Rabbinic Search

Rabbi Search Update August 16, 2018

Dear Fellow Congregants:

The Rabbinic Search Committee is delighted to announce that Rabbi Joshua Katzan will join Beth El Congregation for the High Holidays and, together with Cantor Angress and Cantor Emeritus Goldman, to lead services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as we begin 5779.

Rabbi Katzan joins us from his regular duties as a Lecturer in RabbinicLiterature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, part of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.  The Ziegler School is, with the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, one of the Conservative Movement’s rabbinical seminaries. Before joining the faculty of the Ziegler School, Rabbi Katzan served for eight years as the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Habonim in New York, and before that worked for five years as the associate rabbi at Congregation Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver.  We are pleased to have the opportunity to share our holiday experience with Rabbi Katzan, who also will be with us for the Shabbat that immediately precedes Rosh Hashanah. His involvement in our celebration of the holidays should be especially sweet and rewarding as we come together as a congregation with renewed commitment and energy for a productive, healthy and happy new year.

Meanwhile, the Rabbinic Search Committee’s work continues in earnest with respect to identifying and retaining interim and permanent rabbis beyond the High Holidays. Many of you had the opportunity to meet with and learn from Rabbi William Gershon during his weekend with us in mid-July, but he has declined our offer in favor of taking an interim position near one of his children in New Jersey. We remain in active contact with the Rabbinical Assembly, which is supporting our identification of candidates. Our good fortune in having Rabbi Katzan, an experienced pulpit rabbi and educator, help lead us in prayer will provide an additional opportunity for our congregation to show its strength and unite in support of this common effort.

Please contact us at RabbiSearch@bethelphoenix.com with your comments, suggestions, and questions.

On behalf of the Rabbinic Search Committee, we wish everyone Shanah Tovah–a sweet new year!  We look forward to seeing you during the holidays, on Shabbat, at Minyan, and on other occasions at Beth El in the new year!


Ben Cooper & Greg Harris

Rabbinic Search Co-Chairs


Rabbi Joshua Katzan

A native of the Jewish Pico/Robertson neighborhood in West Los Angeles, Rabbi Joshua Katzan grew up in traditional Jewish Day Schools but began to identify passionately with the Jewish ethical and spiritual tradition while in college at the California State University, Northridge in the mid-1980’s.  At that time, he discovered the Jewish practices of meditation and realized Judaism’s voice was one that sought to challenge and build up the soul and character of the individual as well as whole societies. This began a lifelong career in exploring and then teaching the wisdom of Judaism. His passion for psychology, guitar, and Israel were also realized in those formative years at University, and they remain at the forefront of his life and style as an educator to this day.  

“Oh, what a long strange trip it’s been…” This iconic lyric captures the joy Rabbi Katzan experiences when reflecting on the path that has led him to this moment. Through teaching Judaism at the Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, CA for seven years, living and learning in Jerusalem for five years, working as an Associate Rabbi at the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver, CO for five years, and having been the Spiritual Leader of Congregation Habonim in Manhattan, New York for eight years, Rabbi Katzan has deep gratitude for the richness and diversity these experiences and communities have enriched his religious and spiritual life.  All along the way, he found ways to uplift his students, congregants, and community with the aspirations of Jewish tradition, his leadership, with intellectual and spiritual conversation and practice, and with music. He is thrilled to bring his teaching and experience to the Beth El community for the 5779 High Holidays.

Rabbi Search Update July 20, 2018


Dear Fellow Congregants:

This past Shabbat, Beth El hosted Rabbi Bill Gershon. During his time with us, Rabbi Gershon joined us in prayer for Erev Shabbat, ate with us on Friday night, led services on Saturday, addressed the Congregation both in his d’var Torah and Q&A following Kiddush, Saturday evening which included services and a special study session, led minyan on Sunday morning, and concluded with a two-hour session with the Board and Rabbinic Search Committee. We thank those in the Congregation who accepted the offer to meet Rabbi Gershon and to share their views about his potential service as Beth El’s interim Rabbi – a position that Rabbi Gershon stressed would be a temporary position and one from which he would not seek or accept a permanent position, and instead stated that he would direct his efforts to helping Beth El find that candidate.

Following the close of the final meeting, Rabbi Gershon left the building, giving the board the chance for frank and candid dialogue about the needs of the Congregation and whether Rabbi Gershon would be a positive force in the future of the Congregation, albeit for only a brief period. Members spoke at length about what they had each seen and heard, including from their families, members of the Congregation, and from Rabbi Gershon. Based on the recommendation of the Rabbinic Search Committee, the board debated and then voted to extend Rabbi Gershon an offer for an interim position with the Congregation.

The Board acted with full knowledge of the need to secure a rabbi to serve as the Congregation’s spiritual leader, particularly with the holidays approaching. Only with the input it received over the weekend from members of the Congregation, was it possible for the Board to have the confidence to act. Whether Rabbi Gershon will accept remains to be determined. We will keep you informed of our progress. We also need the Congregation to remain actively engaged in our spiritual journey and our search for a permanent Rabbi.

We owe a special thanks to Zachary Hoffman, Alicia Moskowitz and the entire Beth El staff for making it possible for the congregation to celebrate Shabbat and to use this time to meet Rabbi Gershon.

If you have comments or questions, please contact rabbisearch@bethelphoenix.com – or speak to any member of the search committee.


Ben Cooper & Greg Harris
Rabbinic Search Co-Chairs

Rabbi Gershon Visit

Friday, July 13

 5:45 pm  Family-friendly Kabbalat Shabbat service—Rabbi Gershon will assist in leading the Friday night service 

 6:15 pm  Family Shabbat Dinner and Ice Cream Party—Meet and Greet Rabbi Gershon during this fun evening

Saturday, July 14

 9:30 am  Shabbat morning service—Rabbi Gershon will give the Dvar Torah and participate in leading services

12:00 pm  Kiddush Luncheon—Rabbi Gerson will lead a Q & A session after Kiddush

  6:45 pm  Mincha, Ma’ariv & Seudah Slishit—Rabbi Gershon will lead a Torah study between the afternoon and evening services.

Sunday, July 15

  8:15 am  Morning Minyan

Rabbi William Gershon’s Biography

Rabbi William Gershon visits us from Dallas, Texas where he was the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel, a very large USCJ affiliated synagogue from 1998 until 2016. Rabbi Gershon is a past president of  the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative Rabbis. He has served on the Boards of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, Mercaz USA, the Chancellor’s Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the National Council of AIPAC. Rabbi Gershon also served on the Boards of the Ann and Nate Levine Academy and Hebrew Free Loan in Dallas.

Rabbi Gershon is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and has been honored by Israel Bonds with The Israel Freedom Award for his tireless efforts and impassioned support of the State of Israel.

Rabbi Gershon was raised in New Jersey and grew up in the Conservative Movement. He graduated with distinction from the Joint Program of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Columbia University with degrees in Bible and Ancient Near-Eastern Languages. He received his Masters in Jewish Studies and Rabbinic Ordination from JTS in 1987. In addition, he was the recipient of many academic awards.

In addition to serving as a pulpit rabbi in Dallas, Rabbi Gershon served pulpits in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Southfield, Michigan.

Rabbi Gershon’s inspiring sermons, dynamic teaching and creative leadership have made an indelible impact on the congregations he has led and the Rabbinical Assembly.

Rabbi Gershon has three wonderful children, Benji, Eliana and Yoni.

Letter to Congregation 3/21/18

March 21, 2018

Dear Fellow Congregants,

The Rabbinical Search Committee is up and running. Please feel free to talk to any of our Committee members regarding your questions, concerns, thoughts, and hopes about the selection of Beth El Congregation’s next rabbi:

Brian Alpert

Linda Barzilai, Co-President

Barbara Becker, Membership Vice President

Ben Cooper, Co-Chair, Ritual Vice President

Greg Harris, Co-Chair, Board Member

Rebecca Karlin

Allyn Kluger

Zachary Kramer, Board Member

Daniel Rosen, Ritual Committee Member

David Segal

Gail Ulan, Board Member

Sara Ziskin

As announced in the March 17 Beth El Billboard email, Rabbi Lavinsky and Beth El have agreed that the Rabbi will conclude his professional duties at Beth El as of March 23. With this development, Beth El will work through the Rabbinical Assembly to conduct our search.

The Committee has concluded that it is in the congregation’s best interest to retain an interim rabbi to serve the congregation while we conduct our search for a permanent rabbi. We expect this process to take six months to a year. We feel that retention of an interim rabbi best promotes the congregation’s continuity and also secures us the time for the thoughtful and open selection process we all want. Beth El followed just this approach when Rabbi Moshe Tutnauer (of blessed memory) rejoined us for  year while we conducted the successful search that brought Rabbi Lavinsky to Beth El for fifteen years. Our recent experience with the selection of a new cantor showed us the benefits of a patient and thorough search to find the right person, which may take two or more rounds of applications, interviews, and negotiations. You may recall that in our first wave we invited three cantorial candidates without choosing to retain any of them. It was only by reopening the application process to new candidates that we found, to our delight, Cantor Jonathan Angress.

As part of the process of understanding your thoughts and concerns, answering your questions, and identifying the characteristics, skills, and interests that you would like to see in our next rabbi, the Committee will hold four open houses, with the last open house coinciding with the congregation’s annual meeting. We chose a variety of days and time in order to accommodate the schedules and transportation needs of as many congregants as possible:

Sunday, March 25, 9:15am        Open meeting for Talmud Torah and Preschool parents

Tuesday, April 10, 6:30 p.m.     Open meeting after Minyan

Saturday, April 14, 12:15 p.m.   Open meeting after Shabbat kiddush

Sunday, April 29, 10:00 a.m.     Open meeting after Annual Meeting

We heartily encourage you to attend and participate as we look forward to a successful search for our next Rabbi.



Ben Cooper                                         Greg Harris

Ritual Vice-President                        Member, Board of Directors

bencooper8386@gmail.com           palmlane1@msn.com

602-909-1566                                     602-741-7897