About the Authors

Creating Sacred Communities

Leading Practitioners Share Lessons Learned

Dr. Ron Wolfson

Ron is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and president of the Kripke Institute. He is a much sought-after consultant and lecturer on building sacred communities in synagogues, schools, community centers, and camps around the world.

He has had a profound influence on the Jewish community through his books Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community and The Relational Judaism Handbook (with Rabbi Nicole Auerbach and Rabbi Lydia Medwin).

In addition to training clergy and educators, Ron is the author of many books bringing the values and rituals of Jewish life to a popular audience, including God’s To-Do ListThe Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven, The Spirituality of Welcoming, and Raising A+ Human Beings: Crafting a Jewish School Culture of Academic Excellence and AP Kindness (with Dr. Bruce Powell). 

Ron is a living kidney donor on behalf of his wife of over fifty years, Susie Kukawka Wolfson. He lives in Los Angeles and eats frozen yogurt just about every day. drronwolfson.com

Rabbi Brett Kopin

Rabbi Brett Kopin was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, graduated with a BA from Washington University in St. Louis in 2013, and received rabbinic ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in 2021. He is the co-screenwriter of the award-winning animated film The Tattooed Torah. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sofia.

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl serves as the senior rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City and is the first woman to lead Central’s Reform congregation in its 180-year history. Rabbi Buchdahl first joined Central Synagogue as senior cantor in 2006. In 2014, she was chosen by the congregation to be senior rabbi. Born in Korea to a Jewish American father and a Korean Buddhist mother, Rabbi Buchdahl is the first Asian American to be ordained as a cantor or rabbi in North America. She and her husband, Jacob Buchdahl, have three children.

Rabbi Sara Himeles

Rabbi Sara Himeles is an editor at Unpacked for Educators and OpenDor Media, a Jewish media and education company. Before entering the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, she handled communications for former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and presidential candidate Barack Obama. She earned her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and rabbinical ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

Master Class Contributors

Rabbi Nicole Auerbach
Rabbi Nicole Auerbach is the director of congregational engagement at Central Synagogue in New York City, where she helps people build deep and sustaining relationships with one another, with Jewish tradition, and with God. She is the coauthor, with Dr. Ron Wolfson and Rabbi Lydia Medwin, of The Relational Judaism Handbook: How to Create a Relational Engagement Campaign to Build and Deepen Relationships in Your Community (2018). She was ordained by Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in 2016.

Melissa Balaban
Melissa Balaban is IKAR’s founding president and CEO. She focuses on the strategic direction of the community, working closely with Rabbi Sharon Brous and the board to develop appropriate fundraising goals and execute the associated activities. Prior to joining IKAR, Melissa was assistant dean at the University of Southern California Law School. Together, Sharon and Melissa are among the founders of the Jewish Emergent Network, a consortium of seven leading independent minyanim.

Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard
Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard began his career in 1996 as assistant rabbi at Adat Ari El, a Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles, California. In 2006, he became senior rabbi, only the third senior rabbi in the history of the congregation. Rabbi Bernhard served as president of the Board of Rabbis in Greater Los Angeles and on the boards of several communal organizations.

Rabbi Sharon Brous
Rabbi Sharon Brous is the senior rabbi and founding rabbi of IKAR, a Jewish community launched in 2004 to reinvigorate Jewish practice and inspire people of faith to reclaim a moral and prophetic voice. Her TED talk “Reclaiming Religion” has been viewed by more than 1.4 million people and translated into twenty-three languages. Ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, Sharon is widely recognized as one of the most influential rabbis in America.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein
Rabbi Ed Feinstein is senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California. He serves on the faculty of the Ziegler Rabbinical School of the American Jewish University, the Wexner Heritage Program, and the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem; he also lectures widely across the United States. He is the author of several books, including: Tough Questions Jews Ask – A Young Adult’s Guide to Building a Jewish Life (Jewish Lights, 2003) and In the Pursuit of Godliness and a Living Judaism: The Life and Thought of Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis (z”l) (Jewish Lights, 2020). He came to Valley Beth Shalom in 1993 at the invitation of the renowned Rabbi Harold Schulweis, and succeeded Rabbi Schulweis as the congregation’s senior rabbi in 2005.

Janice Kamenir-Reznik
Janice Kamenir-Reznik retired from the active practice of law to cofound Jewish World Watch, a Jewish response to genocide and mass atrocities, with her rabbi, Harold M. Schulweis (z”l) in 2004. After practicing environmental law for more than two decades, she has served as a leader of many Jewish, feminist, and legal organizations, directing the Commission on Soviet Jewry for the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, becoming a Los Angeles County commissioner, and cofounding Jews United for Democracy and Justice.

Norman Levine, Esq.
Norman Levine is an attorney, specializing in all matters of real estate law. He was the managing partner of a major Los Angeles firm, Greenburg Glusker from 1998 to 2011. He has served the Jewish community as president of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, and chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies board of directors.

Rabbi Lydia Medwin
Rabbi Lydia Medwin is director of congregational engagement and outreach at The Temple, a Reform synagogue in Atlanta, Georgia. Ordained by Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in 2010, Lydia served as a pulpit rabbi at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles for four years. She is the coauthor, with Dr. Ron Wolfson and Rabbi Nicole Auerbach, of The Relational Judaism Handbook: How to Create a Relational Engagement Campaign to Build and Deepen Relationships in Your Community (2018).

Rabbi Dan Moskovitz
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom in Vancouver, Canada. Prior to joining the congregation, he was associate rabbi at Temple Judea in Los Angeles. Ordained at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, Dan is the chair of the Reform Rabbis of Canada and an active leader of social justice causes.

Dr. Bruce Powell
Dr. Bruce Powell is the Distinguished Lecturer of Jewish Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles and director of the Institute for Day School Excellence and Sustainability. He helped found three Jewish day high schools and has consulted on the founding of twenty-three more throughout North America. Honored with the Covenant Award and the Milken Jewish Educator Award, Bruce is president of Jewish School Management and co-author of Raising A+ Human Beings: Crafting a Jewish School Culture of Academic Excellence and AP Kindness.

Rabbi Motti Seligson
Rabbi Motti Seligson is director of media and public relations for Chabad-Lubavitch.

Rabbi Mike Uram
Rabbi Mike Uram is the chief vision and education officer for Pardes North America. For sixteen years, he was executive director and campus rabbi at Penn Hillel. Author of Next Generation Judaism: How College Students and Hillel Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations, a National Jewish Book Award winner, Mike is a sought-after consultant and speaker on the changing nature of the American Jewish community.

Pastor Rick Warren
Pastor Rick Warren is the senior pastor of Saddleback Church, one of the largest megachurches in the world. Rick was born in San Jose, California, and earned a Bachelor of Arts from California Baptist University, a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife Kay founded Saddleback Church when he was just 26 years old in 1980. Rick has become one of the nation’s leading pastors. He mentors young leaders, and many of today’s leading pastors credit him and his book The Purpose Driven Church for inspiring them to pursue their own callings to ministry. He built the Purpose Driven Network, a global alliance of pastors from more than 160 countries and hundreds of denominations who have been trained to lead purpose driven churches. Pastor Rick also founded Pastors.com—an online interactive community that provides sermons, forums, and other practice resources for pastors. His book, The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?, originally written as a curriculum for a 40-day campaign in his church, has sold 50 million copies in 85 languages.

Rabbi Josh Warshawsky
Rabbi Josh Warshawsky is a pray-er, gatherer, music creator, and lifelong meaning seeker. He is a nationally touring Jewish musician, songleader, composer, and teacher of Torah. Josh seeks to build intentional praying communities, traveling to synagogues and Jewish communities across the country sharing his music and teachings on prayer. Josh was ordained as a rabbi in May 2019 by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles. He is on the faculty of Songleader Boot Camp and leads the Ramah Shabbaton and the Ramah Chavurah.