Congregation Ner Shalom

spiritual leadership

Ner Shalom is a lay-led congregation. We rejoice in the pool of spirit, skills and scholarship which our members and friends bring to this community, as together we study, pray and grow.

Spiritual Leader: Reb Irwin Keller

Reb Irwin Keller is Ner Shalom's lay Spiritual Leader and Shaliach Tzibur. Reb Irwin brings a lifetime of study, spirit and song to his joyous work with Ner Shalom. His most visible past work focused on LGBT and HIV advocacy: Reb Irwin authored Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Ordinance which was passed into law in 1989; he later served as staff attorney and executive director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel of the San Francisco Bay Area. He currently maintains an active career as a comedian/actor/singer/writer/founder with the acclaimed Kinsey Sicks, known as "America's Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet."

Reb Irwin also brings a wealth of Jewish study and leadership to his work. He studied Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish and a range of Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has worked as a Jewish educator, teen programmer and cantorial soloist at synagogues in Illinois, California and Washington, DC. Reb Irwin is also a Storahtelling Maven®, trained in the ritual art of bringing Torah off the page. You can read a Press Democrat profile about Reb Irwin by clicking here.

Reb Irwin is especially appreciated at Ner Shalom for his musical gifts and his challenging, humorous and unorthodox sermons, or drashot. You can read many of these - about Torah, Israel, God, community, disillusionment, hope and finding inspiration on the fringe on his blog, Itzik's Well. His interest in making Jewish experience welcoming for everyone (including himself) has at times resulted in his wearing a skirt to shul. Read why. You can reach Reb Irwin by email or by calling the Ner Shalom office at (707) 664-8622.

More Spiritual Leadership at Ner Shalom

Lorenzo Valensi

Composer and guitarist Lorenzo Valensi serves as Ner Shalom's Chief Musician, and has served on the Board of Directors for a number of years.

In addition to a long career behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, Lorenzo is a skilled classical guitarist and newly minted composer of Jewish liturgical music. His soulful melodies written for Ner Shalom have captured the hearts of this community, and are now used in synagogues around the country.

You can hear many examples of Lorenzo's beautiful work by visiting Ner Shalom's Youtube site.

Atzilah Solot

Ellen "Atzilah" Solot is best known at Ner Shalom for her beautiful and grounding presence as our Chant Leader. She is also a performance artist, painter and master teacher in body-mind movement arts. Atzilah was called to the world of chant, becoming a student of Rabbi Shefa Gold and then a graduate of the Rabbi Gold's Kol Zimrah chantleading program.

Reb Atzilah also writes original chants for Ner Shalom. An example can be heard online: Kechu Terumah - "Gifts of the Heart."
Atzilah frequently co-authors Ner Shalom's Storahtelling events for the High Holy Days.

Atzilah leads a monthly healing chant circle at Ner Shalom called "Messengers of Peace," typically on the second Thursday of the month.

Read more about Atzilah's work on her own website.

Reb Shifrah Tobacman

Ner Shalom Teacher and Guest Leader Reb Shifrah Tobacman is a student in the Rabbinic Ordination Program of the Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal and a lay leader at several Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionist communities. She is a Compassionate Listening facilitator and a trained teacher of the Feldenkrais Method of movement awareness. By day, Reb Shifrah works in the field of public health, asthma and housing.

Reb Shifrah is a poet as well. She is the author and publisher of Omer/Teshuvah, a series of poetic meditations on the annual Omer (and "Reverse Omer") period.

In 2014-2015, Reb Shifrah will bring Ner Shalom an innovative engagement with the world around us through a discussion series called 'The Spirit of the Matter." In this series, Reb Shifrah and participants will consider and compassionately discuss challenging social and political issues through a Jewishly informed lens, including controversies regarding the State of Israel, social justice in the US, and global climate change.

Shoshana Fershtman

Shoshana Fershtman, PhD is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Santa Rosa. She has studied extensively with rabbis and teachers in the Jewish mystical tradition, as well as Jungian depth psychology. She is currently a candidate at the Jung Institute in San Francisco, and is completing a book based on her doctoral research exploring the experience of Jews reconnecting with Judaism.

Read more about Shoshana's work at Four Worlds Therapy.

Reb Judith Goleman

Rabbinic Pastor Judith Goleman, MFT, is a "sometimes" leader of services at Ner Shalom and at several other synagogues.  She performs wedding, funerals, private bar and bat mitzvahs, and baby namings for Jewish people who are not affiliated with a synagogue; she performs life cycle rituals for people who may be intermarried, Buddhist, LGBT, spiritual but not religious, not spiritual, or simply not affiliated with a synagogue. Designing rituals which reflect  the people involved is a specialization of hers. Her ordination as a Rabbinic Pastor comes through the Jewish Renewal Movement - the Aleph Rabbinic Pastor Program founded by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

Reb Judith also has a private practice in individual psychotherapy and couple counseling, in downtown Sebastopol. Her interest in Kabbalistic/Hasidic concepts, such as the sparks of holiness that are said to be our deepest nature, imbues her with an optimistic relationship to the processes of healing in psychotherapy. She is currently doing some writing about why American Jews sometimes are not aware of the spiritual depth in Judaism - "it's similar to the grounded spiritual optimism of Buddhism, but with better deli."

She is very happy to be connected with the vibrant, creative, spiritual aliveness she finds at Ner Shalom.

Sally Churgel

Sally Churgel is popularly considered to be Ner Shalom's Poet Laureate. Her deep reflections on Jewish themes have made lasting impressions on those who have heard her words, especially when voiced by Sally herself. Click here for a Sally poem written for Pesach. Or click here for a poem written for the visit of the first Women's Torah to Ner Shalom.

Sally founded A Masterful Relationship for people who yearn to receive and express love fully. As a 20-year certified teacher of Integrated Awareness® she engages clients on both a physical and soul level, helping to release long-held pain and blocks to love and to live with an abundantly open heart. Read about her practice by clicking here. 

Rosh Hashanah Drash

Graphic: Reb Irwin's Erev Rosh Hashanah 2009 Drash organized graphically through Wordle. To read the drash itself, "Life of All the Worlds," click here.


Congregation Ner Shalom
A Reconstructionist Synagogue
of Sonoma & Marin Counties

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