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Professional Staff

 

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 Lance (he/him) hails from Ormond Beach, Florida, where he grew up playing piano, guitar, and clarinet and taking on big performing roles for community and camp musical theater. His musically active family included a grandfather who was a composer and played 19 instruments and a grandmother who was an actress and singer. Lance wrote his first major composition in high school, a symphonic poem for 23 instrumental parts. Though his plan as an undergrad at the University of Miami was to pursue a career in the music business, his Jewish musical experiences in South Florida convinced him that he could “combine Judaism and music and do what I wanted to do with my own heritage.” And that—after working as a freelance arranger for Warner Bros. Publications and teaching music to kids on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship—led him to the cantorate. During his cantorial studies, he became an established composer of Jewish music in which his compositions were published by URJ Books and Music and Shalshelet, and he was honored with the Max and Sol Feld Prize in Composition for two consecutive years. Invested as a hazzan at the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, he spent six years at a temple in Houston before coming back to New York to be reinvested as a Reform cantor and, following that, to work with Rabbi Josh Davidson as the interim cantor at Temple Emanu-El. Two years later, after stops in Florida and California, Lance, whose repertoire includes choral direction, a mastery of music technology, and a wide range of musical influences, now finds himself at Woodlands, a temple that he says reminds him of the warm, intimate, community-based temple at which he grew up. Coming here, he says, feels like coming home. You can contact Cantor Lance at cantorlance@wct.org.
 

Abby Reiken, Director of Congregational Learning

Abby Reiken (she/her) joined the WCT community in July 2021 as our Director of Congregational Learning. She oversees early childhood to adult education as well as youth, family, and community engagement. Abby is passionate about collaborating with educators, clergy, lay leaders, and community members to develop memorable Jewish experiences that are personally meaningful and engaging.

Abby has a rich and varied background as a Jewish educator and leader. She was the Education Director at Bet Am Shalom Synagogue in White Plains from 2011-2021 and was a youth and family educator at Temple Israel Center in White Plains from 1999-2011. She also taught in Jewish day schools and summer camps. Abby serves on the Mosaic Advisory Board, which cultivates an LGBTQ+ inclusive Jewish community in Westchester by facilitating roundtable discussions, creating and sharing resources, and developing programming. She is also a    member of the Westchester Association of Temple Educators.

At Brandeis University, Abby majored in psychology and completed an education program to receive her Elementary Education Teacher Certification. She took graduate courses in education and Judaic Studies at the American Jewish University and earned a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Lesley College. Abby received numerous awards, including the Solomon Schechter Gold Award for excellence in family education programming, the Grinspoon Foundation Teaching Award for excellence and commitment to Jewish education, and METNY USCJ awards for excellence in synagogue programming and social action programming. Abby and her husband Steve have three daughters, who have taken on leadership roles in their Jewish communities. You can contact Abby at abby@wct.org.


Avital Abraham, Director of Youth and Community Engagement

Avital (they/them) is a recent graduate of Ithaca College with a B.A. in Sociology and a double minor in Environmental Studies and the Honors Program. They grew up in Fanwood, NJ and have been spending their summers as a camper, counselor, and song leader at URJ Eisner Camp since they were 7 years old. In their free time, you can find Avital writing spoken word poetry, trying out a new kind of fiber art, or practicing their edible plant identification skills out in the woods. 

One weekend in 2014, Avital came to Woodlands Community Temple for Nashir, a song leading retreat for high school students, and, at that retreat, was inspired to get involved in the incredible work of Jewish education and community building. Since then, they’ve worked as a Song Leader, Religious School Music Teacher, Youth Group Advisor, and Nature Educator. They are so excited that their path has now brought them to Woodlands Community Temple and can’t wait to join the community! You can contact Avital 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, Sh’liakh K’hilah

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:

Marjorie Mattel
Michele Montague
Liz Rauchwerger
Hernando Carmona, Building Caretaker

 

Previous leadership:

 

Rabbi Billy Dreskin, Rabbi Emeritus

Rabbi Billy Dreskin grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. His elementary education was acquired at Bond Hill Elementary School, after which he attended Cincinnati Country Day, then Crest Hills Junior High, and graduated from Walnut Hills High School. After successfully de-matriculating from six weeks at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, he attended 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. During his years at HUC-JIR, his 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” ... you can actually find the show’s poster, with his name listed in the credits, still hanging in the Minetta’s basement lobby!). Billy is very happily married to Cantor Ellen Dreskin, is the proud father of Katie, Jonah (z"l) and Aiden, and the proud human of Charlie. You can follow Billy online at wct.org/hhdsermons, billydreskin.net and jonahmac.org.
 

Cantor Jonathan Gordon, Cantor Emeritus

Harriet Levine, Educator Emerita

Sun, September 19 2021 13 Tishrei 5782