Year-Round Staff:

  • Gary Oren – Vice President, American Jewish University

    Rabbi Gary Oren joined American Jewish University as Vice President and Dean of the Whizin Center for Continuing Education in summer of 2013. Rabbi Oren is an alumnus of California State University, Fullerton where he completed his undergraduate degree, and Tel Aviv University where he studied towards an M.A. of Middle Eastern Studies. In 2008 he received his rabbinical ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.  Rabbi Oren brings a wealth of knowledge to AJU including over 5 years experience as the Rabbi of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, California. 

  • Morris Panitz - BCI Program Director

    Originally from Norfolk, Virginia, Morris attended the University of Maryland, where he earned a double degree in Philosophy and Jewish Studies.  Following completion of his undergraduate studies, Morris participated in the Adamah Fellowship at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, and served as a farm apprentice at Ocean Air farms.  In 2011, he joined the team at the Pearlstone Center, where he served as the Program Director, overseeing a wide array of educational programs, including farm-based field trips, conferences and retreats, immersive programs, and service learning.  Morris earned a certificate in Jewish experiential education from Yeshiva University and is a recipient of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship.  He is currently completing his rabbinical studies at the Ziegler School in Los Angeles.  Morris enjoys spending quality time with his wife, Elana, and daughter Ziva.  With his family, he loves hiking, camping, and visiting new places and communities.  He is a pianist, gardener, and he enjoys playing basketball and chess.  

  • Sara Himeles - BCI Rabbinic Intern

    Sara Himeles is a second year student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. Prior to attending rabbinical school, Sara served as a Special Assistant/Political Appointee in the Obama Administration at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where she wrote and edited speeches, testimony, press releases, and other materials for Secretary Janet Napolitano. Sara also wrote for Seventeen Magazine and managed social media and communications for a technology company in San Francisco. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Communications and Public Service and a minor in Creative Writing. 

Artists in Residence:

  • DANCE: Josefa Briant

    Born in Kibbutz Yagur in Israel, Josefa was a soloist in Israel's famed Bat Sheva Dance Company. In New York, she worked as a dancer with Merce Cunningham and Maggie Black, and an assistant choreographer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She also danced in the movie, Jesus Christ Superstar. Josefa now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she teaches "Creative Movement" to pre-school children, prepares B'nei Mitzvah students, and teaches Hebrew and Kabbalah at UNC-Asheville. BCI 2017 was Josefa's 14th year at BCI. 

  • MUSIC: Spencer Garfield

    Spencer Garfield is a Boston-based artist and teacher, with specialties in film, music, and theater. After graduating from UMass Amherst in 2012 with a BA focusing in communications, linguistics, and education, he taught for several seasons at a Jewish outdoor learning center, followed by a couple of years teaching in the Jewish day school and public school systems of Greater Boston, all while working ceaselessly at his various art projects. Currently, Spencer works as an independent video editor, Hebrew school teacher, and DJ with a Boston-based entertainment company. Other sporadic gigs have included visual effects on a feature film, vocal arrangements for a cappella, and lyric writing for Six13 and their recent hit parodies "Chanukah (Shake it Off)" and "Uptown Passover." Spencer's recent English adaptation of Israeli musician Matti Kovler's musical "Ami and Tami" will be featured this summer in Boston's Outside the Box festival. His favorite ice cream flavor is Cherry Garcia. 

  • SPOKEN WORD: Andrew Lustig

    Andrew is a Spoken Word performance artist. In the past few years Andrew has performed and offered keynote addresses in 100's of communities around the Jewish world. Andrew was recently commissioned to create Annual Campaign films for both JFNA and UJIA. Andrew has opened up for President Shimon Peres, PM David Cameron, Seth Meyers, Matisyahu, David Broza, and Henry Winkler. A 2013-2014 Dorot Fellow in Israel, Andrew studied mindfulness meditation under Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels and co-created the One Wish Film Project. Andrew also spent a year at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. Andrew enjoys pickup sports, cuddling with kittens, and rock climbing. Recently, Andrew learned to scuba dive! Andrew was a BCI participant in 2011 and on Staff in 2013, 14, 15, 16, & 17. They have been the happiest 6 summers of his life. 

  • FINE ARTS: Rachel Weber

    Rachel Weber is a native Southerner, born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Her earliest attempts at art-making were on the tiled floor of her parents' home. She continued a more serious pursuit of art at Brandeis University, where she immersed herself in Russian Literature as well, devoting herself to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky whilst covered in oil paints. Moving to New York City, she completed two years of post-bac work at the New York Studio School and then decided an MFA, at Parsons, was the lucrative degree she was lacking. In the last 9 years Rachel taught drawing at Parsons; received and worked on a Fulbright Grant in Jerusalem— photographing and then creating drawing installations of families throughout the country; created 3 small humans (Alexander, Lev & Felix); trained and attended births as a certified doula; and voyaged across the country to settle in the fair city of Los Angeles, California with her husband, Ephraim Pelcovits. Rachel loves cooking and baking, meandering around museums, and talking all things childbirth and childrearing. Running and singing are passions, as are reading and dance parties with her kids. 

  • NARRATIVE PUPPETRY: Yavni Bar-Yam

    Yavni is a puppeteer, which means he doesn't have to choose between being a performing, visual, or literary artist. He has performed traditional Italian masked comedy in Bangkok, Czech revolutionary theater in New York, and street clowning in Israel. He has created rod puppetry accompaniments to contemporary classical song cycles, and built a shadow puppet tale using a sukkah as the shadow screen. As a writer, his plays have been staged in New York and Boston, and his poetry has been printed in the U.S. and South Africa. Originally from Boston, Yavni recently moved to Israel, where he works as a teacher, writes, and has been learning new media of expression and getting to know the artistic scene. He has also been known to approximate quantum wave functions using the WKB method, and to approximate airplanes using small or large people on his feet. 

Beit Midrash Educators:

  • Yaffa Epstein

    Yaffa serves as the Director of Education, North America for the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. She received Rabbinic Ordination from Yeshivat Maharat and holds a Law Degree from Bar-Ilan University. She has studied at the Pardes Kollel, the Advanced Talmud Institute at Matan and the Talmud Department of Hebrew University. Yaffa has been a teacher of Talmud, Jewish law, and Liturgy at Pardes for over a decade, and has served as the Director of the Beit Midrash at the Dorot Fellowship in Israel. She has taught Talmud and Jewish Law at Yeshivat Maharat, The Drisha Institute, The Wexner Heritage New Members Institute, Kayam Farm Kollel and Young Judaea. Yaffa has lectured at Limmud Events around the world, has written curriculum for the Global Day of Jewish Learning and has created innovative educational programming for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. 

  • Aaron Alexander

    Rabbi Aaron Alexander is a co-senior rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC. He served for ten years as Associate Dean and Lecturer in Rabbinic and Jewish Law at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, where he also received his ordination. He has long sat on the highly prestigious Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) for the Conservative movement, the governing body determining Jewish law and practice for our entire movement. He is widely regarded as one of the nation’s leading authorities on Halacha (Jewish law) and is considered one of the foremost Talmud teachers of his generation. Rabbi Alexander was recently appointed as a Rabbi Samuel T. Lachs Fellow of LEAP, a joint program of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He is also a certified mashgiach (kosher supervisor) by the Conservative movement's Rav Hamachshir program. Rabbi Alexander and his wife, Rabbi Penina Alexander, have three young sons, Ariel, Eliav and Amos. 

  • Ruth Sohn

    Rabbi Ruth H Sohn is Director of the Leona Aronoff Rabbinic Mentoring Program at the Los Angeles School of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where she also serves as Rabbi of the Lainer Beit Midrash. Ordained in 1982 by HUC-JIR, Rabbi Sohn received her MA in Hebrew Letters in 1980. Her Rabbinic Thesis was on the relationship between law and ethics in the Talmud.  A graduate of Yale University with a BA in History, Rabbi Sohn has also studied for multiple years at Hebrew University, the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Conservative Yeshivah in Jerusalem, as well as the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in the US. Rabbi Sohn is a trained Jewish Spiritual Director and co-directs the Morei Derekh Training Program in Jewish Spiritual Direction. She is an experienced teacher of Jewish meditation and mindfulness practice, and teaches in a variety of venues in Los Angeles. Before coming to HUC in 2009, Rabbi Sohn served as a campus rabbi at Columbia University (1982-1987) and Boston University (1987-1992) and taught Jewish Studies at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles (1993-2008).