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RABBI ARNIE RACHLIS

Rabbi Arnold Rachlis has been the spiritual leader of University Synagogue since 1991, guiding us since 1987 from a small havurah looking for a more modern approach to Judaism to a 600+ families center for dynamic and innovative Judaism. He leads with a focus on a humanistic philosophy that sees God not as a supreme being, but as inspiration, creativity, conscience, consciousness and motivating us toward human growth and social justice. Rabbi Rachlis has created a joyous environment which affirms individuality and is inclusive  – men and women, gay and straight, Jewishly learned and not, Jewish and not Jewish –  welcoming all to learn, explore and connect at University Synagogue.

  • Born in Philadelphia, Rabbi Rachlis received a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.A. from Temple University and Ordination and a Doctor of Divinity degree from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
  • Rabbi Rachlis has taught at Temple University and Spertus College and has published scholarly articles, opinion pieces and poetry in a variety of publications, including Judaism, Reconstructionist, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Jewish Journal, and A Psychology – Judaism Reader.
  • Rabbi Rachlis has served in Washington, D.C. as a White House Fellow, an honor annually accorded to only a dozen national leaders, and as a Senior Foreign Affairs advisor in the State Department. Chosen by the White House to give the invocation for President Obama’s Town Hall meeting, he was also selected as one of the 25 most influential leaders in Orange County.
  • Rabbi Rachlis has served as Chair of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a coalition of over 1000 synagogues and Jewish organizations across the country.
  • For nine years, Rabbi Rachlis hosted Of Cabbages and Kings on ABC-TV, as well as a syndicated cable television show on contemporary Jewish issues, Hayom. He has appeared as a guest on NPR, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and PBS. He was profiled in the award-winning documentary film, The Legacy, and has served as a Judaica consultant for Compton’s Encyclopedia.

At University Synagogue we see Judaism as an evolving religious-cultural civilization, meaning that Jewish culture is as important as religion, that change is good and that each person—liberal believer, humanist, agnostic, atheist or whomever—needs to find his/her `{`their`}` path within Judaism honestly and meaningfully. My role as a rabbi is to provide a roadmap within Judaism to help people find significance. My goal is not only to make Jews more meaningfully Jewish, but also more meaningfully human.

– Rabbi Arnold Rachlis

CANTOR RUTI BRAIER

Cantor Ruti Braier has served as our Cantor and musical inspiration for University Synagogue since 1995. Cantor Braier was born in Argentina, lived in Israel and moved to Southern California in 1982. She studied Judaica at Midrasha L’morim, affiliated with Tel Aviv University, holds degrees in music from the “Conservatorio de Musica” and in music therapy from the University of El Salvador, both in Buenos Aires, and studied with a number of well known cantors in Los Angeles.

The Cantor has toured as the lead singer of two musical rock groups in Argentina – “Shachar” and “Manginot Bashira” – and was a finalist on television’s “International Star Search.”

The Cantor’s creativity and amazing musical talent have resulted in the establishment of numerous children and teen choirs, including the University Synagogue Children’s Choir and the Young Cantors’ Ensemble.

Since Cantor Ruti has come to University Synagogue, we have established an incredibly rich and inspiring musical tradition. University Synagogue is enriched by our Cantor’s ability to integrate multiple musical styles from classical Hebrew liturgy to modern Israeli music to American pop, folk and jazz. Cantor Braier’s beautiful singing, which can be heard on her CD “Shabbat Alive”, adds a wonderfully spiritual dimension to our services, one that is truly unique.

Words and rituals have power, but they soar when combined with music. At University Synagogue we believe that music elevates our experience, blending word and spirit, providing its own language of joy, hope, and connection to the past. I hope to inspire us to connect to Judaism through the beauty of music.

– Cantor Ruti Braier

MYKA THOMPSON

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Myka Thompson is a dedicated professional deeply committed to serving the Orange County Jewish community. With over a decade of experience, she has made meaningful contributions to the local Jewish community. Myka is focused on supporting University Synagogue's mission and guiding it into the next chapter of success.

Myka's journey in the Orange County Jewish community began at Temple Beth El of South Orange County in Aliso Viejo, where she honed her skills and developed a deep understanding of the community's needs. Now, at University Synagogue, she is driven by a desire to relieve lay leaders of their burdens, allowing them to focus on their core responsibilities while she oversees the operational aspects of the synagogue.

Beyond her professional commitments, Myka cherishes the moments spent with her two beloved sons. She's a dedicated baseball mom, spending countless hours at the baseball field cheering on her children. When it's time to unwind, you'll often find her by the beach, appreciating the serenity of the waves and the beauty of nature.

ANDREA GOSSELIN 

PRE-SCHOOL DIRECTOR

For over 15 years Andrea Gosselin has devoted her education, volunteer work, and career to early childhood education, with many of those years spent at University Synagogue Pre-School. Starting in 2009, Andrea quickly immersed herself in the University Synagogue Family. She began working for the Pre-School and Religious school, moving her way up from an assistant teacher, to Afternoon Program Lead, to Assistant Director. Andrea takes on her role as Director of University Synagogue Pre-School with a full heart and continued devotion to seeing the inclusive and nurturing legacy, that founder Heidi Kahn created, continue to grow and thrive. Andrea graduated from California State University Fullerton with a Bachelor’s of Science in Child and Adolescent Development and a minor in Early Childhood Education. As a lifelong learner, Andrea enjoys continuing her education participating in professional development courses and seminars each year.  Her belief in the importance and power of early childhood education has come full circle as she welcomes her own young children into the preschool.

JESSICA BRAM

DIRECTOR OF CONGREGATIONAL LEARNING

Jessica Bram, who is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Jewish Studies from Indiana University and a Master’s in Jewish Education from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. She spent the last two and a half years as the Director of K-7 Learning programs at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts where she was responsible for a part-time teaching faculty of 30, supported by more than 40 madrichim (high school student teaching aides). In addition, she was involved with that synagogue’s B’nai Mitzvah program and teachers. Importantly, she also was the Coordinator of Learning Support, ensuring there was assistance for a significant population of children with social/emotional and learning differences. Prior to her most recent posting, Jessica spent three years as the Director of Education and Youth Programming at Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu, Hawaii.

2023-2024 Board of Directors

OFFICERS

President – Eric Blum
Treasurer – Gary Roth
Secretary – Nadine Steinberg

PAST PRESIDENT

Nadine Hoffman

VICE PRESIDENTS

Mark Bregman - Religious Affairs
Sherry Clark– Membership
Susie Rothfeder – Education

MEMBERS AT LARGE

Cynthia Belon
Laurel Brenner
Jared Dienstag
Larry Dreyfuss
Jessica Guttenberg
Sheila Marsh
Zach Nelson
Melissa Sadikoff
Andrew Sandor
Michael Schaffer
Sari Schreiber
Ali Wallick
Alyson Wise

Sun, June 16 2024 10 Sivan 5784