2018 Master of Jewish Studies Graduate

Suzanne Issler

“Why Judaism? A new generation of Jewish critical thinkers is asking. I look forward to working with these young spiritual seekers as together we create transformative experiences in response to the why.”

Thesis: “Spirituality and the Sustainability of the Reform Movement”

Summary: It’s my belief that innovative spiritual programs that provide personal meaning and connection to Judaism can help sustain the Reform Movement by helping to retain its membership and attract those yet unaffiliated. There are several reasons why I believe spiritual programs can help sustain
the Reform Movement. First, spirituality is on the rise in the Jewish population, surprisingly enough among its youngest cohort, Jews 35 and under. Second, scholars and religious figures alike believe that synagogues must create programs of education and worship that include a search for meaning and personalized religious experience. Third and last, there are a multitude of synagogues that have incorporated spiritual programs into their weekly scheduling, helping congregants successfully engage their members in meaningfully relevant ways.

2018 Chaplaincy Graduate

Meagan Leigh Yudell

“As Chaplain, my goal is to hold a sacred space for the people I serve in their time of need, providing Hesed and Rachamim in everything I do.”

Thesis: “The Life of an Arnold Chiari Malformation 1 Jew Through the Lenses of Health, Chronic Pain, and Spirituality”

Summary: My thesis focuses on the history, the interventions, the dearth in research and knowledge on this rare genetic condition, and the Jewish approaches and sources for dealing with life threatening and chronic illnesses.

2018 Cantorial Graduates

John Faulkner Guest

“As a caretaker of our musical heritage and an explorer or fresh musical pathways, I hope to speak for, and to, others in prayer, fanning the divine spark in individuals and strengthening the unity of our People.”

Thesis: “Commissioning Émigré Composers in Los Angeles, 1938-1945: Rabbi Jacob Sonderling’s Contributions to Jewish Musical History”

Summary: Rabbi Jacob Sonderling was a German emigre and the spiritual leader of a small synagogue in Los Angeles from the mid-1930’s until his death in 1964.  His synagogue, Fairfax Temple – Society for Jewish Culture, was a magnet for other German Jewish emigres, including a number of well-established composers of secular music.  Between 1938 and 1945, Rabbi Sonderling convinced four of these composers to write Jewish liturgical works. Rabbi Sonderling and the remarkable body of liturgical music he commissioned in Los Angeles are the subjects of this thesis.

Stephanie Rachel Kuper

“As a cantor, and granddaughter of three holocaust survivors, it is my hope to invigorate a reawakening towards the belief in Judaism, through a synthesis of traditional hazzanut and contemporary, creative participatory music, enlightening all age groups.”



Lisa Ruth Peicott

“As a cantor, my goal is to lift people to a higher spiritual plane through the power of music and communal prayer, especially our youth, ensuring that they too build strong connections to their Judaism.”

Thesis: “Kol Nashim: An Exploration of Women’s Impact on the Cantorate”
Summary: My thesis was inspired by a NY Times article which analyzed a study that showed that the prestige of a profession went down, as soon as women entered the field in large numbers. Seeing as about 75% of seminary cantorial students are currently women and that number is growing each and every year, it is inevitable that women will soon comprise the majority of the cantorate. With this information, I wanted to look at the evolution of the cantorate, from ancient times when it was only open to the men, to the present.  In particular, how the ordination of Women in the late 80’s has impacted the job description, and has essentially changed what it means to be a cantor in the year 2018.


Michelle Bider Stone

“As a cantor, my dream is to inspire through music, learning, ritual and prayer, culture, community and conversation, a love for our unique traditions and deep wisdom.”

Thesis: “What’s the Deal with Congregational Singing?
The Inevitability of the Demand for Congregational Singing in the American Synagogue”

Summary: My thesis explores the historical and sociological factors that have led to the demand for congregational singing in the American synagogue as well as the primary songwriters whose music influenced the new sound of the American synagogue. It also examines how each of the major denominations were affected by the increased demand and how the cantorate responded when congregants craved more involvement in services.


Cheri Renee Weiss

“My mission to create and elevate community and spirituality through liturgical music. My special passion is bringing Jewish prayers and songs to those unable to attend worship services due to illness or other reasons beyond their control.”


2018 Rabbinic Graduates

Cantor Lily Caplan Blum

“As Cantor, I inspire through music. Now as a Rabbi, I use my voice to celebrate and comfort those I serve and teach future generations to “love your neighbor as yourself” and to always see others “created in God’s image.”

Thesis: “Death and Bereavement in Tanach: An Examination of Models for Grief and Biblical Characters Walking the Mourner’s Path”

Summary: There is much to learn from our biblical narrative and the characters it contains. By examining their stories and their individual bereavement, we see how the human condition responds to grief. The path of the mourner is not straight and narrow. Mourning is vast and complicated and no one path is “right”. So, I endeavor to glean different ways to deal with grief and modes of understanding bereavement from our biblical characters. By discussing the grief processes of our patriarchs and matriarchs, I hope to provide comfort to those in a state of bereavement and offer guidance to find comfort in one’s own “crisis”.

Julian Alexander King

As a rabbi, it is my goal and passion to create a community that embraces the traditional with the alternative, a place for all families, including interfaith and LGBTQ, to call home.”

Thesis: “The Evolving Temple Without Walls: From Ancient Judaism to the Changing Modern Era”

Summary: My thesis is an in-depth look at the more traditional synagogues, that in many cases are seeing a decline in membership, attendance, and certainly impacting their financials, to those who are leading the way in creating the evolving movement towards “temples without walls” that utilize rented space, ballrooms, churches, gymnasiums, and various other places and ways to engage and affect change within their communities. There is a movement in Judaism that is seeking to create an alternative to entice those who are disenfranchised, disillusioned, secular, unaffiliated, and even those who are still part of a community to become involved and participate on some level. It ends with my own “temple without walls,” – the research, preparation, and launching of what is now the fastest growing, and largest temple in the desert.