Piyut Bay Area involves a diverse cohort of rabbis, cantors, artists, scholars, and students from the San Francisco Bay Area, committed to learning and sharing the art of piyut, or Hebrew liturgical poetry and song. In the Fall of 2014, they will come together for weekly meetings, and explore together a world of possibilities, of learning, and of artistic and spiritual growth.
Below, you can read how each participant chose to introduce her/himself to the group.
I grew up in Queens NY in an “Ashkefardi” home. While I attended an Orthodox shul for religious instruction, our home life was fairly secular. My life’s focus was music and singing and I had a career in opera and concert performance , especially in Israel. I have degrees in vocal music and sacred music and cantorial ordination from the Hebrew Union College. I also received a Masters in clinical psychology . I have served as the Cantor of Congregation Emanuel in San Francisco for 28 years.
Yoel Kahn has been the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Berkeley since 2007 . A native of the Bay Area, he graduated from UC Berkeley and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, in 1985. He received his Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union in 1999. He has taught at the GTU, Hebrew Union College, UC Davis and the University of San Francisco. His book, The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship and Identity in Jewish Liturgy was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.
Lior Ben-Hur was born and raised in Jerusalem, Israel. For the last ten years his home base has been San Francisco, where he has been teaching music, Hebrew and Jewish identity classes at several Bay Area schools and congregations, emphasizing the importance of music in education. Lior earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree from San Francisco State University in the World Music program. He has a local band called Sol Tevél which focuses on connecting Hebrew roots while engaging world cultures. Lior also works as the Music Director for The Jewish Circle Theatre in Berkeley, CA. In 2013 Lior won the national Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education for his new, innovative methods of integrating music as part of the educational experience. To learn more, visit: www.liorbenhur.com and www.soltevel.com.
Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks
Brian Yosef is a musician and spiritual teacher. His teaching and music can be found at www.torahofawakening.com and www.captainzohar.com. He currently serves as a clergyman and music director at Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley. He holds a Bachelor in Musical Composition from the Eastman School of Music and received s’mikha (ordination) as Minister of Sacred Music from Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (2013). He is also is certified as a Jewish meditation teacher (CHL, 2004). He lives in Oakland with wife Lisa and two children, to whom he owes constant gratitude for keeping him far from cheap, egocentric substitutes for G-d.
Anthony (Mordechai-Tzvi) Russell has worked primarily in the field of opera for the past fifteen years, culminating in a professional debut with the San Francisco Opera Company. Recently, he has devoted himself to the repertoire of Sidor Belarsky (1898-1975), one of the twentieth century’s most prolific performers of chazzanut, Chassidic nigunim and Yiddish song. Anthony’s work in Yiddish has brought him to the JCC in Manhattan, Symphony Space, the Ideacity Conference in Toronto, KlezKanada, the Montreal and Berkeley Jewish Music Festivals, and, this August, back as a featured performer at the Asheknaz Festival, a week-long celebration of the Jewish arts in Toronto.
Victoria Sutton is the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, CA. She recently completed her studies at Yeshivat Maharat. A graduate of Barnard College, with a BA in Biological Sciences, she also holds a Grand Diploma in Pastry Arts from the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. She was the rabbinic fellow for synagogue initiatives at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, and the intern for synagogue education at Ohav Sholom, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Merrick, NY. Victoria has taught in the Drisha summer programs. She also served as a Victim Intervention Advocate at New York Presbyterian Hospital. She participated in the Rabbis Without Borders rabbinical student fellowship, and RRC’s Retreat for Jewish and Muslim Emerging Religious Leaders. She resides in Berkeley with her husband, Adam Brelow.
Jewlia Eisenberg works at the intersection of voice, text and diaspora consciousness, often with her ensemble Charming Hostess. Her work has been curated into the Prague Bienalle, the Museum of Peace in Uzbekistan, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF. Recent installations include The Bowls Project (YBCA), on Babylonian Jewish amulets, and Teraphim (Meridian Gallery), on household gods. She has four CDs on Tzadik’s Radical Jewish Culture series, including Sarajevo Blues, on Bosnian resistance poetry, and Trilectic, on the political-erotic world of Walter Benjamin. Jewlia has been a visiting artist at CalArts, MIT, and UCLA, where she taught on the boundary lands holding music, spirit and critical theory. Hobbies include class war and knitting. Brooklyn born and bred, she now calls Oakland home.
Rabbi Tsipi Gabai is thrilled to be entering her 26th year at Tehiyah Day School! From beginning as a Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher in 1989 to becoming Head of the Hebrew and Jewish Studies departments as well as school rabbi and continuing to teach middle school, Rabbi Tsipi’s belief in the commitment to provide a Jewish education to all children remains her inspiration. Rabbi Tsipi is a lifelong learner whose background in Jewish education is extensive. She received her BA and teaching credential at Haifa University and shortly after came to the United States and became Principal and teacher at Beth Jacob Hebrew School in Oakland. When her children were ready to enter school, Rabbi Tsipi chose Tehiyah and answered the call to teach middle school Hebrew and Judaic Studies at Tehiyah as well.
During her tenure at Tehiyah,Rabbi Tsipi has continued her studies. She received a Masters Degree in Judaic Studies and an Administrative Certification from the Secondary School Leadership Program at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and in 2003, was ordained as a rabbi at The Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. She is the recipient of The Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, The Guendelman Award for Outstanding Teacher of the Year, and The International Institute Award of the East Bay for Outstanding Contributions to Bringing Cultural Understanding to the Oakland, CA Community.
Currently, Rabbi Tsipi leads all school holiday celebrations throughout the year, facilitates student participation in community events such as Yom HaShoah commemoration and Israel in the park, and teaches T’filla to the entire student body each week. Tsipi also mentors and supervises the entire H/JS teaching staff including arranging and presenting professional development.
In addition to her career at Tehiyah, Rabbi Tsipi leads holiday services, acts as a guest rabbi throughout northern California and on cruises, prepares students for bar mitzvah, and officiates weddings. In all of her endeavors, Tsipi’s guiding philosophy is to bring Jewish traditions, heritage, and spirituality to life through multiple pathways of learning and experiences.
Rabbi Chai Levy has served as a rabbi of Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon since 2002. She is the leader of the alternative “Musical Meditation” High Holyday services and the founder of Kol Shofar’s new Center for Jewish Spirituality. Chai has served the wider community in various ways, including as a Torah columnist for the J Weekly of Northern California and as President of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California. When not rabbi-ing, Chai serves as Ima to 3 year old Ezra and as bass player in a rock band.
A native of Sacramento, John is an amateur Near Eastern ethnomusicologist, and an avid traveler. John studied jazz guitar with Henry Robinett and composed and arranged jazz for many years before turning his attention to Middle Eastern music. John derived a great deal of inspiration for the Safra concept during a year spent in Akko, Israel, where he worked as a City Planner and lived among Arabs, and Jews with roots in the Caucasus, Uzbekistan, and Morocco. He has studied ‘ud with Naser Musa, Necati Çelik, and Haig Manoukian. John has also performed with Za’atar and Estreya d’Oro, and recorded with Cantor Richard Kaplan.
Eliana Kissner grew up in South Orange, NJ where she studied traditional hazzanut with Cantor Perry Fine. She completed her Bachelor of Music degree at Hunter College, City University of New York and then spent a year in Jerusalem exploring many types of Jewish music. She then returned to New York to be a full-time Arts Fellow at the Drisha Institute where she began writing her own music using traditional text. She now sings with Safra, a Jewish Middle Eastern ensemble, and continues to write and perform her own music. Notable performances include Suor Genovieffa in Suor Angelica with the Amalﬁ Coast Music Festival in Caserta, Italy, Mrs. Hayes in Susannah with the New York Opera Project, Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Vocal Productions at Symphony Space, Sister in Chalom: A Dream Opera in NYC Fringe Festival 2012, and multiple performances with the Jewish Music Festival. She has also served as High Holidays cantor in Kochav Yair, Israel, Sosua, Dominican Republic, and is now in her third year with Kol Rina in South Orange, NJ. Check out hazzanista.com for more info!
Deena Aranoff is assistant professor of medieval Jewish studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Her interests include rabbinic literature, medieval patterns of Jewish thought and the broader question of continuity and change in Jewish history. Deena is also a community educator and teaches Bible, rabbinics, and Jewish mysticism in a variety of adult education programs throughout the Bay Area.
Rachel Colwell is a PhD student in Ethnomusicology at the University of California at Berkeley and studied Music and Anthropology at Oberlin College, where she received her BA. She studies connections—senses of place, affective relations, and acoustic ways of knowing—through music listening practices in Tunisia. She intends to work with musicians and music enthusiasts working within Ma’luf, an Arab-Andalusian Classical music with complex political, religious, and class-specific histories. Rachel is a violinist, fiddler, and vocalist. She experiments in installations, modified books, and found arts.
Amy Tobin is a vocalist, writer, and performer who has led and supported nonproﬁt community, arts, and social change organizations for 20 years. In July 2014 she joined the JCC East Bay as CEO. She was the founding Executive Director of the David Brower Center and the founding Artistic Director of The Hub at the JCCSF. Amy has released two albums and toured nationally with The Esther Show, her cabaret rock opera and modern interpretation of the Book of Esther. She received the Gerbode Foundation fellowship in 2012 and the Joshua Venture fellowship for Jewish social entrepreneurs in 2001.
Aubrey L. Glazer, Ph.D. (University of Toronto) currently serves as rabbi at Congregation Beth Sholom, San Francisco. Aubrey is in demand in many educational forums, from lay learning to federations, seminaries and colleges across North America, Europe and Israel where he is a passionate and challenging teacher of Jewish Mysticism, Philosophy & Hebrew poetry. Aside from his op-ed blog on The Times of Israel, Aubrey’s work is published widely in popular and academic forums, including his latest book dedicated to the spiritual renaissance of Hebrew culture in Israel called, Mystical Vertigo: Kabbalistic Hebrew Poetry Dancing Cross the Divide (Academic Studies Press, 2013). Aubrey serves as a consultant and contributor of kavvanot and Israeli prayerful poetry to the Conservative Mahzor and Siddur Lev Shalem. Ordained by JTSA, Aubrey has also completed training courses in kashrut supervision (Rav haMakhshir), Jewish Spirituality (IJS), and Jewish Entrepreneurial Leadership (Kellogg School of Business). In his rabbinic work in diverse communal settings, Aubrey has created award winning programming like Blessing for the Animals and Phat Phriday that draw on the depths of traditional forms in creative ways to promote vibrancy and continuity in-reach and out-reach.
Sharon Bernstein has been involved in Jewish music for over 20 years. In her work, she likes to delve into the relationship between text and music: incorporating musical expressions of life and prayers from around the world, unearthing the stories of forgotten songs and melodies, weaving new rituals, and writing music for liturgy and Yiddish poems. Her work has been featured at festivals and concerts in Europe, Israel, and the US, and on the CDs Metamorphosis and Af Di Gasn Fun Der Shtot. Since 2007, she has been happily ensconced as the Cantor of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.
Julie Batz is the Shlichat Tzibbur and Co-Spiritual Leader of Chochmat HaLev, a center for Jewish spirituality in Berkeley. She has served as a Shabbat, High Holy Day and Festival prayer leader, singer of sacred music, educator, and ritual facilitator for the past 14 years. Julie has worked independently and in congregations and minyanim throughout the Bay Area, and has recorded with Cantor Richard Kaplan, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, and Cantor Jennie Chabon. She pursued her cantorial studies with Hazzan Marc Dinkin and Cantor Pamela Sawyer.
A co-founder of Jewish Milestones, Julie is passionate about connecting Jews to their heritage—through meaningful ritual, engaged study, and heartfelt welcome.
Sarah is the founder and Executive Director of G-dcast, the new media studio dedicated to raising basic Jewish literacy with animation and apps. In a previous life she built web sites and digital strategy for entertainment and publishing companies. She lives in Oakland with Bill, Levi and Yali.
Zoe was born in New York but grew up in Los Angeles where she attended Jewish day school for 13 years. She has been singing for as long as she can remember, and she participated in choir all for years of high school. She is currently a junior at UC Berkeley studying Art History and Rhetoric. Additionally, Zoe has been working at the Magnes for the past year and absolutely loves it.
Yair Harel received a traditional Jewish education in Israel before going on to study zarb(Persian drum) in Israel and France with Roger Yshay and Daghmeshid Chemirani, tarand Persian classical music with Peretz Eliyhau, improvisation with André Hajdu, and Jewish-Andalusian Vocal traditions with Rabbis Meir Atiyah and Haim Louk. Over the last twelve years, he has focused on exploring, teaching and performing traditional Jewish music from North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, taking a major part in numerous multimedia productions based on encounters between traditional and contemporary music, in Israel and abroad. He has been the artistic director of the Ben Zvi Piyut Vocal Ensemble since 2008, has led workshops and courses in traditional Jewish vocal music, Middle Eastern percussion and improvisation at The Hebrew University, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and The Jerusalem Academy High School for Music and Dance. In 2010 he created the New Jerusalem Orchestra. As one of the main figures behind the Piyyut scene that has revolutionized the face of Israeli musical culture, he is a founding member of the “Singing Communities Project,” the founder and the present Editor In chief of the “Invitation to Piyut” website, the artistic director of the Jerusalem Piyut Festival, and a co-founder of Piyyut North America. He is part of Tafillalt Ensemble, which in 2010 released a new album under John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Since 2013, he is the Hazzan and Musical director of congregation Zion in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Dorothy Richman teaches Torah throughout the Bay area, and is the rabbi of Makor Or: Jewish Meditation Center. Formerly a pulpit rabbi in San Francisco at congregations Shaar Zahav and Beth Sholom, Dorothy also worked for several years at Berkeley Hillel. She has led trips for AJWS to Central and South America and Africa and is active in Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. Along with Joey Weisenberg, Dorothy has led Prayer and Music Intensive Workshops. She sings and performs, including, most recently, her one-woman show, Tefillin Supermodel.
Francesco Spagnolo, a multidisciplinary scholar focusing on Jewish studies, music and digital media, is the Curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life and a Lecturer in the Music Department at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as a host for the cultural programs of Italian National Radio (RAI) in Rome. Intersecting textual, visual and musical cultures, he actively contributes to academic, cultural heritage and archival institutions, and live and electronic media in Europe, Israel and the United States, frequently lectures at academic institutions worldwide, publishes on a variety of subjects, and curates exhibitions and digital programs. Francesco holds a Laurea in Philosophy from the University of Milan (1994) and a PhD in Musicology from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2007). He is the editor of the Italian edition of Imre Toth’s Palimpsest (1998 and 2003) and of the audio-anthology Italian Jewish Musical Traditions (Hebrew University, 2001 and 2006), the author of two books (Il ballo del camaleonte, 1999; Estetica delle situazioni estreme 2000), the co-author of The Jewish World (Rizzoli, 2014), and has written numerous articles and essays on philosophy, music, film and literature in academic journals, books and encyclopedias, including Rivista Italiana di Musicologia, the Encyclopedia Judaica, and the Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. More at bit.ly/spagnoloacht.