in the Departments of Sociology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA and in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University. He is also a faculty member of the Shalom Hartman Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, and of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. He was a founding member of Americans for Peace Now.The International Hillel Center has granted Chaim the Hillel Professional Recognition Award “for blending the love of Jewish tradition with the modern intellectual approach of the university.” Chaim was a rabbinic consultant to Barbra Streisand during the making of the film Yentl. He is married to Dr. Doreen Seidler-Feller, a clinical psychologist, and is the father of Shulie, a photo-journalist and Shaul, a rabbinic student at Yeshiva University, who is pursuing an advanced degree in Jewish history.
Rabbi David Sibler
Rabbi David Silber is the Founder and Dean of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. He received ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He received the Covenant Award in 2000. He is the author of A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn (JPS, 2011).
Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber is the Milan Roven Professor of Talmud Studies at Bar-Ilan University. As well as being an expert in classical philology, Jewish art history, Jewish customs & education, and Talmudic studies, Rabbi Prof. Sperber is an author and commentator who has called for a greater inclusion of women in certain ritual services, including ordination. Rabbi Sperber’s latest books is On the Relationship of Mitzvot Between Man and His Neighbor and Man and His Maker (Urim).
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is a spiritual leader and scholar. He lectures across the US, and serves as an associate of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and as spiritual leader of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. He lives in New York City with his wife, writer Deborah Telushkin, and their four children. Born and raised in New York, he is a graduate and ordained rabbi of Yeshiva University in New York. He later pursued graduate studies in Jewish history at Columbia University. He is an author of many books on Jewish theology, philosophy, and history, and has written several novels as well as popular articles and television and film scripts. He has also written several books on Judaism and anti-Semitism with childhood friend and LA radio personality, Dennis Praeger.
Rabbi Avi Weiss
Rabbi Avi Weiss is the Founder and President of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (the YCT Rabbinical School), the Founder founder of Yeshivat Maharat for Orthodox women, and the Senior Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a modern and Open Orthodox congregation of 850 families in Bronx, NY. Rabbi Weiss is the National President of the AMCHA – the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, a grassroots organization that speaks out for Jewish causes throughout the world. He has authored multiple books.
Rabbi David Wolpe is the rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, an author and public speaker. He was named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek in 2012 and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post. In addition, Rabbi Wolpe was named one of Jewish Daily Forward‘s 50, and one of the hundred most influential people in Los Angeles by Los Angeles Magazine. Author of seven books and a frequent television guest, Wolpe writes a weekly column in The Jewish Week.