I grew up in a family which was very active in an extrmemly liberal Protestant church. Before I was even out of grade school I had learned that none of the concepts which hold Christianity together (like the Virgin birth or the bodily resurrection) were true, so I began my search for a religion which made sense. I considered myself to be a misplaced Jew from a very early age.
Poetry also came to me while I was quite young. From my earliest writing I included imagery in what I wrote, and lingered on the sounds words made when I said them.
I have taught for thirty years in Special Education and then as a Reading Specialist. I have been teaching my students to write poetry for the last 25 years. I have also studied Poetry Therapy and Midrashic writing.
Writing poetry is my form of meditation. Many of my poems come to me when I just sit quietly and reflect.
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 have spent over 30 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 25 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 NVRC 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.
Born and raised in Montreal, Rabbi Gilah Langner has been active in the Washington DC Jewish community for over twenty years, particularly in the field of adult education. She has taught dozens of courses and served as President of the Jewish Study Center, and most recently, as Director of the Open Academy program of the Foundation for Jewish Studies. She is currently an adjunct instructor at the Catholic University of America, and teaches numerous small group study sessions in the Jewish community. She also leads family-oriented services for several congregations in Northern Virginia. She has long been affiliated with the Fabrangen havurah and is also a member of Tifereth Israel Congregation and Adas Israel Congregation.
Prior to Rabbi Langner’s ordination in 2003, she was self-employed as a public policy and publications consultant for government and non-profit groups. She has served on the boards of the Foundation for Jewish Studies, the DC Jewish Community Center, and Shalshelet: the Foundation for New Jewish Liturgical Music, and she is active in the organization Rabbis for Human Rights. In 1992, Rabbi Langner co-founded the journal Kerem (www.kerem.org), as a national forum for creative explorations in Jewish rituals, liturgy, texts, and spirituality.
Rabbi Langner lives with her husband David Drelich and their son Judah in Washington, DC.
Joan Goldfarb is excited to share with our youngest children the beauty and meaning of our Jewish heritage, through the seasonal celebrations, rich stories, music, and time-honored traditions that enrich our lives. Joan has two children -- ages 11 and 8 -- in the Jewish Children's Education Program. She grew up in a conservative home, and attended Jewish Day school for several years.
Mike Jawer has had the pleasure of teaching Kol Ami's children since 2006. They've included his own kids, Gabrielle (age 14) and Bradley (age 12), making the experience even more special. Mike was raised in a Conservative shul outside of Philadelphia, where he taught chanted Torah, led services, and worked with all ages of kids. As a 20-something professional in DC, he helped students at Washington, DC's Temple Micah prepare for their b'nai and b'not mitzvah -- a tradition he continues at Kol Ami. Mike also coordinates the shul's new Teen Club, a program to keep post-b'nai mitzvah young adults engaged with Judaism and with one another. Along with his parent-teacher colleagues, Mike aims to impart an appreciation for how rich our Judaic heritage is and how truly cool it is to be Jewish.
Elizabeth Lower-Basch (Morah Channah) is excited to be joining the Kol Ami JCEP teaching team this year. Her children, Daniel (12) and Nicholas (9) have been active JCEP participants for several years. Elizabeth grew up attending a reform synagogue in New York City, and her participation as a young adult in CRaFTY was formative to her Jewish identity. When not participating in Kol Ami activities, Elizabeth can be found working as a policy analyst for a DC nonprofit, reading or kayaking. Her teaching goals are to make learning about Judaism and Hebrew a positive experience and to build a sense of community among our children.
This is the seventh year Eric has been teaching in the Hebrew school at Kol Ami, where his two children (ages 10 and 14) are enrolled in the education program. 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.
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.