I was raised in an Orthodox home in Baltimore, completing the high school department of the (then) Baltimore Hebrew College, in addition to public high school. In those days, I was also active in the B'nai Brith Youth Organization's Aleph Zadik Aleph program.
Through my college years, I became disconnected with the Judaism that I was raised on, but I began to reconstruct Judaism to address the social change commitment I made in my life. The day I picked up The Freedom Seder by Rabbi Arthur Waskow was the day I learned that Judaism could be made relevant to my own concerns. I spent over 40 years working in affordable housing as my contribution to Tikkun Olam.
While my kids were educated in a Conservative cheder, I was a member of the Fabrangen Community in DC for over 15 years. (Fabrangen is a lay-led chavurah that now is over 35 years old.) In 1994, I met my wife Janice while on retreat at Elat Chayyim. At Elat Chayyim, I experienced the Shabbat of my life. I returned wanting to re-create that experience every Shabbat.
I've been active in Kol Ami, the Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community since December 2000. During that time, I have led a number of services, been active in the Steering and Ritual Committees, and drafted the Haggadah and Machzor (always works in progress).
What I love about Reconstructionism is our intimate connection to Judaism, our thoughtful approach to services, the sound of guitar and tambourines as we davven, and the fresh ways we connect to HaShem. It is a joy to bond with our growing community, meeting new people who feel like old friends.
Jim North joined Kol Ami in 2003 as he began weaving Jewish threads of his Judeo-Christian up-bringing in a spirit and song-filled Southern Baptist home into his life's tapestry. Drawn to Jewish values and beliefs harmonious with his spiritual development, Jim studied with Rabbi Berner for his formal conversion to Judaism in July 2004, and he most recently was called to read from the Torah as one of Kol Ami's first bnai mitzvah in June 2005. Jim loves to cook and sing and he lends his voice to the celebration of Shabbat at home with his partner Richard, as well as at Kol Ami. He has served on the Steering Committee and enjoys supporting the community in a variety of lay leader roles.
Dr. Richard Ruth, a member of Kol Ami, is a clinical psychologist in private practice; he is also an associate professor at the George Washington University Center for Professional Psychology and on the steering committee of the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Program at the Washington School of Psychiatry. He is trilingual (Spanish and Yiddish) and lived and worked in South America, Europe and the Caribbean before settling in Arlington. When not watching Law and Order reruns or lost in a book, he can often be found at Kol Ami services, singing heartily if not always in tune.
Rabbi Leila Gal Berner was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and received a doctorate in medieval Jewish History from UCLA. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she lived for ten years. A citizen of both Israel and the United States, She is also a licensed Israel Government Tourist Guide. In 2009, Rabbi Leila received the special honor of an additional rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement.
For over two decades, Rabbi Leila has served Reconstructionist congregations in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Maryland. Rabbi Leila was the founding director of the Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She is a commentator in the Kol Haneshamah prayer book series published by the Reconstructionist Press. Over the years, Rabbi Leila has also authored several articles for The Reconstructionist magazine.
Our rabbi came to learn about Reconstructionism in her late 20’s and has been a dedicated and passionate advocate for a Reconstructionist approach to Judaism ever since. In a recently published article she commented: “I find that Reconstructionism is an approach that allows me to embrace Judaism intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. Its theology speaks powerfully to me, as does its approach to Jewish peoplehood, history and issues of social justice.”
Rabbi Leila has taught at some of our country’s leading universities and colleges: Reed and Swarthmore colleges, Emory, George Washington and American universities. At American University, she served for over a decade as Scholar-in-Residence in the Department of Philosophy and Religion.
In addition to serving as Kol Ami’s rabbi, Rabbi Leila serves as Dean of Students of the Aleph (Alliance for Jewish Renewal) Ordination Program where she teaches rabbinical and cantorial students how to passionately, creatively and lovingly lead the Jewish people into the future.
Rabbi Leila has pioneered a new approach to integrating Torah’s wisdom through “Contemplative Torah,” which she has taught throughout North America. She is currently completing a book entitled, The Words Speak our Lives: A Contemplative Approach to the Book of Genesis.
Rabbi Leila lives in Rockville, Maryland with her wife, Franna Ruddell, is Ima (Hebrew for mom) to her beloved Kayla Moriya Gal, and Savta (Hebrew for ‘grandma’) to Franna’s and her sweet Olivia. In 2014, Rabbi Leila and Franna are joyfully anticipating a second grandchild.
Erin Bueno de Mesquita is delighted to be joining the JCEP teaching team to work with the newest Hebrew learners. She was brought up in the reform tradition. Her two children, Nate (11) and Clara (8), attend JCEP. During the work week, Erin teaches English to second language learners at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School. Before becoming an ESOL teacher, she lived in Mexico playing the French horn for 14 years.
The son of a sabra and the grandson of kibbutzniks, Steve grew up in New York City, where he pursued Jewish learning (or it pursued him) as far as a flop of a semester in the Jewish Theological Seminary high school program. He played the violin (still does), became a public radio producer and then a civil rights lawyer and law teacher, and has lived in Virginia and D.C. since the early 1980s. He's been a ba'al koreh (the fancy term for a Torah reader) at Agudas Achim in Alexandria, and at Adas Israel, the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, and the Hill Havurah in D.C. He and his cellist spouse Emily Toll came to Kol Ami with their son Noah in 2013, drawn to JCEP in particular. Steve taught Hebrew to a small JCEP class of "older beginners" in 2013-14, and this year will teach intermediate Hebrew and Jewish studies, always looking for fun ways to demystify our language and tradition and make them more interesting.
This is the eighth year Eric is teaching in the Hebrew school at Kol Ami. Raised in both the conservative and reform traditions, as a young adult he tutored children in Hebrew language study. At Kol Ami, he teaches Hebrew and Jewish studies. He brings a passion for ancient history and for explaining how Jewish life has coexisted and interwoven with the great empires of the past. He also enjoys helping kids relate age-old Jewish concepts and texts to their modern American lives. He has two children, one of whom went through the JCEP program and was bar mitzvahed at Kol Ami and another on the bat mitzvah track.
Jen Sklarew is thrilled to start her second year of teaching her own and others' children in JCEP. She enjoys bringing into (and sometimes out of) the classroom experiences from her own education in a Reconstructionist congregation in the Philadelphia area, as well as her love of languages and art. Jen aims to share with her students the fun and beauty of Hebrew learning. She also cherishes the opportunity to help build a young Kol Ami community founded on the concept of Tikkun Olam -- healing the world. Jen looks forward to exploring and exchanging ideas with her students.
KANVRC News is an announcement-only e-mail list for visitors who want information about upcoming Kol Ami events and programs sponsored by the Jewish Reconstructionist Communities. Kol Ami members receive this and other information on an internal e-mail list.