MEET OUR CLERGY
Rabbi Cassi Kail
Dear Temple Beth El Community,
My name is Cassi Kail, and I am both humbled and overjoyed by the opportunity to serve as the next Rabbi of Temple Beth El. This summer I will move to San Pedro with my husband, Josh, and our children Noam and Talia.
From the moment I walked through the synagogue’s doors, I knew I wanted to be a part of the Beth El community. It was not the stunning new building that most impressed me, but rather the people within. I feel immense gratitude to work alongside the superbly talented and devoted leadership of Cantor Ilan Davidson, Racheli Morris, Carrie Hernandez and Shoni Gramcko. Conversations with lay leaders such as Gale Swartz and Eric Imley demonstrated a sense of pride in Beth El’s rich 97-year-old history. I am proud to join in their commitment to upholding this rich legacy while embracing the enormous opportunities of today.
Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a rabbi. I delight in creating meaningful worship, studying and teaching Torah, interfaith work, and tikkun olam. Of all the work I have been blessed to do since my ordination in 2011, I find relationship building to be the most gratifying. It will be my top priority to find opportunities to get to know you when I arrive in San Pedro this Summer. I am so grateful for the congregational leaders who are already volunteering to open their home for informal social gatherings so that we can begin what I hope will prove to be meaningful and long-lasting connections. In Pirkei Avot, our ancestors teach, “Make for yourself a teacher, acquire a friend.” I look forward to the many years of learning and of friendship ahead of us.
Rabbi Cassi Kail, a native New Yorker, was ordained in 2011 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where she also received a Master’s in Jewish Literature. For the past seven years, she worked as a congregational rabbi for Temple Emanu-El of Utica, NY and then Temple Or Elohim in Jericho, NY. Rabbi Kail is a proud member of the Interfaith Clergy Council of Syosset and Woodbury. Previously, she served on the steering committees of InterFaith Matters, Reform Jewish Voice and the Empire State Anti-Poverty Initiative of the Mohawk Valley. While in Seminary, she co-founded a young egalitarian minyan called The Wandering Jews of Astoria, serving unaffiliated Jews in their 20s and 30s. Rabbi Kail is passionate about worship, Israel, interfaith work, and supporting people on their individual Jewish journeys. She loves teaching people of all ages, singing, and playing guitar. Rabbi Kail and her husband, Josh are proud parents of their children, Noam and Talia.
Cantor Ilan Davidson
Cantor Ilan Davidson has served Temple Beth El since 1995. The youngest in a long familial line of cantors, he began his training at the age of five with his mentor, Hazzan Philip Model z”l. With a strong performing arts background from the University of California, he is also a talented secular musician and contemporary Jewish singer and songwriter. He released his first album, Stained Glass, in 1995.
Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Cantor Davidson claims both the South Bay and Rishon LeZion, Israel, as his home. He brings his love of Israel into his work through pro-Israel activism and leading our congregational tours to Israel. These tours are distinguished by their focus on family, on interfaith aspects of Israeli life and showcase the many facets of this beautiful country. The goal of our congregational tours is to expand understanding of Israel from its role as the Jewish state to a state that is the home to many world religions, bringing the love of this country that Ilan learned from his father to generations to come.
In leading our congregational worship in partnership with our rabbi, Cantor Davidson incorporates traditional modes of Jewish prayer, along with contemporary Jewish songwriting, weaving a variety of musical genres through several devotional styles – traditional Shabbat service, musical Shabbat service, as well as healing and meditation services. This effort to integrate the full range of our tradition into the spiritual experiences of our congregation engages congregants that may have responded to just one kind of service. As Cantor Davidson often says, “I want to please everybody some of the time.”
Among Cantor Davidson’s responsibilities include coordination of the adult and youth choirs. He selects the music, rehearses the vocalists, and brings their full expression of prayer in song to our High Holidays services. To the delight of his students and the congregation, the choir’s repertoire incorporates contemporary Jewish music to enrich our musical Shabbat services, Hanukkah celebrations, and family Shabbat services. In addition, each spring Cantor Davidson takes the choir on tour to locales in the Western U.S.
Cantor Davidson teaches our B’nai Mitzvah students, helping them learn the art of Torah and Haftorah cantillation, preparing them to lead the community in prayer. Also, working with the Temple’s Torah School, Cantor Davidson nurtures his students from preschool to adulthood, instilling in our children love for the vibrancy of Judaism in their lives and a love for Jewish music. Currently, he is also the Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Temple. In this capacity he teaches love of Judaism through formal educational, youth programs, and his relationship with Camp Newman and other URJ camps.
Cantor Davidson is a consummate artist and a devoted social activist. Often these two passions combine in a beautiful way. Ilan takes his masterful art to the community; he has given concerts in Israel as well as throughout the United States. Performing sacred as well as secular music, from Bimah to Broadway, he shows the world how beautiful music warms hearts, stirs souls, and heals the world. In 2008 Cantor Davidson created a nonprofit organization, Kindred Spirits, a humanitarian foundation that has produced concerts and golf tournaments – events designed to raise awareness and funds for partnering aid organizations. Cantor Davidson is a past the president of the South Coast Interfaith Council and, in 2017, he was appointed Vice President of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations by Supervisor Janice Hahn.
In 2001 Cantor Davidson married his beautiful wife, Jodi. They are the proud parents of Jordan Rebecca and Zoe Lauren. It is in this loving and supportive family that Cantor Davidson finds balance, joy and help, indispensable for the work that he does at Temple Beth El as well as in the broader San Pedro and Los Angeles communities.
Cantor Ilan may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Educator Racheli Morris
Racheli Morris joined Temple Beth El as our new Educator on July 1st, 2018. She was most recently the Director of Education at Temple Beth El in Riverside, where she has been for the past three years. Concurrently, she is a lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at California State University, Long Beach, where she teaches Modern Hebrew and Israeli Culture, and developed their Modern Hebrew Syllabus for fundamental and intermediate levels of Hebrew. She was also the Hebrew coordinator at Kadima Elementary Day School in Los Angeles. Racheli has earned a United States patent and has published a series of articles on the Jewish Holidays.
Racheli is a sabra, born in Haifa. She was raised in the Golan Heights. She received a certiﬁcate in Teaching Hebrew and Jewish Studies from the Jewish Agency for Israel in Tel Aviv. She moved to Virginia Beach in 1985 and to California in 1990. She received her degree from UCI in Psychology and Social Behavior and then returned to spend a year in Israel at Hebrew University. In addition, Racheli has earned two Master Degrees in Education and Management from Middlebury College, Vermont and from Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel. She is completing her Doctorate in the Science of Jewish Studies from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning.
Racheli has published two books, ‘Celebrate the Jewish Holidays’, and ‘Numbers that Count’ for children.
Racheli may be reached by email at TBEeducator@bethelsp.org.
Rabbi Emeritus David Lieb
Rabbi David S. Lieb, z’l was the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El of San Pedro from 1971 through 2005, and was our Rabbi Emeritus from 2005 until his passing. Born and raised in Chicago, he received a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Illinois. He was ordained at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, in 1969 and then served as an Army chaplain for two years at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. In 1994, Rabbi Lieb received the Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College. A longtime resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, Rabbi Lieb died at his home in Indio, California on Saturday, March 8, 2008.