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Our Clergy

Rabbi Debra Orenstein 

 

Rabbi Debra Orenstein came to Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI) in 2010. Since her “repatriation” to New Jersey from California, she has devoted herself to the CBI community, partnering with our cantor, principal, teachers, members, and lay leaders to strengthen the loving and warm congregation she joined. A few years after arriving at CBI, she was named "One of America's Most Inspiring Rabbis" by The Jewish Forward.

Rabbi Debra's rabbinate represents both the inherited tradition and its flexibility in every age. A seventh generation rabbi, she is also an alumna of the first entering class at The Jewish Theological Seminary to include women. Her passion is connecting Judaism and spirituality to our everyday lives and ultimate concerns.

Rabbi Orenstein has engaged congregants on a personal level - hearing their stories, teaching in every grade of the Hebrew School, leading interactive discussions on almost every Shabbat morning, and accompanying members through lifecycle events - and life. Together with the CBI community, Rabbi Orenstein has grown in her social justice work, interfaith outreach, meditation practice, and Spiritual Conversations (the last of which is both a trademark adult education series and an everyday occurrence at the synagogue.)

Supporting and connecting with the wider community, Rabbi Debra has taken leadership roles in the Westwood Area Clergy Council, the Pascack Valley Clergy Council, and the Rabbinical Assembly Task Force Against Human Trafficking. She also co-founded The Passover Project.

Before coming to CBI, Rabbi Orenstein was an instructor at the American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism), where she taught in the rabbinical, graduate school, undergraduate, conversion, Elderhostel, and continuing education programs. She served as spiritual leader of Makom Ohr Shalom and as a scholar-in-residence across North America, regularly speaking at synagogues, universities, and conventions. She has been a guest speaker three times at the Chautauqua Institution.

A graduate of Princeton University (A.B. summa cum laude), University of Judaism (B.H.L.), The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (M.A. and ordination), and The Meisner-Carville School (Two-year Program), Rabbi Orenstein is the author or editor of six books, including the award-winning Lifecycles 1: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones and Lifecycles 2: Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life. Most recently, she wrote for and edited Next Year, Free!: A Modern Slavery Curriculum for Kindergarten through Adult Education and No More Slaves!: A Resource Guide for Engaging and Empowering Young Jews to Help End Human Trafficking by 2030. 

Rabbi Orenstein has also written essays The [Conservative Movement] Etz Hayim Humash (2001), The Women's Prophets Commentary (2004), and Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer is Difficult and What To Do About It (2010), among others. She has been a regular columnist for The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and The Jewish Standard of New Jersey. Rabbi Debra is also a sought-after guest on radio and television, commenting on spiritual issues of the day.

Debra is blessed with a wonderful family, including her husband, Craig Weisz, and their (now teenaged!) children, Emmett and H.M. More about Rabbi Debra is here


Cantor: Rabbi Lenny Mandel

When Cantor Lenny Mandel joined Congregation B'nai Israel as Hazan (Cantor) for The High Holidays in 1996, he brought not only his rich and engaging voice, but also his strong sense of spirituality, kindness, warmth and joy. Cantor Mandel studied at Yeshiva University's Cantorial School - The Belz School of Jewish Music and with various renowned Cantors. Lenny, who was ordained as a rabbi in 2010, still leads CBI in prayer as our full time Cantor.

Before he became a cantor and rabbi, Lenny Mandel was a professional actor, singer, radio host, and director. (He also had a few other careers, and his talents as an auctioneer have come in handy at the Temple's occasional bingo nights. A member of both actors’ unions, he has played the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof numerous times in venues around the country.) Having performed all over the world, Cantor Mandel uses his theatrical talents in writing and directing our musical Purim Shpiel, the Hebrew School graduating class play, Yom HaShoah presentations in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, and musical scripts for  CBI events. The congregation regularly enjoys his Casual Erev Shabbat programs, for which he adapts the Friday night service by setting traditional liturgy to the melodies of Fiddler on the Roof Shabbat, Beatles' Shabbat, and Peter, Paul & Mary Shabbat, to name a few. These participatory services also include musical commentary and a lively spirit to our Shabbat services. 

Rabbi/Cantor Lenny grew up in Brooklyn, where he attended the Yeshivah of Flatbush until going to Stuyvesant High School. He was part of Oheb Shalom congregation in South Orange, New Jersey and has visited Jewish communities around the world. Lenny was sworn in by the Livingston, New Jersey Police Department where he serves as a police chaplain.

Lenny and his wife Shelly have a son, Wayne, daughter-in-law Stacie, and three grandsons: Dylan, Ari, and Spencer.

Thu, October 17 2019 18 Tishrei 5780