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Clergy Bios

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 on November 14, 2006. Rabbi Akselrad grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1947. He was assistant rabbi at Temple Beth El in Detroit in the late 1940s and early 1950s before moving to Berkeley in 1952 to serve as spiritual leader at Congregation Beth El, where he worked for 10 years before coming to Beth Am. 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, Jr. and the Freedom Riders and marched for civil rights in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. Rabbi Akselrad's deep personal commitment continue to serve as an example and inspiration to the Beth Am community.

Rabbi Emeritus Richard A. Block

Rabbi Richard Block served as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Am from 1987-1999. Designated “One of the top 25 pulpit rabbis in America” by Newsweek, Rabbi Block was ordained by Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 1982, receiving awards for academic distinction, writing, and sermonic excellence. In 2007, HUC-JIR awarded him an honorary doctorate, describing him as a “gifted rabbi…whose hallmark of service embodies the spirit of teaching and learning.”

While Rabbi of Greenwich (CT) Reform Synagogue, 1982-87, he was elected President, Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy and founded Jewish Community Services of Greenwich, a respected human services agency. The Council of Churches and Synagogues of Lower Fairfield County awarded him its Humanitarian Award for leadership "worthy of esteem and commendation" that "made a significant difference in his community and in our whole region."

As Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Am (1987-99) he inspired the Koret Synagogue Initiative, a national partnership for educational innovation, and played a primary role in founding Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School. Under his visionary leadership, Beth Am integrated nearly a thousand families from the former Soviet Union in Jewish life, and Jewish Family and Children's Services of San Francisco’s awarded him a “FAMMY,” “in appreciation of extraordinary caring and dedicated community service.” He also served on Palo Alto’s Human Relations Commission.
 

Following a two-year term as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem, he served as Senior Rabbi of The Temple – Tifereth Israel in Cleveland from 2001 to 2018, transforming the congregation’s culture. On behalf of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, he led an international partnership that assisted 10,000 Ethiopian-Israeli children and their families, and he chaired Federation’s Black – Jewish Relations Task Force. He was instrumental in creating the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Case Western Reserve University’s Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple – Tifereth Israel, and The Temple’s Jack and Lilyan Mandel Building. Upon retirement, he was named Senior Rabbi Emeritus.

As President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the international rabbinic leadership organization of Reform Judaism, he represented it on The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and chaired the Reform Leadership Council, comprised of the top leaders of the Movement’s legacy institutions. He currently chairs the CCAR Past Presidents Council. He was a longtime member and Vice Chair of the Pension Board of Reform Judaism.

Prior to rabbinic studies, Rabbi Block graduated with honors from the Wharton School, and from Yale Law School, where he was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. After clerking for a federal district judge, he served on active duty in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps, as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney and on the faculty of the Naval Justice School, Newport, RI. Upon release from active duty in 1977, he briefly practiced law in San Francisco.

Rabbi Block’s writings have appeared widely in prominent publications and social media. His books range from Sacred Pilgrimage: A Jewish Reflection on Life, Death, and Eternity to How I Wish I Could Fish!, a fable for children and parents.

He and Susie Block, a respected community leader and volunteer, have been married since 1969. They are blessed with two beloved sons and daughters-in-law and six cherished grandchildren.

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum
Consulting Senior Rabbi
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Rabbi Gary Greenebaum is a consultant, executive coach, writer and teacher living in Los Angeles.  He has expertise in organizational development, particularly leadership and board development.  He has worked as executive director of non-profit organizations for over 30 years.

For more than two decades Rabbi Greenebaum worked for American Jewish Committee, an organization dedicated to protecting human rights and religious freedom in the U.S. and around the world. He served as the Los Angeles-based Western Regional Director of AJC from 1990-2006, and subsequently as AJC’s national Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations for four years.

Long active in social policy issues, Rabbi Greenebaum served as President of the Los Angeles Police Commission, working to reform the LAPD in the wake of the Rodney King beating.  He has also served as a member of the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California.  He has worked extensively in international relations and as a result of his efforts to build bridges between the Jewish community and the French government, he was awarded the French National Order of Merit in 2006, which was presented to him by the French Ambassador to the United States.

Greenebaum was Executive Producer of the 2007 feature length documentary film Darfur Now which was released by Warner Brothers and shown, by invitation, at the Toronto Film Festival. Until recently, Rabbi Greenebaum served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Claremont School of Theology, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

Prior to working for AJC, Rabbi Greenebaum served as a congregational rabbi, as San Francisco Hillel Director, and then as the Regional Hillel Director for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ordained at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati in 1978, Rabbi Greenebaum also received an MA in Jewish Communal Service from HUC-JIR in Los Angeles. He completed intensive coach training sponsored by the Los Angeles Center for Non-Profit Management and accredited by the International Coach Federation.

Cantor Emerita Kay Greenwald
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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 Greenwald 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 Greenwald continues to participate in the musical life of the congregation, singing occasionally on the bimah and concert venues, as well as participating in life cycle events from time to time. Cantor Greenwald is a past president of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) — the professional cantorial organization of the Reform Movement. Having served eleven years as ACC Director of Placement, Cantor Greenwald was named Director of Placement Emerita upon her retirement in July of 2023. 

Cantor Greenwald is married to Dr. Lee Greenwald; their wonderful son and daughter-in-law live in Southern California.

Rabbi Emerita Janet Marder

Rabbi Janet Marder served Congregation Beth Am from 1999 until her retirement in 2020. In her 21 years as Senior Rabbi, she focused on partnering with members to create a community of loving concern, seeking to embody the highest values of Torah. She 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 LGBTQ Jews. From 1988 to 1999, Rabbi Marder served the Reform Movement as Associate Director and then Director of the Pacific Southwest Region.
 
Rabbi Marder was the first woman to be elected President of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis; in April 2003 she was elected the first woman president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Following three years of study, she became a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Rabbi Marder and her husband, Rabbi Sheldon Marder, served as co-editors, translators, writers and commentators for two liturgical projects published by the Reform Movement: Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe and Mishkan HaLev: Prayers for S'lichot and the Month of Elul (CCAR, 2015 and 2017); they served as translators for Mishkan HaSeder: A Passover Haggadah (CCAR, 2021). In retirement, they are working on a new translation of the Torah, to be published, with commentary, by the CCAR.

The Marders delight in their two adult daughters, Betsy Marder Friedman and Rabbi Rachel Marder; in their son-in-law, Mike Friedman, and daughter-in-law, Rabbi Hilly Haber; and in their wonderful grandchildren.

Rabbi Jonathan Prosnit
Associate Rabbi
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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. They have two sons, Ezra and Max, and a daughter, Winnie.

Cantor Jaime Shpall
Cantor
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Originally from Southern California, Cantor Jaime Shpall joined 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.

At Beth Am, Cantor Shpall leads our B’nei Mitzvah program and has been implementing innovations that help build feelings of community and love for Judaism among kids and families alike. Through her work with the URJ’s Communities of Practice – B’nei Mitzvah Revolution, Cantor Shpall has introduced our annual 6th Grade Family Retreat, for upcoming B’nei Mitzvah and their families as well as our 7th grade Beit Midrash class.

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 Debbie Friedman 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 are members of the Zimriyah, Beth Am’s fabulous Jr. Choir.

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 death on March 26, 2016. A veteran of musical theater and opera, Cantor Unterman 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's School of Sacred Music in 1967. Cantor Unterman served Temple Sinai in Oakland, Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, and as a Jewish Chaplain at San Quentin before coming to Beth Am in 1981. During his many years as cantor, he trained hundreds of young congregants for their B'nei Mitzvah as well as many adults who participated in the Adult B'nei Mitzvah program. Cantor Unterman also led the volunteer adult choir and worked with the Beth Am Music Committee. His engaging teaching style and openness were legendary, as recalled by countless congregants whose lives he touched, matching the impact of his expressive and resonant singing voice.

Rabbi Heath Watenmaker
Associate Rabbi
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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.

In his Associate 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 Beth Am’s Small Groups initiative, 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 Weissman
Associate Rabbi
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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. She also serves as the staff person for Beth Am’s Caring Committees, including Beit Refuah (mental health support), Tikvah (peer support), Yad l’Yad (friendly visitors), Mitzvah Meals, Gesharim (end-of-life issues), and the Chevrah Kadisha (burial society).

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. As a student, she worked as a teaching and research assistant to Dr. Eugene Borowitz, one of the leading theologians of the Reform movement.

Rabbi Sarah and her husband, Eric Weissman, are proud parents of a son, Maverick.

Sat, February 24 2024 15 Adar I 5784