After careers in health care administration and real estate, Kol Ami president Marcel Infeld is currently retired and lives in Falls Church with his wife, GWU professor Donna Infeld. Their daughter, Amanda, who was Bat-Mitzvahed at Kol Ami, is a student at GWU.
Marcel grew up in a Hasidic family in Belgium during WWII. After the war, he immigrated to Israel (then Palestine), where he became fluent in Hebrew. After immigrating to the US in 1951, Marcel studied in Yeshivas in Brooklyn and Jerusalem before earning a B.S. degree from Brooklyn College. After a two-year stint in Ethiopia as a Peace Corps teacher, Marcel worked for the federal government. He then earned an MPH degree (Master of public health) in health care administration.
Marcel has been a member of Kol Ami since 2006. He has taught several courses, including the ongoing Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) class, currently in its fourth and final year, and adult education classes in Hebrew reading and leyning (Torah chanting). Marcel is also an occasional service leader.
Ervin Walter was born in Sweden to Romanian parents. He grew up in an orthodox home and completed his Jewish studies at the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington. His Jewish upbringing was shaped by his parents and their many friends representing most of the East European cultures.
Ervin has been a member of Kol Ami since 2003. He was a teacher in the early years of JCEP and was given the remarkable opportunity to teach his children for their b’nei mitzvah. He has been on the Steering Committee for many years and is currently the Treasurer.
Ervin is a CPA and a graduate of the University of Maryland where he received his MBA in finance. He is President of Federal Management Services, a software and development company providing research support technologies to the National Institutes of Health.
He is married to Laura and has four children – Elizabeth, Katherine, Melissa, and Benjamin. He enjoys running, biking, and old-time radio.
Elizabeth Lower-Basch has served Kol Ami in a variety of roles, as JCEP teacher, treasurer, and currently secretary. She works for an anti-poverty policy organization in DC, and participated in the 2013-2014 Selah Jewish Social Justice Leadership Program.
My critical Jewish experience growing up was participating in my temple youth group and in CRaFTY. I loved the energy and the opportunity for anyone to take a leadership role. I joined Kol Ami because I wanted to share that participatory experience with my family.
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. I also serve as Kol Ami's Community Coordinator.
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. In 2009, Rabbi Leila received the special honor of an additional rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z"l), the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement.
Rabbi Leila also 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 and incorporated into her book, The Words Speak our Lives: A Contemplative Approach to the Book of Genesis.
Rabbi Leila lives in Rockville, Maryland with her wife, Franna Ruddell.
Erin Bueno de Mesquita is delighted to be part of the JCEP teaching team for the second year, working with the newer Hebrew learners and Jewish Studies. She was brought up in the Reform tradition. Her two children, Nate (12) and Clara (9), 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.
Having taught university students for 13 years, Zach Schrag is now trying his hand with JCEP students for the first time. Zach grew up in New York City and Washington, D.C., where he attended Tifereth IsraeI, a Conservative synagogue. He and his wife, Rebecca Tushnet, have two children, both enrolled in JCEP. A historian of the United States, Zach hopes to include some American Jewish history as he helps teach intermediate Jewish Studies.
Jen Sklarew is thrilled to start her third 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. A fluent Japanese speaker, Jen also teaches energy policy at George Mason University.
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.