Clergy and Executive Leadership
Rabbi Gray Myrseth, Rabbi Educator
Dee Ward, Office Administrator
Ruthie Levin, People of Color Organizer
Elle Aviv Newton, Program and Communications Manager
Natalie Boskin, Youth Programs Coordinator
Fred Williamson, Evening & Weekend Custodian
Molly Melamed, Bookkeeper
Rabbi David Jonathan Cooper, Emeritus Rabbi
Rabbi Burt Jacobson, Founding Rabbi
Howard Hamburger, Spiritual Leader
Avi Rose, Spiritual Leader
Sharon Grodin, Spiritual Leader
Rabbi Chaya Gusfield, Spiritual Leader Emerita
Musical Prayer Leaders
Clergy and Executive Leadership
Rabbi Dev Noily was ordained in 2009 by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in Philadelphia. Dev returned home to the bay area to serve as a hospital chaplain at Alta Bates, and came to Kehilla in 2010 as the part-time director of Kehilla School. In 2013, Rabbi Dev became Kehilla’s full-time Associate Rabbi, in addition to being Kehilla School Director.
Since coming to Kehilla, Rabbi Dev has brought exciting innovations to our community, including a three-year partnership between Kehilla School and Urban Adamah, and Pop-up Shabbat, our collaboration with the Bites off Broadway food truck festival. Rabbi Dev has created lively davening experiences for kids and their grown ups through regular Family Shabbats (with Musical Prayer Leader Beth Dickinson) and Family High Holy Days (with Beth, Jenna Stover-Kemp and Lior Ben-Hur). Rabbi Dev facilitated a restructuring of Kehilla’s Spiritual Leadership team to deepen the team’s capacity for both shared spiritual leadership and smooth operation. Rabbi Dev served on the committee that gave rise to our fabulous Glitter Kehilla, and serves on the Legacy Committee, building Kehilla’s financial future. To support adults in ongoing learning and spiritual practice, Rabbi Dev started Kehilla’s thriving meditation group, created a new program for people exploring conversion to Judaism (with Spiritual Leader Sharon Grodin), and teaches a series of classes that offer intimate access to the life-giving ancient wisdom in Jewish texts like Torah, Talmud and midrash.
Rabbi Dev was one of twenty North American rabbis chosen in 2013 for the inaugural cohort of the Clergy Leadership Incubator, a two-year leadership program that recognizes and supports innovative early career rabbis. Beyond Kehilla, Rabbi Dev teaches LGBTQ inclusion to rabbinical students at RRC, and to chaplains of all faiths at Alta Bates/Summit Medical Center. Dev is a member of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace, and is an advisor for Reframing Israel, Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman’s groundbreaking new grade school level curriculum on Israel/Palestine.
You can contact Rabbi Dev by email at email@example.com or call (510) 547-2424 x104.
Hazzan Shulamit Wise Fairman, Music Director, hails from Mid-Missouri, where she began her personal and professional Jewish journey. Graduate studies in Boston led to a freelance career as a prayer leader, educator, and ritual creatrix. B’nai Or, the Jewish renewal community in Boston, became her spiritual home for six years, where she was mentored by her beloved Rabbis, Daniel and Hanna Tiferet Siegel. Since her youth, music and activism have been integral threads in the spiritual matrix of her life. Serving Kehilla since June of 2005, Shulamit continues to weave her vision of community building, personal healing, and world change through music and prayer. She was ordained through the ALEPH Cantorial Program in January, 2013.
You can contact Shulamit by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael is a Berkeley native and has been connected to Kehilla in many ways over the last three decades. His mom, Dolores Taller, is a proud Kehilla member (as was his dad before he died 18 years ago). When he first met his wife and life partner, Julie, in 1989, she was teaching in Kehilla’s religious school.
Michael loves working in and building communities, and has done so in many parts of the Jewish community, including at Berkeley and San Francisco Hillels, the JCC in Manhattan and at Congregation Kol Shofar in Marin. He has also been a community organizer working with churches, synagogues and community agencies in the North Bay, building political power for the common good.
Michael is an enthusiastic father (of his son, Sam), a passionate basketball player, a spirited singer and loves nothing more than hanging out and schmoozing. So give him a call or email him to set up a time to get together, or just drop by the office.
You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com, or call (510) 547-2424 x101.
Rabbi Gray has recently completed rabbinic studies at Hebrew College in Boston. They have worked extensively with youth of all ages, from pre-school through high school, and bring an extraordinary capacity to connect with anyone and everyone, guiding Jewish learning that is both brightly alive and strongly rooted in Jewish traditions. Rabbi Gray is deeply aligned with the mission of Kehilla Synagogue and Kehilla School, and is eager to share their vision of justice-oriented, radically inclusive Jewish life with our community.
You can contact Rabbi Gray by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 547-2424 x109.
My name is Deirdra Ward but I prefer to be called “Dee.” I am a California native originally from Los Angeles. I moved to the Bay Area in 1996 and have called Oakland my home and the city where my husband, Bobby and son, Cota reside as well. Most recently, I worked at Starr King School for the Ministry as the Office Manager and Coordinator of Academic Programs. Prior to that, my husband and I ran our own business for several years and I have also worked as a paralegal for the American Cancer Society. I am a member of First African Methodist Church in Oakland where I serve as a Steward and work with the Video Technology ministry. Bobby and I are actively working towards getting Cota ready for college (summer 2018). I like to shop, I love Starbucks coffee, I like cooking and travelling with my family. I feel honored to work at Kehilla as I fully embrace my spiritual gift of helping others and this community will allow me to continue to walk in my gift, as it embodies the servitude of others.
You can contact Dee by email at email@example.com or call (510) 547-2424 x100.
Ruthie Levin discovered Kehilla in 2002 by way of a chance meeting in her living room with the then Director of Kehilla School Elizheva Hurvich, which led to meeting Rabbi David, who would eventually officiate her wedding – and the rest is herstory! Ruthie has served as Secretary on the Kehilla board and as a Kitchen Angel. She shared the bimah with Barbara Cohen and Eva Petersson for a communal Bat Mitzvah.
In 2016 with the support of Kehilla, Ruthie attended the first ever Jews of Color Convening in New York City. “It was a profound experience to be surrounded by people who looked like me, to connect and have deep conversations with people I knew shared my experience as a Black person and Jew of Color.” Ruthie is an evangelist for Diversity and Inclusion, a member of African-American and Women’s groups, as well as an ally for LGBTQ+ and Latinx groups at her current company. “Currently I see an alarming lack of Black and Latino people in tech companies – particularly in the Bay Area and in cities such as Oakland. The sentiment seems to be that bringing diversity to tech (and other industries) is a ‘long game’ and that we have to do what we can with what we have. For me the time is now, and waiting and not being seen is not an option.”
Ruthie looks forward to sharing her passion for helping people in her new role at Kehilla. Ruthie and her family have been members of Kehilla since 2003.
You can contact Ruthie by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 547-2424 x108.
Elle Aviv is a community organizer from Oakland. A graduate of Mills College where she studied feminist art and history, over the past several years she has founded and led a successful literary non-profit, for which she has organized events focused on activism, art and poetry in the Bay Area and around the country. She started getting more involved in Kehilla’s spiritual and activist communities in 2019 and is thrilled to be joining its staff in 2020!
You can contact Elle via email@example.com or at (510) 547-2424 x106.
Natalie Boskin, Youth Programs Coordinator
Natalie began her journey at Kehilla School in 4th grade, had her Bat Mitzvah ceremony in 2006, and became the Kehilla School 6th grade Madricha/Teaching Assistant as a teen. She then spent a few years at the University of Puget Sound where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelors of Arts in Comparative Religious Studies. After returning to the Bay Area in 2015, Natalie began teaching in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program and found a deep love for Kehilla’s youth education programs. She is now Kehilla’s first Youth Programs Coordinator, which puts her in the logistical and administrative center of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program as well as Kehilla School. She feels honored and blessed to be so deeply involved with Kehilla’s fantastic youth education programs and to have to opportunity to grow as a Jewish educator.
You can contact Natalie by email at Natalie@kehillasynagogue.org or call 510-547-2424 x107
Hi, my name is Fred Williamson. I am originally from Texas and I moved to the Bay Area in 1975 and have called this home with my wife Audrey and our four daughters and one son. I currently work full-time during the day at at Starr King School for the Ministry as the Building and Grounds Manager, where I’ve worked for the last 10 years. In my spare time, I enjoy going on walks or bike rides and watching the Dallas Cowboys.
Rabbi David Jonathan Cooper was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York where he attended Hebrew day school for 10 years, and further pursued his Jewish studies on the high school, college, post-graduate and rabbinic program levels. His youthful synagogue participation was inter-movement: Conservative school and synagogue, regular Orthodox synagogue attendance and camp, Reform synagogue and camp. Part of his extended family owned an orthodox hotel in Monsey, NY where he celebrated becoming Bar Mitzvah.
Throughout high school, college, law school and several years of practice as an attorney, David was involved in anti-war, anti-sexist, pro-LGBT and affirmative action struggles while becoming increasingly involved in the embryonic Jewish Renewal Movement.
Rabbi David credits his eclectic exposures for his familiarity with the varieties of Jewish liturgy and practice. He credits his years of inter-disciplinary study and his grappling with the realities of our post-holocaust generation for his non-conformist theological outlook and the variety of Jewish and non-Jewish religious practices which continue to influence his spiritual endeavors.
Inspired by Rabbi Burt Jacobson’s vision of a community synagogue, Rabbi David became one of several co-founders of Kehilla in 1984. Prior to David’s service as Kehilla’s community rabbi—which began in 1999—he had various careers including political activist, community organizer, attorney, bookstore owner, religion/theology graduate student. He regards it as one of his highest joys that he has been able to be part of a synagogue of such wonderful, exciting and loving people.
You can contact Rabbi David by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 547-2424 x103.
Rabbi Burt Jacobson was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1966. He was involved in the creation of both the Havurah and Jewish Renewal movements. In 1984 he founded Kehilla Community Synagogue in Berkeley (now in Piedmont).
Rabbi Burt currently serves as Founding Rabbi of Kehilla. He has been a student of the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov for twenty-five years, and is engaged in writing a book that reconstructs the life and spiritual philosophy of the Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism. Rabbi Burt celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination as a rabbi in 2006. He has been greatly influenced by the work of Martin Buber, the Baal Shem Tov, and Abraham Joshua Heschel.
You can contact Rabbi Burt by email at email@example.com or (510) 283-5704.
Avi Rose, Spiritual Leader, first joined Kehilla in 1993 when he gave a Yom Kippur sermon about full inclusion and welcoming of lesbians and gay men. He has offered spiritual leadership in the congregation since the mid 1990’s.
Avi is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who currently serves as Executive Director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay. He received his B.A. degree from Brandeis University in 1976 and later earned his MSW from the University of Southern California and an M.A. in Jewish Communal Service from Hebrew Union College. Much of Avi’s career has been devoted to HIV/AIDS work as well as community-based health care for low-income people.
Avi is also known for having co-edited a groundbreaking anthology, Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian or Gay and Jewish, published in 1989. He has been highly involved as a writer, speaker and organizer with efforts to address LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues in religious communities and was a founding board member of the AIDS National Interfaith Network.
Avi is also a longtime board member of Jewish Funds for Justice and has served on several other boards of directors and planning and advisory bodies for agencies, foundations and communities. In 1995 he was honored with KQED’s “Community Hero” Award.
Avi lives in Oakland with his partner, Ron Strochlic, and their children, Oren and Aviva.
Sharon Grodin, Spiritual Leader, is a home-grown leader of Kehilla, having been inspired by Kehilla services to learn and create with Kehilla’s spiritual leadership. Serving in this capacity is the latest of Sharon’s experiments in Kehilla volunteerhood; over the years she has participated as a volunteer in most aspects of Kehilla life. Sharon is a 3rd generation Oaklander, a former lawyer, a current knitter and accordion player. During her lawyer life she served on the boards of San Francisco’s Bureau of Jewish Education and the Jewish Bulletin (the J. Weekly).
Rabbi Chaya Gusfield joined Kehilla in 1997, initially for the bat mitzvah journey of her daughter Yeshi. As a result of that life changing journey for their family, she entered synagogue life and became one of Kehilla’s lay leaders involved in all aspects of Kehilla Spiritual Leadership. Through Kehilla’s Rabbi Zari Weiss’ encouragement, she became a Spiritual Director in 2001 and provided group and individual direction to Kehilla members. After rabbinical ordination in 2006 from ALEPH, she served as rabbi at Beth Chaim Congregation in Danville for seven years until she began work as a hospital chaplain at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and Kaiser Oakland/Richmond.
Rabbi Gusfield continues her long association with Kehilla through her periodic workshop and service offerings with her beloved friend, Eve Decker, dharma teacher and musician. She also offers teachings, ritual leadership, spiritual direction and service leadership when time permits. In collaboration with Kehilla spiritual leadership, if you know someone who could use support while in any of the East Bay hospitals where she works, please feel free to contact her. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Musical Prayer Leaders
Debbie Fier brings over 30 years’ experience to her life as a performing vocalist, drummer, pianist, composer, percussionist and teacher. She has studied numerous drum and dance styles for over 25 years — including Middle Eastern, North African, Indian and Afro-Cuban, has taught drumming to individuals and groups, adults and children, and has led many, diverse community drumming circles – musical, educational and spiritual.
Debbie has spent over 20 years exploring voice in many different contexts, including western/classical vocal technique, theory, ear training, improvisation, jazz, meditative chanting and Indian raga singing, as well as exploring and teaching about the healing qualities of music and the voice. Debbie has spent many years studying different forms of spirituality and meditation. Over the past 6 years, she has found a home at Kehilla Community Synagogue as a spiritual leader through drumming. For more information about classes, workshops, recordings and performances, go to www.DebbieFier.com.
Beth has been a joyous participant at Kehilla for the last 20 years, appreciating Kehilla’s emphasis on both social justice and on music as a spiritual pathway. In her capacity as a Musical Prayer Leader, she has led Shabbat services and co-led High Holy Days Services, as well as weddings, b’nai mitzvah services and other lifecycle events.
Beth started her musical journey as a flautist and became a vocalist in her early 20’s, singing with Molly Holm’s Oakland Jazz Choir. She has led prayer and ritual singing in a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish settings. She is currently focusing on music as a healing force via the music therapy and sound healing program at the California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS).
Beth has studied with local cantorial leader Julie Batz, Shulamit Wise Fairman, and vocalists Linda Tillery, Molly Holm and Carey Sheldon.
Julie Nesnansky has been a Cantorial Soloist at Kehilla since 2000, and is a proud member of the Musical Prayer Leader/Spiritual Leader team. In addition to co-leading Shabbat and holiday services, she teaches songs and some percussion instruments to students in the Hebrew School, and has co-written and performed songs in honor of several service leaders over the years. She leyns (chants) from the torah during High Holy Day services and at various Shabbat services throughout the year. She also is a trope (the torah chanting system) teacher for students who are preparing for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.
Julie has been a Special Education Teacher in the West Contra Costa Unified School District since 1988, currently working with preschool students who have autism. For several years she taught students with special needs at Temple Beth Abraham (TBA) in Oakland. She has helped to create specialized Bar/Bat Mitzvah services for students both at TBA and Kehilla. She loves merging her two worlds when she has the opportunity to teach Jewish Special Education.
Julie has performed in folk, Balkan, and jazz groups, singing (and playing the acoustic folk bass) in venues as varied as folk festivals, birthday parties, weddings, memorial services, fundraisers, clubs, retirement parties, and classes. She has sung publicly for over 30 years, and has been recorded on many albums. Born and raised in Southern California, she has lived in Oakland since 1982.
Jen Miriam Altman is a mom, doula, childbirth educator, puppeteer, percussionist and ketubah artist. She is part of the popular family entertainment band Octopretzel, and leads Tot Shabbat services at Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley and Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont — always with one of her favorite puppets, Raizel the Camel, in tow. She is a former music together teacher and has a Master’s degree in Pre and Perinatal Psychology.
Her love of puppets and music goes back to her childhood, when she would put on musical puppet shows for the neighborhood kids in her backyard starting at age 5. She has been performing puppet shows ever since all over California and Oregon.
In 2008, Jen married Alon Altman, a musician, aquatic therapist and scuba diver. Alon grew up on a Kibbutz in Israel, playing music with his best friends and brother who are now some of the biggest names in Israeli rock music. He was the perfect fit to join with Jen Miriam as musician and all around funny person. They have been performing music and puppets together all around the bay area for the past 8 years. Their two daughters, Ellah and Tali, are often seen joining in with music and antics.