Meet Our Team
Meet Our Team
Cantor Jaime Shpall
Congregation Beth Am is served by an outstanding clergy and programming staff. Rabbi Janet Marder, who has been with Beth Am since 1999, is the fourth senior rabbi in the history of Beth Am. She sets a tone of warmth and inclusiveness that permeates this dynamic staff. Our staff come from a variety of Jewish backgrounds and reflect the wonderful diversity that is characteristic of this community.
Rabbi Janet Ross Marder, Senior Rabbi
Rabbi Janet Marder, a Los Angeles native, graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz and was ordained in 1979 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Following ordination, she pursued graduate studies in the Department of Comparative Literature at UCLA, specializing in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish.
In 1983, she became the first ordained rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim, a Los Angeles synagogue with special outreach to lesbian and gay Jews. During her five years with that congregation, she founded NECHAMA, a Federation-funded program of AIDS education for the Jewish community. From 1988 to 1999, Rabbi Marder served the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the URJ), providing leadership and guidance to Reform synagogues in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas.
In August 1999, she became Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Am. In her Vision for the Congregation, presented in April 2009, she said, “I want us to be a congregation that is Jewishly dynamic, focused on moving every member forward from where they are right now. Imagine a synagogue in which you’re always looking for ways to climb up to the next step; progressing towards deeper learning, richer faith and spiritual development, greater commitment and practice. In this place, we’re ambitious for our own growth; we’ve tasted something delicious and we’re always hungry for the next bite. Our Judaism is not fueled by habit, guilt or fear of anti-Semitism; we’re drawn forward by love and joy, motivated by curiosity and the search for meaning. We know that new discoveries will unfold every year of our life; we’re excited about making this lifelong journey with good companions who will be with us all the way.”
Rabbi Janet Marder's articles have appeared in Reform Judaism Magazine, The Reconstructionist, Sh'ma and several anthologies. She has served as President of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, the first woman and the first non-congregational rabbi to be elected to that office. In April 2003 Rabbi Marder was elected the first woman president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. She is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and is co-editor of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new High Holy Day Machzor for the Reform Movement. She is married to Rabbi Sheldon Marder of the Jewish Home in San Francisco; they have two daughters, Betsy and Rachel, and one granddaughter, Maisie Frances.
Rachel Tasch, Executive Director
Rachel Tasch joined Beth Am as Executive Director in June, 2012. In this role, Rachel combines her passion for engaging others in Jewish life with her professional management experience. Before settling in California in 1998 and joining Beth Am, Rachel managed the Canadian practice of a health care consulting firm, Technology Assessment Group. As our Executive Director, Rachel oversees the daily operations of the congregation, translating Beth Am’s mission statement into concrete reality. She oversees finance, technology and facilities, setting a tone of warmth in every interaction. She enjoys helping members and prospective members take the next step on their Jewish journey.
Before joining the Beth Am staff, Rachel was a member of the Board of Directors from 2005-2012, serving as President of the congregation from 2009-2011. During her tenure as President, she spearheaded the acquisition of the adjacent parcel of land purchased in 2011. Rachel holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Biology from Stanford University and an MBA, with a focus on marketing, finance and health administration, from the University of Chicago. More recently, she participated in the Wexner Heritage Program, an intensive Jewish studies program for community leaders across the country.
Rachel and her husband Ted live in Menlo Park with their three children, Sam (now off at college), Ethan and Joanna. With her kids, she enjoys following college and professional basketball. In her free time, she loves to walk the Dish.
Rebecca DeHovitz, Assistant Educator
Rebecca DeHovitz is a Palo Alto native and a lifetime member of Congregation Beth Am. Rebecca received her undergraduate degree at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, where she studied Spanish, Judaic Studies and Elementary Education. In 2013 she studied abroad in Mendoza, Argentina, improving her Spanish as well as learning about the local Jewish community. Before coming joining the Beth Am team Rebecca served as the president of Brandeis Hillel’s Reform Jewish group and worked as a student teacher in a second grade classroom. In her free time she enjoys reading, hiking and spending time with her family and friends.
Becky DePalma, Director of Teen Engagement
Becky DePalma oversees our post B'nei Mitzvah programming; youth groups (BATY and BAJY); the Madrichim (teaching assistants) program; Avodah! and Jewish GPS class. Additionally, she is the Madrichim-in-Training Rosh at Camp Beth Am.
Becky DePalma, born and raised in Syracuse, NY, was an active member of Temple Concord. Her teen years were spent in NFTY-NEL, and she attended the University of Toronto, graduating in 2005. After college, she worked as a grassroots campaign activist in Boston, where she met her husband to-be and with whom she moved to Berkeley. In 2007 she began working at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. During that time, she revamped and re-energized the youth programming by partnering with the teens to create engaging, challenging and fun Jewish experiences. While working at Beth El, she also earned her Jewish Service Learning Certification at San Francisco State University and a Certificate in Jewish Education focused on adolescents and emerging adults at HUC-JIR. Becky is married to Sam Lockhart who is a postdoctoral researcher in cognitive neuroscience at UC Berkeley. Becky and Sam’s son, Daniel, was born in 2013 to their delight. They live in Redwood City. In her free time, Becky loves to play violin, sing and dance with her boys, hula hoop dance, play with her dog Sir Wellington, go to baseball games, downhill ski and hike with her family.
The Director of Teen Engagement position is partially funded by a grant from the Seiler Family Fund of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund.
Mandy Eisner, Director of Development
Mandy Eisner oversees all development-related activities at Beth Am. She has helped Beth Am ensure long-term financial stability through realization of our goals for the Fund for the Future endowment as well as creating and directing our Annual Campaign, Legacy Giving program and various special community events.
A Bay Area native and graduate of UC Santa Barbara with degrees in English and French, Mandy has had adventures living in France, Jerusalem, New York and Los Angeles and has worked in the non-profit sector since 1993. Before joining the Beth Am team in 2007, Mandy was the Regional Director for the Association of Reform Zionists of America and World Union for Progressive Judaism in Los Angeles. During that time, she raised awareness and funds for the international Reform movement and had the fascinating opportunity to work with Progressive Jews from all over the world. She is currently the President of ATID (Advancing Temple Institutional Development), the Union for Reform Judaism’s development professional affiliate group.
Mandy is married to Dennis Eisner, who is the Senior Rabbi of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo. They have a daughter, Sadie, and son Max.
Michael Mason, Educator
Michael Mason was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Buffalo, New York. He graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2000. In 2005, Mike graduated with Master’s degrees in Social Work (from the University of Southern California) and in Jewish Communal Service (from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles).
A musician his whole life, Mike began songleading at another Beth Am (in Buffalo, NY) at the age of 15. As part of a graduate school project, Mike began facilitating drum circles in Jewish settings. His belief that drumming was the optimal way to make music accessible to everyone was quickly proven to be right.
At Beth Am, his responsibilities as Educator include directing Sunday Program, Camp Beth Am, Tuesday Night Program, AVODAH! and Shabbat Sha-Boogie.
Mike is married to Rabbi Erin Mason, who is the Director of Camp Newman, our regional URJ camp. Mike and Erin have three children, Zachary, Eliza and Aviva. Mike loves the Buffalo Bills, discovering new music and hanging out with his family.
Rabbi Jonathan Prosnit, Associate Rabbi
Rabbi Jonathan Prosnit was born on Manhattan's Upper West Side. He earned his bachelor's degree from Trinity College in Hartford, CT and was ordained by the Hebrew Union College in New York City. As a Rabbinical student, he has worked in East Liverpool, Ohio; Melbourne Australia; and at Temple Micah in Washington, D.C. Rabbi Jonathan has also interned at Westchester Reform Temple where he worked on their Next Dor project, creating dynamic programs geared toward New York's unaffiliated 20/30-year-olds. Prior to Rabbinical School, Rabbi Jonathan worked as a Community Liaison for a New York State Senator and as an ESL teacher in Santiago, Chile.
Rabbi Jonathan joined the Beth Am team in the summer of 2011. At Beth Am, Rabbi Jonathan works with middle and high school students, the Beth Am Men's group (BAM) and with the Beth Am's social justice and social action networks. He likes to be outdoors and loves to play golf, tennis and basketball. Rabbi Jonathan is married to Erin Gleeson, who is a photographer and has a wonderful son, Ezra!
Cantor Jaime Shpall, Cantor
Originally from Southern California, Cantor Jaime Shpall joins Beth Am after 16 years of serving congregations, first in Austin, Texas and then in Scottsdale, Arizona. Her beautiful voice and warm personality made her beloved in both congregations. Her work with the B’nei Mitzvah program at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale included developing a congregant-mentor program for B’nei Mitzvah families and introducing a tradition of students returning on the anniversary of their B’nei Mitzvah to participate in services. She also formed adult and youth choirs who sing at the High Holy Days and year-round, and she led a range of programming, most recently spearheading the congregation’s Mitzvah Day effort, which brought out hundreds of participants.
Cantor Shpall received Bachelor's degrees in Psychology and Music from the University of California, Santa Cruz, during which time she worked on the staff of Camp Swig and taught religious school in our area (even substitute teaching at Beth Am on occasion!). She was ordained in 1997 by the School of Sacred Music of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, and she recently participated in the Clergy Leadership Program of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.Cantor Shpall and her husband, Marcel Bergmann, are the proud parents of twins, Samuel and Ella, who will be entering kindergarten in the fall.
Rabbi Heath Watenmaker, Assistant Rabbi
After his ordination in 2011 from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Heath served as Reform Outreach Initiative Rabbi at Rutgers Hillel in New Jersey (the first initiative of its kind). In addition to his rabbinical degree, Rabbi Heath holds a Masters in Social Work from USC (where he also earned a BA in English) and a Masters in Jewish Communal Service from HUC, where he was a colleague and good friend of our own educator Mike Mason.
In his Assistant Rabbi role at Beth Am, Rabbi Heath has a full range of worship, pastoral and lifecycle responsibilities, with a special emphasis on member engagement. His work involves implementing innovative ways of engaging members of all ages, developing a network of peer engagement fellows, as well as enhancing Shabbat worship and teaching courses, especially on “big questions” in Judaism. He also has a passion for advocacy and social justice.
Originally from Southern California, Rabbi Heath and and his wife, Amy, are proud parents of a son, Ilan, and daughter, Cayla.
Rabbi Sarah W. Weissman, Associate Rabbi
Rabbi Sarah Weissman has been at Congregation Beth Am since 2008. In addition to her pastoral and pulpit duties, Rabbi Sarah oversees the adult education program, and teaches a popular Talmud class and the Adult B'nai Mitzvah class. She also serves as the staff person on the Interfaith Outreach Committee.
Rabbi Sarah was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She grew up in the warm embrace of Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe, where she volunteered in the administrative office and grew to love the day-to-day workings of the synagogue. She attended Amherst College in Massachusetts and graduated summa cum laude in 2003 with a degree in religion.
In 2008, Rabbi Sarah was ordained at the New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. During her tenure at HUC, Rabbi Sarah served several small congregations in the South. She also worked as a teaching and research assistant to Dr. Eugene Borowitz, one of the leading theologians of the Reform movement.
Rabbi Sarah is married to Eric Weissman, a financial advisor.
Rabbi Emeritus Sidney Akselrad (z"l)
Rabbi Sidney Akselrad was Beth Am's Senior Rabbi from 1962-1986 and continued to be a leader in the spiritual life of our congregation until his death November 14, 2006. He was past president of the Western Association of Reform Rabbis, and the Palo Alto Ministerial Association. He was also a recipient of the Jewish Community Service Award and the Stanford University Hospital Distinguished Service Award. Rabbi Akselrad was devoted to promoting civil rights throughout his life. He was founder of the Opportunity Industrialization Center West (OICW), which trained thousands of minority workers. He participated with Dr. Martin Luther King and the Freedom Riders and marched for civil rights in Selma and Montgomery , Alabama . Rabbi Akselrad's deep personal commitment served as an example and inspiration.
Rabbi Emeritus Richard A. Block
Rabbi Block was ordained and awarded a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1982. Upon ordination, he was chosen Rabbi of Greenwich Reform Synagogue in Riverside, Conn. Rabbi Block was Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Am from 1987 until 1999. His achievements included: a process of educational innovation that inspired a national partnership, the "Experiment in Congregational Education;" the creation of a nationally recognized program to integrate emigres from the former Soviet Union in Jewish life; and the Koret Synagogue Initiative, a unique collaboration between synagogues, the Koret Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation, aimed at reinvigorating synagogue life.
Prior to his rabbinical studies, Rabbi Block graduated with honors from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Yale Law School, where he was an editor of the law review.
Rabbi Block has served as Senior Rabbi, The Temple - Tifereth Israel, Cleveland and Beachwood, Ohio since May 2001. He and Susan G. Block have been married since 1969 and have two grown sons.
Cantor Emerita Kay Greenwald
In August 1997, Cantor Kay Greenwald became Congregation Beth Am's Cantor after serving for five years as Assistant and then Associate Cantor of our congregation. Before attending Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music, Cantor Kay pursued her Masters from the Eastman School of Music and sang opera throughout the world. She was the first woman to serve as clergy at Beth Am.
Cantor Kay continues to participate in the musical life of the congregation, singing occasionally on the bimah as well as in concert venues. A past president of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) - the professional cantorial organization of the Reform Movement - Cantor Kay currently serves as Director of Placement for the ACC.
Cantor Emeritus David Unterman (z"l)
Cantor Dave Unterman served as Beth Am's Cantor from 1981 to 1997. He continued to be an active part of the Beth Am community, teaching Jewish Spirituality and participating in musical events at Beth Am until his recent death March 26, 2016. A veteran of musical theater and opera, Cantor Dave sang with the San Francisco and New York Metropolitan Operas, the Lamplighters and the American Savoyards. He was a graduate of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion School and Sacred Music. During his many years as Cantor, he trained hundreds of young congregants for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah as well as many adults who participated in the Adult B'nei Mitzvah program. Cantor Dave also led the volunteer adult choir and worked with the Music Committee.