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 Kupfer

“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.

A Conversation with…Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

Listen in as AJRCA President Rabbi Mel Gottlieb discusses some of the key points from his new article “Faith and Truth” as featured in Conversations: The Journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, with Cantor Jonathan Friedmann, professor of Jewish Music History and the Academy’s Director of Institutional Research and Accreditation Liaison Officer.

Rabbi Gottlieb’s article articulates the point of view that the notion of absolute Truth in Jewish literature is only one of a variety of views found in the Jewish tradition. It argues that a more prominent point of view is the value of Faith and Truth seeking rather than owning an absolute notion of Truth. It brings sources and voices supporting this view. (more…)

A Celebration of Sephardic and Persian Culture!

Recently, The Academy hosted an evening of discussion, music and food, all focused on providing a look into the unique and vibrant world of Sephardic and Persian Judaism, past, present and future!

Please see below for a recording of the exciting panel discussion with:
* Rabbi Daniel Bouskila – Director, Sephardic Educational Center
* Dr. Saba Soomekh – Lecturer, UCLA and Assistant Director of Interreligious Affairs, AJC
* Neil J. Sheff – Immigration Attorney; President, Sephardic Educational Center
* Moderated by: Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, Ph.D – President, AJRCA

The Forgotten Plight of Ethiopia’s Jewry

Rabbi Art Levine, Ph.D., J.D. (Class of 2009) recently visited the Jewish communities in Ethiopia and is raising awareness – and funds – on their behalf. We recently conducted a Q&A with Rabbi Levine to better understand the situation.

Q: Weren’t all the Jews of Ethiopia airlifted to Israel in Operations Moses (1984) and Solomon (1991)?

Levine: Most Jews in America and even in Israel think so, but in fact thousands were left behind. They have been living in terrible conditions ever since. This summer, I decided to travel to Ethiopia to see their circumstances first hand.

Q: What did you find? (more…)

2017 Thanksgiving Message from Rabbi Mel

I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that you, your families and loved ones are well and flourishing.  I have always viewed Thanksgiving as a very Jewish holiday since the theme of gratitude is such an integral part of our tradition. The very first thing that we do in the morning is recite the Modeh Ani prayer acknowledging the gift of life to our Creator, and then begin reciting blessings thanking G-d for all the gifts bestowed upon us that we often take for granted.
The simple act of walking, having clothes to put on, the ability to go to the bathroom and have our bodily functions working are all acknowledged and connect us to a soulful way of living, creating a connection to the awesome universe and all that we are connected to. Indeed, our tradition exhorts us to recite 100 blessings every day.
It is through the  mitzvoth that our consciousness grows, alerting us to the fact that we are more than our bodies, more than isolated human beings, but that we are souls within our bodies, and connected to the entire universe. Thus we express gratitude to our Creator for the gift of life, and our hearts become filled with kindness that we bestow upon others. SO indeed, in the Jewish way of life, everyday is a Thanksgiving, and this is an attitude that bring joy, and an expanded way of living, that enables us to have meaning and bestow kindness upon others.
At AJRCA this year we have much to be grateful for! In addition to our wonderful staff, alumni, Board Members, faculty and students who make everyday a celebration of joy, we have had an abundance of visitors passing through our corridors who want to attend our school. Our offering of hybrid (low residency) online courses has appealed to a broader spectrum of the population and this bodes well for our future growth, and contribution to our society. We have been blessed with exciting ‘Lunch and Learns’ and other programs as well: including author Maggie Anton, Very Special Syrian Refugees, and a full day of a wonderful Chaplaincy Conference.  In the next few months we will be having a conference on Aging, a forum on Anti-Semitism, and a program celebrating the contributions of Sephardic Culture.
There is so much to be grateful for.
So I wish you a wonderful day of gratitude tomorrow, and may that spirit continue for all of us throughout the year, so that our positive energy makes a loving impact upon all those whom we encounter and thereby elevates our world to reach the level of beauty, justice and peace that we all hope and pray for.
Happy Thanksgiving,
Rabbi Mel

Blessings and Affirmations for a New Year – 5778

As we get older, our sense of time seems to quicken.  What?  Rosh Hashanah again?    Memories of past High Holy Days flood our thoughts – for some people, the memories are drawn from childhood in another city or country; and for others the memories come from a more recent personal history of celebrating the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur.  For those who are called to serve as prayer leaders, the High Holy Days present a double challenge:  how to prepare the soul-clearing within, while also preparing for services, music, sermons, and myriad practical details so that the holy days are meaningful and uplifting for others in our congregations, institutions, and communities. (more…)

Return and Renew – A Message for Rosh Hashanah

A High Holy Day Message from AJRCA

Though this has been a very challenging year for many of us, we as Jews never give up the faith that the potential for renewal and bringing forth Light from the darkness is built into the creation. On Rosh Hashana there is always the stirring of a new illumination as the Sound of the Shofar awakens us from slumber and despair to the power innate in our souls to return to G-d, to rekindle the Great Light and to reignite the treasure of new life. (more…)


By: Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

Welcome to our new website!

As we begin our new year, returning to our home at UCLA Hillel, we have much to be grateful for. As I sit here the first day, I ponder the two contradictory maxims that keeps popping through my head, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” and the other, “All Life is a Return Home.” Yes, it is complicated, I am complicated, life is complicated; so what does all this mean to me, especially at this our season of Return and Renewal!