Clergy and Executive Leadership

Rabbi Dev Noily, Senior Rabbi

Pronouns: They/Them

Rabbi Dev Noily grew up in Tongva / Chumash territory in Southern California, with roots in Eastern Eurorpe (Cracow, Brzozow), and family migrations through New York and Palestine/Israel. Seeds of Torah were planted in them by Rabbi Michael Roth, z”l, and were watered by the queer Jewish community of Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco / Ramaytush Ohlone land. Rabbi Dev is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and also studied at the Graduate Theological Union and SVARA. They are a proud alum of San Francisco State University. R’ Dev trained as a chaplain with Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Philadelphia, and at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.

R’ Dev came to Kehilla in 2010, and served as the Director of Kehilla School, Associate Rabbi, and Co-Rabbi with R’ David Cooper before becoming Senior Rabbi in 2017. They are grateful beyond measure to be part of the Kehilla community.

Dev is moved to build empowered and nourishing Jewish community by connecting people with Jewish ancestral teachings and practices, including the creative interpretive practices that deepen our living relationship with Source of our lives. For them, nurturing this spiritual connection is the foundation for compassion, justice and joy.

Rabbi Dev is a co-founder of Jews on Ohlone Land, and of 700 Benches, Kehilla’s Beit Midrash/House of Study.

You can contact Rabbi Dev by email at rabbidev@kehillasynagogue.org.

Visit Rabbi Dev’s Page

Hazzan Shulamit Wise Fairman, Music Director

Pronouns: She/Her

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 shulamit@kehillasynagogue.org.

Michael Saxe-Taller-BEST

©Susan Freundlich

Michael Saxe-Taller, Executive Director

Pronouns: He/Him

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 michael@kehillasynagogue.org, or call (510) 547-2424 x101.

Visit the Executive Director’s Blog

Staff

Rabbi Gray Myrseth, Rabbi Educator

Pronouns: They/Them

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 rabbigray@kehillasynagogue.org or call (510) 547-2424 x109.

Visit Rabbi Gray Myrseth’s Blog

Elle Newton, Director of Communications & Membership Engagement

Pronouns: She/Her/They/Them

Elle is a writer, activist, digital designer and community organizer. She started getting more involved in Kehilla’s spiritual and activist communities in 2019 during the summer of #CloseTheCamps protests. A fourth-gen east Oaklander, she has degrees in art and history from Mills. Since its founding in 2016, Elle Aviv has been director of a literary non-profit, for which she has led readings, workshops and exhibitions focused on activism, art and poetry in the Bay Area and around the country. She was Writer in Residence and Community Programs Director at BabeLab Gallery from 2015-2018. Newton has lived abroad extensively, most notably in Krung Thep, Firenze and Penang. She is a 2022 Kesher fellow with the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

You can contact Elle via elle@kehillasynagogue.org or at (510) 547-2424 x106.

Dee Ward, Office Administrator

Pronouns: She/Her

My name is Dee Ward and I’ve been with Kehilla Community Synagogue as a staff member for the last five (5) years. I am a native Californian originally from Los Angeles and I have lived in the Bay for 20+ years. I currently live with my husband Bobby, my son Cota, and my 92-year-old mother, Marty. In my years here at Kehilla I have broadened my knowledge of Judaism and although my family and I are Christians and a member of First African Methodist Church, at Kehilla I’m considered an “Honorary Jew of Color” and I say to folks that I am a Christian with Jewish tendencies. I continue to feel honored to work at Kehilla as I fully embrace my spiritual gift of helping others and this community allows me the ability to walk in my gift, as it embodies servitude for others.

You can contact Dee by email at dee@kehillasynagogue.org or call (510) 547-2424 x100.

Ruthie Levin, People of Color Organizer

Pronouns: She/Her

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 ruthie@kehillasynagogue.org or call (510) 547-2424 x108.

Natalie Boskin, Assistant Director of Youth Programs

Pronouns: She/Her

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

Rabbi SAM Luckey, Rabbinic Program & Community Builder
An Oakland native, Rabbi SAM was ordained at Hebrew College in Boston in 2020, returning home to work as a Chaplain Resident at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. A long-time Kehilla member, Rabbi SAM was a graduate of our Bar/Bat Mitzvah program, a past Board co-Chair, a founder of Glitter Kehilla, and Kehilla’s first Rabbinic Intern, during which they founded our Rad Trad Kab Shab experience and was a leader in the founding of our Belonging & Allyship Racial Justice Initiative. Rabbi SAM’s work at Kehilla is focused on key programs and community “pockets,” including our Conversion and Adult B’nei Mitzvah programs, Radically Inclusive Liturgically Traditional Kabbalat Shabbat (Rad Trad Kab Shab), and creating a chavura for folx withbabies and tots (age 0 – 4). After many years of being a professional circus performer, Rabbi SAM continues to climb on everything and prefers being upside-down.

You can contact Rabbi SAM at rabbisam@kehillasynagogue.org.

Maria Lewis, Kehilla School Administrator
Maria joined the Kehilla team in the summer of 2022, filling the new role of Kehilla School Administrator, working alongside Rabbi Gray Myrseth and Natalie Boskin. Maria has been an activist and educator since her youth, and loves helping shape the next generation of Jewish changemakers. Born and raised in the Ramaytush Ohlone territory commonly known as San Francisco, Maria has been attending services and taking adult education classes at Kehilla since 2015. She is an organizer with Jews On Ohlone Land, and a regular participant in Kehilla’s White Folks Decentering Whiteness Affinity Group. She loves kids, community, and pizza-based pedagogy.

You can contact Maria at maria@kehillasynagogue.org.

Kavitha Prabhu, Bookkeeper
Kavitha has a background in business and science and has 2 Bachelor’s degrees. She has worked in accounting, administration, and human resources in a variety of industries in the Bay Area. Kehilla’s unique blend of spirituality and service to empower people and heal the world was what drew Kavitha to Kehilla. She feels grateful and excited to be a part of the Kehilla team in 2021!
You can contact Kavitha at kavitha@kehillasynagogue.org or (510) 547-2424 x102.

Fred Williamson, Custodian
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.

You can contact Fred at fred@kehillasynagogue.org or (510) 547-2424 x162.

Spiritual Leaders

Rabbi David Jonathan Cooper, Emeritus Rabbi

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 rabbidavid@kehillasynagogue.org or call (510) 547-2424 x103.

Visit Rabbi David’s Page

rabbi-burtRabbi Burt Jacobson, Founding Rabbi

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 rabburt@icloud.com or (510) 283-5704.

Visit Rabbi Burt’s Page

Howard HamburgerHoward Hamburger, Spiritual Leader
Bio coming soon.

Avi-RoseAvi Rose, Spiritual Leader

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-9-14-150x150Sharon Grodin, Spiritual Leader

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, Spiritual Leader Emerita

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 cgusfield@gmail.com.

Musical Prayer Leaders

DebbieFier-happy-150x150Debbie Fier, Musical Prayer Leader

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.

bethBeth Dickinson, Musical Prayer Leader

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.

JULIENESNANSKY-150x150Julie Nesnansky, Musical Prayer Leader

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 and Alon Altman, Musical Prayer and Tot Shabbat Leaders

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.

For more info check out her websites, www.jenmiriam.com and Ketubot and Puppets by Jen Miriam.

TOP