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“Kol Ami is a community where each member’s presence is valued. I feel it each time I participate in Shabbat services and events, and whenever I am with the members who are now my friends. It is the warmth of this congregation that keeps me grounded.”
Executive Director Elaine Stevens probably knows more about the history, organization and daily functioning of Congregation Kol Ami than any other individual. This is in part because Elaine has been with us since the beginning. It is also because of her unwavering dedication to the synagogue and its members.
Elaine served as a founding Board member of Kol Ami from 1994 through 2003, during which time she served several terms as treasurer. As such, she was challenged with setting up the young synagogue’s initial financial structure. Elaine, whose background included extensive administrative work, became Kol Ami’s first Executive Director in 2003. Her position was made full-time shortly after we secured our building.
Although one might not envision Elaine as a thrill seeker, it was the challenge of creating something new and the anticipation of the reward that initially drew her to Kol Ami. Throughout her tenure, she has helped the synagogue stay on course, from its early days as “wandering Jews” to its growth into a URJ-affiliated congregation with a large campus, a K-12 Religious School and a full schedule of programming for members of all ages.
Kol Ami’s commitment to creating and maintaining an intimate and involved Jewish community is what continues to inspire Elaine’s work at Kol Ami. As Executive Director, Elaine is the gatekeeper of the calendar and involved in just about every aspect of the synagogue’s functioning. She has chaired or been a volunteer on so many Kol Ami committees that it would be more efficient to name those on which she hasn’t served.
When Elaine does take a break from Kol Ami, her passion and first love is being an equestrian and enjoying time with horses. She is also a dog lover and the most popular dog sitter at Kol Ami.
“To come back to a place where I had such a positive experience as a child. It is like a dream come true. It is amazing because while I was in school in later years for Jewish education my frame of reference was definitely my experience at Kol Ami.”
Rachael has been a part of the Kol Ami community since its foundation and is thrilled to return as the Director of Education! Rachael attended religious school at Kol Ami beginning in first grade through Confirmation. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she studied International Politics and Development with an education focus. Rachael also holds a Master of Arts in Jewish Education from Gratz College.
Rachael began her career in Rabat, Morocco, where she taught teenagers and adults at an English language center, first grade and kindergarten at a Canadian school, and served as Program Advisor for CIEE Rabat, a study abroad program for American students. While in Rabat, Rachael was an active member of the local Jewish community, whose members helped to encourage her to pursue a career exclusively in Jewish Education.
Rachael taught a Reggio Emilia-inspired Jewish curriculum at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia as well as religious school at Temple Rodef Shalom in Fairfax, Virginia before returning to the Philadelphia area. In 2014, Rachael became a founding teacher of the Yeshiva Lab School in Narberth, PA. She collaborated with researchers and administrators to create a progressive model of Jewish education based on the most current research in education. In 2018, Rachael was awarded the Kohelet Prize for Differentiated Education for her work in creating a differentiated Jewish curriculum based in goal setting.
Rachael returned to Kol Ami Religious School in 2017 as a religious school teacher, where she taught Kindergarten through 2nd grade for two years.
Rachael’s passions include incorporating progressive education in supplementary schools, celebrating diversity in Jewish practices and traditions, and intergenerational education and community building. Rachael lives in Elkins Park with her husband, Yehoshua, and their daughter, Ahava.
Congregation Kol Ami fifth grade teacher Neal Beatus enjoys examining bible stories through a psychological lens. A psychotherapist with almost 20 years of experience, Neal has used this approach to train other therapists. He taught a course he developed, “Psychoanalysis and the Bible,” as part of Congregation Kol Ami’s Continuing Jewish Education for Adults program, and will be offering an additional course this year: “The Book of Job: God, Truth, and Psychoanalysis.”
With support from Rabbi Holin, Neal has presented several d’var Torahs at Kol Ami in the past few years. Last year he helped organize an event featuring representatives of the Parents Circle-Families Forum, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization of families who have lost loved ones in the Middle East conflict. Their stories of loss and renewal moved all who attended.
Neal graduated from Haverford College with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and Bryn Mawr College with a Master of Social Service.
Neal has been a member of Kol Ami since 2007, along with his wife Ann and their two children, Isabelle and James. They chose Kol Ami because of its warm, friendly atmosphere, and its welcoming attitude toward interfaith couples.
Neal and his family live in Elkins Park. In his spare time, Neal enjoys camping with his family and reading.
There are not many people who can say they love their work after 30 years on the job, but Sheri Cutler can. Sheri is director of Federation Early Learning Services (FELS) Early Learning Center at Congregation Kol Ami, and she is overflowing with unbridled enthusiasm about what she does. “I love the kids, the families and the community,” she says.
Kol Ami’s move into Rodeph Shalom’s former suburban campus in 2006 offered the synagogue its first opportunity to house a nursery school. Familiar with the stellar reputation of Rodeph Shalom’s nursery school and its director – Sheri – Kol Ami found it an easy decision to negotiate to take over the school. Sheri stayed on as director and became a member of Kol Ami.
“I’ve known Rabbi Holin for a long time,” she says. “In fact, he married my husband and me. Elliot and I always hoped we would work together again some day, so this was meant to be.”
Sheri always wanted to work with small children. She graduated from American University with a degree in early childhood and elementary education. While still an undergraduate, she ran a nursery school for the children of the university professors.
At Kol Ami, Sheri oversees all aspects of the Early Learning Center program. She is impressed by the warm, welcoming atmosphere at Kol Ami and by the spirit of cooperation. “What struck me when I started here was the degree of volunteerism at the congregation. When there’s a need, everyone just pitches in and helps. It’s wonderful to see.”
Sheri and her husband Jonathan have two children: Jesse and his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Julie.
“I love spending my time surrounded by children.”
Samia Bouaicha is lead teacher in the three year old class. Samia is married and has three children.
“I am enjoying spending time in the toddler class and am loving getting to know the children and families at Congregation Kol Ami.”
Joyce Clark is an assistant teacher. Joyce is married and has four grown children.
“Being with the children makes my day. I couldn’t be happier here.”
Barbara Cohen is an assistant teacher in the three year old class. Barbara is married and has two grown children.
“I find great pleasure in watching the children grow and change over the year.”
Sherry Cohen is the lead teacher in the three year old class. Sherry is married and has two daughters. The family is also active members of Congregation Kol Ami.
“I love teaching preschoolers because it is wonderful to be a part of shaping their young minds as they grow and mature.”
Jennifer Perry is the lead teacher in the toddler class. Jennifer is married and her two children became a Bar and Bat Mitzvah at Congregation Kol Ami.
“I love working with children and am thrilled to be part of the Kol Ami family.”
Alexis Snyder is the lead teacher in the four year old class. She enjoys spending time with her family, baking, listening to music and playing the piano.