Clergy

Our rabbis and cantors are committed to instilling our synagogue with their passion, love of Torah, and Jewish knowledge as they lead our congregation and inspire our members.

Deeply concerned about the health and welfare of our congregants, they provide personal pastoral care and are there for all when the need arises. From life cycle events and services to classes and community building - this is an extraordinary team of gifted spiritual leaders.

Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein

Rabbi Morley Feinstein grew up on the Westside of Los Angeles and attended Beverly Hills High School. He attended the University of California, Berkeley where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with highest honors. 

Ordained in 1981 at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Rabbi Feinstein served as the assistant and first associate rabbi of Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, Texas. From 1987 to 2002, he served as senior rabbi of Temple Beth-El in South Bend, Indiana. During his tenure there, he received Indiana’s highest citizen honor - The Sagamore of the Wabash - from its governor for his efforts in promoting peace and justice. Named a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, Rabbi Feinstein brings his deep commitment and passion for Torah, filled with energy, a zest for learning, and his love of music to his sacred work. He has devoted time for thirty one summers teaching at the camps of the Union for Reform Judaism. Rabbi Feinstein serves on the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders and is the president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

He is married to Dr. Margarete Myers Feinstein, a historian and professor at Loyola Marymount University. They are blessed with four children - two sons, Aaron, a physician; Ari, a Jewish Educator; and twin daughters, Eliana and Renata, seventh graders at Paul Revere Charter Middle School.

 

Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro

Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro has been with University Synagogue since 2014. She received her cantorial ordination and masters of sacred music from the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in 2003. 

Cantor Shapiro’s was the first female voice to be heard at the Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York City. She has also appeared in concert at Town Hall and Symphony Space in New York City; Beit Daniel, Tel Aviv, Israel; The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome, Italy; and at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Cantor Shapiro has also been a leader in interfaith dialogue through Saint Joseph's University Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations and Sacred Heart University's Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding. She has been a guest lecturer at the Hebrew Union College (New York & LA campuses), New York University's Ireland House and Trinity College in Dublin.

Originally from West Hartford, Connecticut, she graduated with a B.A. in English from Macalester College in St Paul, Minnesota, and then pursued further study at the Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies and Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Cantor Shapiro served on the board of the American Conference of Cantors from 2006-2018, as a trustee and as vice president of member relations and external partnerships. She currently is the cantorial liaison to the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Task Force on Women in the Rabbinate. Cantor Shapiro has a personal meditation practice and is pursuing training as a Jewish Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.

She is married to Dr. Scott Spencer, an academic trained in  ethnomusicology, whose work focuses on intersections of oral tradition and digital technology. They live in Mar Vista with their two children, Zev and Frances.

 

Associate Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds

Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds was ordained in 2009 at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles where he also received a master of arts degree in Hebrew letters. After graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Rabbi Simonds served as the public policy fellow at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. where he worked on policy issues such as health care, hate crimes and the crisis in Sudan.

Rabbi Simonds is a member of the ARZA National Assembly board, Commission on Social Action, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis Justice, Peace and Civil Liberties Committee. He is a founding member of the Israel Policy Forum’s Rabbinic Network and a founding member and leader of Reform California. He is married to attorney Ariella Thal Simonds, and they are the proud parents of two children.

 

Rabbi Emeritus Allen I. Freehling

For 30 years beginning in 1972, Allen I. Freehling served as the senior rabbi at University Synagogue. During that period, the synagogue emerged as a dynamic proponent of Reform Judaism – providing an assortment of worship experiences, religious education offerings and cultural and social opportunities for hundreds of adults and children. The synagogue family grew from nearly two hundred households to more than a thousand and became a “House of Prayer for All Peoples,” where multiple interfaith activities welcomed individual Jews and non-Jews. Rabbi Freehling became known as a pioneering communal leader, and a champion of human rights – not only in Southern California but throughout the world.

When he was designated as University Synagogue’s first rabbi emeritus in 2002, Mayor James K. Hahn and his successor Antonio Villaraigosa, appointed Rabbi Freehling to serve as the executive director of the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. He was the first Jewish clergy member to be invited to manage a municipal department. Then City Council Member Tony Cardenas, now a member of Congress, later asked the rabbi to serve as his deputy chief of staff. Rabbi Freehling and his wife Lori, now reside in New Orleans. He has two children, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Cantor Emeritus Jay Frailich

Cantor Jay Frailich became University Synagogue’s first cantor emeritus when he retired in June 2014 after actively serving the congregation for 40 years. He was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music in New York where he later received a Doctor of Music degree.  

Cantor Frailich served as President of the American Conference of Cantors in 1982-84. He is best known internationally for commissioning more than 30 major liturgical works and dozens of single pieces during his tenure.

He is a gifted teacher who brings his unique blend of knowledge, humor and vision to both children and adults. He continues to teach future rabbis and cantors as professor of liturgical studies at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California.

Cantor Jay and his wife Sandy, have two married daughters Cantor Lonee Frailich (Michael Gantman) and Reena Frailich, Esq. (Robert Stone), and four grandchildren.

 

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