Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumni Profiles
Rabbi Michael Latz was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion—NYC in May 2000. His first position was as the Assistant Rabbi of a large, suburban Reform synagogue. Five years ago, he helped found a progressive synagogue community that today has welcomed more than 150 diverse households.
“Simply put, I cannot imagine either my professional career as a rabbi or my personal life without the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and the members of this extraordinary community. The outstanding teachers have inspired me and our study has called me to a deeper commitment to Jewish living and learning. Most of all, it has been the relationships with other fellows and alumni that have been nurtured over the years that have had the greatest impact on my life: The Orthodox mother of five who lovingly reminds me that the key to successful parenting is to cultivate a fabulous sense of humor and to live day by glorious day; My fellow Reform Rabbi who joins me in the quest to define mitzvah and religious obligation in a liberal context; a Conservative colleague who challenges my assumptions of synagogue life and calls me to rethink how we organize Jewish life; the members of my class, who continue to gather each year, support one another in our professional and personal growth, and gently shape the future of the Jewish community.
"Throughout my life, personally and professionally, the Wexner Fellowship and Alumni Community remain a profound source of inspiration, strength, vision and hope. I am forever grateful for this extraordinary opportunity.”
Rabbi Asher Lopatin is the rabbi of Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Chicago, and received his ordination from Rav Ahron Soloveichik and Yeshivas Brisk in Chicago, and from Yeshiva University in New York as a Wexner Graduate Fellow (Class 5). He holds an M.Phil. in Medieval Arabic Thought from Oxford University and has done doctoral work, also at Oxford University, on Islamic Fundamentalist attitudes toward Jews while on a Rhodes Scholarship from Massachusetts (1987). He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Boston University.
Asher’s interest in being a pulpit rabbi stemmed from his involvement in Boston University Hillel and the Jewish Society at Oxford University. He maintains his interest in Islam by co-chairing the Muslim-Jewish task force of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and advocating for a Hebrew-Arabic Unity High School as part of the Chicago Public School system. Together with his wife, Rachel, also a Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumna, and other Wexner alumni, he founded the Chicago Jewish Day School, a “halachic and inclusive” multidenominational day school with over 100 students enrolled through fifth grade.
Asher is a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Chicago Board of Rabbis, and is a member of the Chicago Rabbinical Council. The Jewish Council for Urban Affairs, Religious Zionists of America and the New Israel Fund have all named Rabbi Lopatin to their Rabbinic Advisory Committees over the years. Rabbi Lopatin is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute and is an Honorary Alumnus of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He contributes a regular column to the Chicago Jewish News, and has been named as one of the top 25 rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine.
Asher is married to Rachel Tessler Lopatin and together they are the proud parents of Shayna, Cara, Judah and Gideon.
“My Wexner Fellowship transformed the way I think of my non-Orthodox coreligionists. Even before my Wexner years I respected non religious and non-Orthodox Jews, and I enjoyed spending Shabbat and other holidays with them, as much as I did being with Orthodox friends. What Wexner taught me was how to be a pluralistic partner: To see thinkers and practitioners of other denominations as part of a great Jewish team to work towards a better Jewish world, and to transform the world as a whole. This not only meant marrying a wonderful Wexner Graduate Fellow from a Conservative background – my wife Rachel – but also seriously planning religious, social and cultural programs with colleagues from across the Jewish religious spectrum. Moreover, the Wexner Graduate Fellowship not only taught me how to partner vertically on the religious spectrum, but also horizontally across the professional spectrum: a rabbi working with a programming director, working with a Federation staffer, working with an educational foundation. In short, Wexner expanded my professional, personal and religious world, and gave me the energy and inspiration to work towards transformational, adaptive change – and the confidence that I could be a partner in getting it done.”
Rabbi Leon A. Morris, an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program, is a educational innovator par excellence.
His vision of adult learning is serious and compelling, so much so that the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El in New York, where he has served as Executive Director since its inception, is a well-known fixture on the NY Jewish learning scene. The center offers creative classes based on Jewish texts and linked to a range of issues, contemporary and traditional.
Rabbi Morris received his ordination from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 1997. He worked extensively as an educator with the Jewish community of India, and returns there regularly. He co-produced a radio documentary on contemporary Jewish life in India, which premiered on Radio Canada in December 2003 (now available on iTunes). For three years, Leon served as Director of New York Kollel: A Center for Adult Jewish Study at HUC-JIR.
He was among the founders of Lishmah, a one-day festival of Jewish learning in New York City. In addition to teaching at Skirball, he has taught at Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues as well as the Drisha Institute. He has contributed essays to The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Baltimore Sun, The Jewish Week and Beliefnet. He has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition and PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. During the summers, Leon serves as a congregational rabbi in Sag Harbor, Long Island. Leon lives in Manhattan with his wife, Dasee Berkowitz and their son, Tamir.
“The Wexner Graduate Fellowship has had a profound impact on my experience as a rabbinical student and on my professional life as a rabbi. The Fellowship introduced me to notions of leadership that challenged and inspired me. It exposed me to facets of the American Jewish community which continue to shape and inform my work. Through the exposure to a diverse community of Fellows and Alumni, the Wexner Graduate Fellowship broadened my perspective and encouraged me to create close personal relationships with colleagues across professional and denominational lines. It facilitated a synergy of ideas that continues to inform my study and work. From the very beginning it raised the bar of what each of us could achieve.”
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum is the Rabbi, Executive Director, and co-founder of the Kavana Cooperative, a pluralistic start-up community in Seattle that strives towards the goal of “personalized Judaism in a community context.” She was recently named by Newsweek Magazine as one of the Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America. Her innovative approach to community building through Kavana has been nationally recognized in the Slingshot Guide and by a number of grant-making foundations, including Natan and the Legacy Heritage Fund.
Rachel is a native of Charleston, SC, and she received her B.A. from Duke University and her rabbinic ordination and a M.A. in Midrash from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Before launching Kavana, she served in a rabbinic capacity in a variety of congregational, Hillel, and summer camp settings.
Rachel’s passions include teaching rabbinic texts, serving as a pastoral counselor, leading spirited and musical prayer services, and challenging people to see Judaism as a catalyst for change. Above all, she loves spending time with her daughter Yona and her husband Noam Pianko.
“A decade ago as I began rabbinical school, I never would have predicted that my career path would have unfolded as it has. I credit the Wexner Fellowship program to a great degree. Through it, I gained a much wider perspective on the state of the contemporary American Jewish community, and the leadership skills and confidence necessary to start my own organization. I was exposed to creative, talented and passionate Jewish professionals and – when I arrived in Seattle – to supportive lay-leaders who were alumni of the Wexner Heritage program. Lastly (but certainly not least!), I met my husband Noam at our first Wexner Summer Institute, and he has been an invaluable source of inspiration, both personally and professionally.”
Stefanie Zelkind, an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program, is Director of Youth Philanthropy at the Jewish Funders Network. After a transformative experience as co-facilitator of No Small Change, a giving circle for women and teen girls, Stefanie was eager to develop new opportunities for teens to “give Jewishly,” reflect on their values and passions, and engage in hands-on philanthropy with their peers. In her newly-created role at JFN, Stefanie does just that, overseeing the Jewish Teen Funders Network (www.jtfn.org), a central resource for the growing field of Jewish youth philanthropy.
Stefanie holds a B.S. from Tufts University, a Masters of Arts in Public Administration from NYU Wagner School of Public Service, and a Masters of Arts in Judaic Studies from NYU.
After college, Stefanie attended the WUJS Arad program, and then worked in Tel Aviv as the Director of International Affairs at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and as Project Coordinator of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East. After five years in Israel, she returned to the States to join the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) as their National Field Director.
“I am so blessed to be a member of the Wexner community. The Graduate Fellowship made it possible for me to attend a top graduate program and introduced me to a network of colleagues, mentors, and friends I might never have met otherwise. These individuals have challenged me to think in new ways, to reflect on my leadership strengths and areas for growth, to struggle with diverse opinions and ideas, and to always push just a little bit harder…I continue to be inspired and invigorated by the Wexner community.”