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Professional Staff

 

Rabbi Mara Young

Rabbi Mara (she/her) became rabbi of Woodlands Community Temple in 2021. She has called Woodlands home since 2009, beginning as a rabbinic intern from Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion. Rabbi Mara has served Woodlands in a number of roles, including Associate Rabbi and Director of Congregational Learning. Along the way, she has formed deep connections with all members of the community. She has been instrumental in continuing the Woodlands legacy of blending ancient wisdom with modern sensibilities and her vision has helped to shepherd Woodlands into the 21st century.

Rabbi Mara grew up in Westfield, NJ. She attended Tufts University in Boston where she majored in Anthropology and Judaic Studies with a minor in English. She was ordained at the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion where she also earned a Masters of Hebrew Literature and a Certificate in Education: Specializing in Adolescents and Emerging Adults. While studying at the Los Angeles campus of HUC-JIR, Mara was the rabbinic advisor at Occidental College's Hillel. Upon arriving in New York, Mara worked at the Union for Reform Judaism, Columbia-Barnard Hillel, The Jewish Home and Hospital, and Beth Israel Medical Center. 

Rabbi Mara is the co-founder and former spiritual leader of a young minyan in Astoria, NY called the Wandering Jews of Astoria. In 2017, Rabbi Mara was honored as a "Young Pioneer" by the Jewish Education Project. She serves as a mentor in the Jewish Education Project’s Qushiyot Israel Fellowship and was previously the chair of the Westchester Association of Temple Educators. She also received special training in special needs inclusion through the Matan Institute.

In the area of social action and justice work, Rabbi Mara is passionate about partnering with other religious groups, participating in panels, rallies and celebrations with local Muslim and Christian organizations. Rabbi Mara was selected as a Balfour Brickner Clergy Fellow with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and is actively involved in the Reform Movement’s regional advocacy group, RAC-NY. Her rabbinic school thesis was entitled “Jewish Teens, Substance Abuse and the Value of Intervention” and her experience working in the areas of mental health and substance abuse inspired her to write a prayer for individuals entering addiction treatment, which is included in the Reform Movement’s Rabbi’s Manual.

Rabbi Mara is a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis as well as the Westchester Board of Rabbis, where she participates in the Westchester 2040 Vision project. Her whole family can be seen around temple, including her husband Mark and two young children: Noah and Asher.

You can follow Mara online at divreitorah.wct.org and wct.org/hhdsermons. You can contact her at rabbimara@wct.org.

 

Cantor Jenna Mark 

Cantor Jenna (she/her)  is thrilled to begin her cantorate with Woodlands Community Temple. Ordained from the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in May 2022, Jenna also holds a Masters in Sacred Music. As an HUC Year-In-Israel student Jenna served as the intern at Kehilat Har-El in Jerusalem, Israel’s oldest Reform congregation. She then joined Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey as their cantorial intern, where she stayed for three years. Her last year of school was spent as the cantorial intern at Temple Shaaray Tefila in Manhattan. Along with internships, Jenna received a Masters Concentration in Israel Education as part of iCenter’s iFellows Israel Education Fellowship Program and was part of the ARZA’s HUC-JIR Clergy Fellowship. 

Originally from Houston, Texas, Jenna is an alumna of NFTY-TOR, and the URJ’s Greene Family Camp and Kutz Camp. She earned a BFA in Theatre Performance from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska, and spent much of her adolescence performing in shows produced by Houston’s regional theatre company, Theatre Under the Stars. In the years between undergraduate and HUC, Jenna worked as a full-time educator at Central Synagogue in Manhattan where she crafted a Shabbat morning family prayer and learning experience with friend of Woodlands, Cantor Ellen Dreskin. 

Jenna lives in Stamford with her husband, Rabbi Zach Plesent. She is looking forward to getting to know everyone at WCT and to learning from and with this incredible community.  You can contact Cantor Jenna at cantorjenna@wct.org.

 

Haya Luftig, Executive Director

Haya Luftig (she/her) is excited to join Woodlands Community Temple as Executive Director. Haya has a long history as a Jewish professional having worked at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) for more than 20 years, most recently as its Vice President. She is passionate about working for Tikkun Olam and Jewish Activism through partnership with Lay Leaders and fellow professionals. Haya has played many roles over the years in Jewish communal work from programming to administration, fundraising to membership, and loves being involved in working on projects from conception to launch. 

During her time at the JCPA, Haya has acted as a mentor to many Jewish Community Relations professionals around the country, created new training programs for both professionals and lay leaders, and helped reimagine and oversee their Emerging Leaders Institute helping to create future Jewish leaders. 

Born and bred in the Bronx, Haya’s love and commitment to Jewish life and Israel was formed at a non-denominational day school and reinforced through Young Judaea. After spending her first year in college in the Mechina Program at Hebrew University, Haya went on to complete dual degrees in Anthropology and Theatre at Lehman College. Haya and her family moved to Dobbs Ferry in 2016, joined Woodlands as members in 2019, and have been active members in the congregation since that time. You can contact Haya at haya@wct.org

 

Sarah Canfield-Dafilou, Director of Congregational Learning

Sarah (she/her) oversees our Kesher religious school as well as all educational programs from our early childhood programs to youth and family engagement to adult education. Sarah holds two Masters degrees from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Religious Education and Jewish Nonprofit Management. She has spent over a decade working in the field of Jewish education, from teaching in religious schools in Pennsylvania and New York, to working with student leaders at Hillels of Westchester. She has developed curriculum and facilitator training programs with the Mussar Institute, and has served as the Director of Experiential Education at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto. 

Sarah's passion for Jewish education is driven by the desire to empower learners with the tools they need to create Jewish experiences that are meaningful to them. Leadership is a topic she's excited to continue to explore; she wrote her graduate thesis and curriculum guide on leadership, developed and taught a course on Jewish leadership, loves working with student leaders, and is always curious to know "what does it mean to be a leader?"  You can contact Sarah at sarah@wct.org.

 

Alex Shapiro, Director of Youth Engagement


Alex (he/him) is a recent graduate of the University At Albany with a B.S. in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics. Growing up in Ardsley, NY, Alex has been an active member of the Woodlands congregation for almost his whole life, making him our first Woodlands-raised Director of Youth Engagement! Alex is thrilled to return to Woodlands in this professional role, eager to contribute to the vibrant and nurturing community that has played a pivotal role in shaping his Jewish identity.

 

Throughout his time in college, Alex served as President, Vice President, and Jewish Identity chair of UAlbany's Hillel as well as President, Vice President, and Secretary of the Alpha Nu Chapter of the AEPi fraternity. Alex has spent many summers at URJ Crane Lake Camp working as a counselor, songleader, and Unit Head. Through these experiences, he has honed his leadership skills and developed a deep understanding of the transformative power of immersive experiences for youth. You can contact Alex at youth@wct.org.


Lara Tessler, Rabbinic Intern

Lara Tessler (she/her) is a rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. Lara graduated from Florida State University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music. While at Florida State, she worked as a Song Leader at the URJ Camp Coleman for three consecutive summers. Her favorite part about camp was being able to create lasting friendships with both campers and staff, while also getting hands on experience working with youth of all different ages.

Lara grew up in Wellington, Florida, and moved to NYC in January 2021. When she is not in class, you can find her taking walks outside in the park, or searching for the best spots for ice cream! Lara is looking forward to joining Woodlands Community Temple, and is excited to meet all of the members of its community. She hopes to bring her passion and love for Jewish life with her to WCT, and she looks forward to learning from, and with the community as well.  You can contact Lara at intern@wct.org.

 

Corey Friedlander, Shaliach Kehilah

corey friedlander_head

Corey Friedlander (he/him), our Sh’liakh K’hilah (literally “messenger to the community”), can be seen leading services, life cycle rituals, and supporting our community and our clergy. He fondly remembers the influence of his beloved Rabbi Bernard Zlotowitz (z”l) at Union Reform Temple in Freeport, Long Island, where Corey was president of his temple youth group and active in LIFTY (now part of NFTY-NAR). Corey majored in Germanic Languages and Literatures and was a varsity fencer at Yale University, from which he was graduated magna cum laude with honors in the major eight years after entering, taking time off twice to learn the important lesson that being perfect was not a requirement for graduation or for life. During his time off, Corey worked in import-export and, dealing mainly with Latin America, added Portuguese to his knowledge of German and Spanish. Corey is currently a vice president at his employer of nearly forty years, a manufacturer of construction fasteners, having taken time off in the bookselling industry to manage bookstores in Tarrytown and Riverdale and to work as the Director of Professional Development and Education at the American Booksellers Association. Corey feels blessed to have found Woodlands as his spiritual home in 1996 and exceedingly grateful to have participated in the Sh’liakh K’hilah program, a joint two-year training program of the URJ, CCAR, and HUC-JIR that included intensive summer study at the seminary in Cincinnati, additional coursework, and rabbinic mentoring. Corey was certified in 2005 and has been joyfully serving the WCT congregation ever since!  You can contact Corey at corey@wct.org.
 

In the office:

Michele Montague
Liz Rauchwerger
Hernando Carmona, Building Caretaker
Anthony Carmona, Assistant Building Caretaker

 

Emeritus leadership:

 

Rabbi Billy Dreskin, Emeritus

Rabbi Billy Dreskin served as our rabbi for twenty-six years from 1995 to 2021. Previous to that, Billy was our rabbinic intern and Assistant Rabbi from 1985 to 1989. Growing up in Cincinnati, Billy emigrated to Boston where he earned his B.A. from Brandeis University where he studied music, twice receiving the Reiner Prize in Music Composition, and graduating in 1980. After two years in New York City pursuing an elusive career in musical theater, he entered Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1982 and was ordained in 1987. During his years at HUC-JIR, Billy’s musical, “Personals,” opened off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theater (co-written with friends David Crane and Marta Kauffman, responsible for the hit television series, “Friends”). Billy is happily married to Cantor Ellen Dreskin and the very proud father of Katie, Jonah (z"l) and Aiden. You can follow Billy online at billydreskin.net and jonahmac.org. His email address is RabbiBilly@wct.org.

Cantor Jonathan Gordon, Emeritus

Harriet Levine, Educator Emerita

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784