ALEPH Ordination Program Ordains Four Rabbis

ALEPH Ordination Program Ordains Four Rabbis,
One Hazzan, Three Dayanim, and Seventeen
Jewish Spiritual Directors

On Sunday, January 15, at the OMNI Interlocken Resort in Broomfield, Colorado, opening the 19th annual conference of OHALAH: The Association of Rabbis, Cantors and Rabbinic Pastors for Renewal, the ALEPH Ordination Program welcomed four new rabbis and one hazzan into the lineage of ordained Jewish Renewal leaders. In addition to honoring the musmachot (ordinees), ALEPH also honored three rabbinic colleagues who furthered their learning to earn a second smicha (ordination) as dayanim – adjudicators and mediators in the field of Jewish law.

Family, friends, rabbis, teachers, Jewish leaders and other honored guests representing the spectrum of Jewish affiliations swelled attendance at the OHALAH conference for the inspiring ordination ceremony. 

The ordination each year blends the ancient tradition of awarding smicha through the “laying on of hands,” with the ritual creativity of the students who design the surrounding ceremony. As the music and chant begins, the AOP VAAD – the core faculty and Directors of Studies of the Ordination Program – processes into room. All stand to honor the beloved teachers who guide our growing seminary-without-walls, now the largest rigorous liberal Jewish seminary, embracing students from throughout the US, Canada, South America, and Europe. 

The procession was led by Director and Dean of the Ordination Program, Rabbi Marcia Prager and Chacham Dayan Rabbi Daniel Siegel, who would bestow the smicha upon the new dayanim, followed by the Director of the Cantorial Program, Hazzan Jack Kessler, and the Director of the Rabbinic Pastor Program, RP Shulamit Fagan. The procession of teachers and VAAD members continued with Rabbis Leila Gal Berner – Dean of Students, Elliot Ginsburg, Victor Gross, Nadya Gross – Dir. Of the Hashpa’ah Program, Shawn Israel Zevit – Assoc. Dir. Hashpa’ah Program, Shohama Weiner – Rosh Hashpa’ah, Steve Silvern – Rosh Tachlis, and Laura Duhan Kaplan, and RP Sandra Wortzel, Asst. Dir. of the RP Program. Holding the Chuppah under which all processed were ALEPH Board Chairs Rabbis David Evan Markus and Rachel Barenblat, ALEPH Excecutive Director Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, and Chair of the ALEPH Student Board Caryn Aviv. AOP students and faculty extend gratitude to the many rabbis and honored teachers who also participated in the smicha ceremony.

2017 Graduates of the Rabbinic
and Cantorial Programs

Rabbi Hazzan Rachel Hersh

Rabbi Hazzan Rachel Hersh has served Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation since 1996, as a member of the clergy team that helped grow its expansive program of progressive Jewish life, learning and service. In addition to her cantorial leadership from the bimah, she is active in the community as a teacher for adults and young people and as a pastor and life cycle leader. An enthusiastic student of Jewish text, thought and practice, her academic and professional training includes Bachelor of Arts in Music and Master of Social Work degrees, both from the University of Maryland and a Master of Judaic Studies degree from Baltimore Hebrew University as well as years of private cantorial training. In 2002, she was invested as hazzan by the Cantors Assembly, the cantorial arm of the Conservative Movement, and in Jan. 2017 she received rabbinic smicha from ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.  She is a member of OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement as well as the Women Cantors Network, and is a devoted student, practitioner and certified teacher of hatha yoga.  Rachel and her husband Jonathan Epstein are the proud parents of three sons and live in Bethesda, Maryland. 

Rabbi Diane Tiferet Lakein

Rabbi Diane Tiferet Lakein was ordained as a rabbi by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal in January 2017.  She holds a B.A. from Princeton University in East Asian Studies and International Politics, an M.A. in anthropology – with a certificate in Women’s Studies – from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Masters of Jewish Education from Hebrew College. Born in San Francisco, she spent time in Stockholm, Sweden as a child and in Beijing, China as an undergraduate student. She moved to Germany in the mid-1990s to conduct ethnographic research on anti-racist responses to rising xenophobia – and remained. She most recently served as Jewish Educator in Cologne, Germany (2012-2014) and Rabbinic Intern in Freiburg, Germany (2013-2016). She currently serves as the Rabbi of Chawurah Gescher in Freiburg, and as Visiting Rabbi of Migwan in Basel, Switzerland. She is a member of OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement, lives with her two daughters, and is happily partnered to Rabbinic Pastor, Nalini Indorf Kaplan, who received ordination from ALEPH in 2016.

Hazzan Jessi Roemer

Hazzan Jessi Roemer holds a B.A. in Judaic and Near Eastern Studies from Oberlin College, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College, and was ordained Hazzan by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal in January 2017. For the past ten years, she has served as Shelichat Tzibur, Music Director, Choir Director, and Music/Tefilah Teacher at congregations Kol Tzedek in West Philadelphia, and Leyv Ha-Ir in Center City, Philadelphia. Hazzan Jessi performs her original music with her World Jewish Music Ensemble, EZUZ, which published its debut CD in 2015. Jessi’s compositional work has been featured in festivals such as the Shalshelet Festival of New Jewish Liturgical music and the Jewish Folk Arts Festival of Washington, D.C.. Jessi is a founding member of the Philadelphia Shir Singing Circle. She is a published poet and spent ten previous years teaching writing at Brooklyn College, New York University, SUNY at Stony Brook, and the University of Pennsylvania. She is a member of OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement.  More at

Rabbi Susan Shamash

Rabbi Susan Shamash was ordained as a rabbi by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal in January 2017.  She holds her BA (Hon) from the University of Alberta and an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) from the University of British Columbia.  As a lawyer and administrative law judge for thirty years, Susan specialized in workers’ compensation and administrative law.  Beginning her practice as a workers’ advisor, Susan subsequently served the people of British Columbia as Vice Chair, Registrar and Tribunal Counsel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal and its predecessor Review Board.  Since its founding in 1978, Susan has been an active member of Or Shalom Synagogue, affiliated with ALEPH.  She is a regular davenen’ (prayer) leader on Shabbat (the Sabbath), the Festivals and the High HolyDays and teaches a monthly Talmud class.  She has also served Or Shalom in a variety of organizational capacities including Co-Chair, Treasurer, Rabbi Search, Governance, and Publicity.  She is a member of OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement, and is a happily retired lawyer who lives with her husband Yom-Tov in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

Rabbi Jennifer Singer

Rabbi Jennifer Singer is the spiritual leader of Congregation Kol HaNeshama in Sarasota, Florida, where she has served since 2008, first as education director and then as spiritual leader beginning in 2013. She was ordained as a rabbi and spiritual director by the ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal in January, 2017, now serves on the ALEPH Board, and is a member of OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement.  She holds a master’s degree in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She has taught extensively, including in a groundbreaking pilot program for emerging community leaders, created by The Jewish Federations of North America, and was a contributor to the second edition of the curriculum. She spent 20 years as an endowment professional and major gifts fundraiser in the Jewish community, most recently working for the American Technion Society. She previously worked in marketing, and as a journalist and freelance writer, and is the co-author of “Opportunity Knocks: Using PR.”


Rabbi Simcha Daniel Burstyn

Rabbi Simcha Daniel Burstyn was ordained in 2011 by the ALEPH Ordination Program and continued his halachic studies, earning ordination from ALEPH as a dayan in 2017. He has made his home as a member of Kibbutz Lotan in Israel’s Arava Desert since 1990, where he raised two children. He teaches gardening and Peace Studies in the Center for Creative Ecology, and Jewish topics to all ages in the kibbutz community. He also represents the kibbutz on the Hevel Eilot Regional Council. Rabbi Simcha Daniel is a member of OHALAH, and of Maram, the Israeli Council of Reform Rabbis.

Rabbi Hannah Dresner

Rabbi Hannah Dresner, MFA, is spiritual leader of Or Shalom, a Jewish Renewal community in Vancouver, BC. She believes it is her calling to work toward a revitalized Judaism integrating head, heart and physical being into Jewish practice, so that our religious lives address the breadth of our human needs. Rabbi Hannah comes to the rabbinate with an exhibition and university teaching record in the visual arts. Ordained as both rabbi and Mashpiah Ruchanit by the ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Rabbi Hannah is a Rabbis Without Borders fellow as well as a fellow in the second cohort of CLAL’s Clergy Leadership Incubator, identified as a rabbinic agent of change, and is a member of OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. Rabbi Hannah blogs monthly for RWB and contributes to the Sh’ma online journal. She now embraces her new smicha as a Dayan, looking forward to projects exploring and expressing psycho-halachic perspectives that make Judaism ever more available as a toolbox for human flourishing. 

Rabbi SaraLeya Schley

Rabbi SaraLeya Schley was ordained in 2005 by the ALEPH Ordination Program. She is Emerita Rabbi at Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley where she served as Senior Rabbi from 2008-2014.  From 2000-2008 she served as spiritual leader to several communities in California and Washington.  She leads ritual and teaches across the spectrum of Jewish practice while continuing as an active member of Congregation Beth Israel (Modern Orthodox, Berkeley) and Congregation Netivot Shalom (Masorti, Berkeley).  In July 2016, she entered the Hartman Institute Rabbinic Leadership Initiative program.  She brings a love of traditional text and deep commitment to the halachic process to her participation in the core group of Renewal dayanim.  Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she earned both B.S. in Psychology and M.D. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. Her past accomplishments include a Master of Philosophy in Psychology from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, a Master of Counseling from the University of Phoenix, Tucson campus, in addition to certification in Interactive Guided Imagery™ and Soul Memory Discovery©. She is a mother of three and practiced as an Obstetrician-Gynecologist from 1981-2014.  

On the Saturday night preceding this ceremony, the ALEPH Hashpa’ah Training Program for Jewish Spiritual Directors celebrated the graduation of its 4th cohort with a moving ceremony certifying 17 new Mashpi’im aand Mashpi’ot – Jewish Spiritual Directors.

Right to left (facing) on the stage: Yeshaya Ballon, Mia Cohen, Bonnie Cramer, David Curiel, Zelig Golden, Linda Leah Greene, Adinah Pat Hickman, Jason Mann, Ira Wiesner, Hannah Salander, Meira Bracha Sumka, Gavriel Strauss

The 2017 Hashpa’ah
Program Graduates

Hazzan David Abramowitz
Esther Amarante
Yeshaya Ballon
Raphael Benmergui
Mia Cohen
Bonnie Cramer
E. David Curiel
Zelig Golden
Linda Leah Greene
Cantor Adinah Hickman
Jason Mann
Charna Rosenholtz
Hannah Salander
Jennifer Singer
Gavriel Strauss
Meira Bracha Sumka
Ira Wiesner