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Our Clergy

Rabbi Debra Orenstein 

Rabbi Debra Orenstein came to Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI) in 2010. A few years later, she was named "One of America's Most Inspiring Rabbis" by The Jewish Forward. Her spiritual leadership is recognized, too, as a teacher of rabbinical and cantorial students at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, and as a scholar-in-residence and guest speaker at congregations, universities, and conventions across North America.

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.

As Rabbi, she engages congregants on a personal level - hearing their stories, teaching in every grade of the Hebrew School, leading interactive discussions on Shabbat, and accompanying members through lifecycle events - and life.

Together with the CBI community, she 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.) In 2016, she earned a Certificate in Positive Psychology. The study of happiness, purpose, and social bonds has informed her pastoral care and her teaching of Torah.

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

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 in Los Angeles and as a senior fellow of the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies.

Raised and educated in the Conservative movement, Rabbi Debra has also studied, prayed, taught, and collaborated with people of every background. For 15 years, she worked closely with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, at a flagship Jewish Renewal congregation. The books she edited include Jews of every movement – and no movement, all ages, genders, orientations, and affiliations.

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. 

Her work also appears in 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. Audio compilations of her teachings are widely available. She was honored to author an article for the inaugural 2022 issue of Masorti, the Journal of Conservative Judaism.

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. Cantor Lenny, who was ordained as a rabbi in 2010, 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). 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 Lenny 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 our Casual Erev Shabbat programs, for which he adapts the Friday night prayer service by setting traditional liturgy to the melodies of Broadway shows such as Fiddler on the Roof and Les Miz, or popular groups likes The Beatles, and Peter, Paul & Mary to name just a few.

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. Cantor Lenny also volunteers and was sworn in by the Livingston, New Jersey Police Department where he serves as a police chaplain, by the New Jersey Department of Corrections where he serves as a chaplain for their officers and civilian staff, and as a chaplain at The Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784