Congregation Kehillah welcomes new cantor, executive director

Congregation Kehillah welcomed its new cantor, Sheila (pronounced Shay-la) Nesis, at its May 10 Shabbat service. She officially starts on July 1.

The cantor’s roles will include coordinating youth education and religious school programs, teaching adult education, pastoral work, pulpit work and programming, according to Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman, Kehillah’s spiritual leader.  

Nesis grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she was trained as a cantor at the Fundacion Judaica’s School of Shlichei Tzibur. She served in numerous congregations there, as well as with the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Most recently, she served as assistant cantor at Temple Israel of the City of New York from 2007 to 2012. She moved to the Valley in August 2012 when her husband, Alex Abreu, became a doctoral candidate at the School of Arts, Media and Engineering at Arizona State University. She has also worked on an album, scheduled to be released this fall, that features original melodies for Shabbat liturgy.

Jill Weinstein started as the congregation’s first executive director on March 20. Her background is in marketing communications, with experience in communications strategy, community relations, brand development and digital media.

“I am so excited about working with these two passionate and highly intelligent, amazing young women,” Sharfman said. “I feel very blessed and honored with this opportunity that I personally and Kehillah [are] being offered right now to create some really precious entryways into Jewish life. ... This is a very important step in Kehillah’s development.” 

The independent synagogue, which was founded in 2008 and currently has about 60 member units, holds Shabbat services on the second and fourth Friday nights of the month at Har Zion Congregation. On the third Saturday morning of each month, Kehillah holds Torah Talk, a prayer and study program held at different venues such as people’s homes. On the fourth Friday, the congregation holds a “Kehillah Beit Knesset,” which includes the standard Shabbat prayers with “an element of something that is community-building in a very Shabbat-like way,” Sharfman said. For instance, a recent program focused on Jewish geography and learning about where Jews live in the world and the theme was incorporated into the music used in the Kabbalat Shabbat service.

The congregation also has a youth education program, called YEP! for children in kindergarten through eighth grade, and a new program called Kehillah Without Walls. “Synagogues should be gateways into many flavors and varieties and practices of Jewish life,” Sharfman explains, “so the Kehillah Meetup group is an opportunity to connect on different levels.” The first two groups are hiking, which combines hiking with Torah learning, and a reader’s theater that involves reading Jewish scripts without costumes or staging. Both groups are open to nonmembers. 


Kol Ami annual meeting surprise

Temple Kol Ami of Scottsdale held its annual meeting on May 5, which included the usual reports from President Michael Blaire and the staff. Reports announced a 33 percent growth in membership — to 310 members; how the Early Childhood Center now utilizes 14 classrooms, up from 12; the renewal of Rabbi Jeremy Schneider’s three-year contract; and a nod toward the fundraising successes of the past year, which included the doubling of the preschool’s fundraising revenue to $16,000 and the record attendance at the synagogue’s golf tournament. A surprise announcement, however, was saved until the end of the meeting, according to a press release. 

After Rabbi Schneider gave his closing remarks, which included praising the temple’s staff, volunteers and lay leadership, he added that the temple is anticipating a new member in November. “With his wife, Rachel, by his side,” reported the press release, “Schneider announced that Rachel was pregnant. This motion was approved with a standing ovation.”

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