Visiting Scholars
and Sunday Scholars

To see past Visiting or Sunday Scholars, please visit our Past Courses page found here. 

Visiting Scholars


Ambassador Dennis Ross
October 19, 2023 at 7:00 p.m.

Ambassador Dennis Ross has dealt with every Israeli prime minister for the past thirty years. Having the unusual distinction of being a political appointee for two Republican and two Democratic presidents_-Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Obama--he developed close relationships with five Israeli prime ministers: Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu. Few people know the history of Israel, its efforts on peace, or its relations with the Arabs and the region better.

Dennis Ross and David Makovsky's new book, Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel's Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny, came out on Sept. 3, 2019 to immediate acclaim. The book is an inspiring history of those moments when Israel, a country born in existential peril, faced choices that required extraordinary acts of leadership and judgment to secure its future. The story chronicles four of Israel's most important leaders - David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon - each of whom made historic decisions in the face of fierce opposition. Hear authors Ross and Makovsky provide fascinating portraits of these founding figures - their conviction, character and their political courage - and the lessons their decisions could provide Israel's leaders today as they confront the fateful choice needed to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

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Rabbi Stahl Lecturer: Rabbi Dr. Shumuly Yanklowitz
November 8, 2023 at 7:00 p.m.

How to See the Invisible Right before our Eyes: A Mystical approach to Ethics

We live in deeply polarized times where many rarely talk with others with deeply different perspectives. Each side of each battle is often sure they are right on all points. We turn to ethics for guidance but it may seem surface level. But the responsibilities of Jewish moral leadership are not surface level and a life committed to moral sensitivity is not. Indeed, we must learn to look beyond the surface into a more mystical realm. In this session, we will be inspired to look deeper, within and beyond. We will learn some texts together and listen to moving stories that charge us to find our calling to heal an all-too-broken world. We will see if we can begin to see the unseen.

About Rabbi Yanklowitz

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of Valley Beit Midrash, Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, Founder & CEO of Shamayim: Jewish Animal Advocacy, and Founder & President of YATOM: The Jewish Foster & Adoption Network.

Rabbi Yanklowitz’s writings have appeared in outlets as diverse as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the Atlantic among many other secular and religious publications. Rabbi Yanklowitz is a sought-after educator, social justice activist, and motivational speaker as well as the author of seventeen books on Jewish spirituality, social justice, and ethics.

As a global social justice activist and educator, Rabbi Yanklowitz has volunteered, staffed trips, and taught across the world, including Israel, Ghana, India, France, Thailand, El Salvador, England, Senegal, Germany, Switzerland, Ukraine, Argentina, South Africa, and Haiti. Rabbi Dr. Yanklowitz has also served as a rabbinic representative, facilitator, and speaker at the World Economic Forum in Geneva and Davos. Rabbi Shmuly's religious journey was filmed in the Independent Lens/PBS documentary "The Calling."

Rabbi Shmuly earned a masters degree from Harvard University in Leadership and Psychology, another masters from Yeshiva University in Jewish Philosophy, and a doctorate from Columbia University in Moral Development and Epistemology. He obtained rabbinical ordination from the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and two additional, private ordinations in Israel. He has twice been named one of America's Top Rabbis by Newsweek. In 2016, The Forward named Rabbi Shmuly one of The Most Inspiring Rabbis in America. In 2016, the Forward named Rav Shmuly one of the 50 most influential Jews. In the same year, Yanklowitz was selected for the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship in Cross-Cultural Leadership and Innovative Entrepreneurship at the University of Cambridge.

Rabbi Shmuly, his wife Shoshana, and their four children live in Scottsdale, Arizona. They are also foster parents.

*Events schedule and registrations coming soon


Special Presenter, Lisa Fishbane Joffe
November 17, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.
Cohosted with NCJW

Jewish Approaches to Reproductive Rights.
In this talk, we will explore what Jewish sources, both ancient and contemporary, have to say about the topic of abortion. We will then consider how principles drawn from these sources shape the way Jewish communities and individuals are responding in the aftermath of the decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health.

About Lisa Fishbane

Lisa Fishbayn Joffe is the Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University where she teaches in the Departments of Philosophy and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. She is also director of the Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law that explores the tension between women’s equality claims and religious laws. Her research focuses on gender and multiculturalism in family law and on the intersection between secular and religious law. She is the author of “Gender, Religion and Family Law: Theorizing Conflicts Between Women’s Rights and Cultural Traditions,” (2012); “The Polygamy Question,” (2015); “Women’s Rights and Religious Law,” (2016) and was guest editor of a special issue of “Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues on New Historical and Legal Perspectives on Jewish Divorce,” (Volume 31, 2017). She is a co-founder of the Boston Agunah Task Force, devoted to research, education and advocacy for women under Jewish family law. She holds three law degrees; an LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School and LLM and SJD from Harvard Law School. Before coming to HBI, she taught in the Faculty of Laws, University College London and was law clerk to Justice Frank Iacobucci of the Supreme Court of Canada. She was called to the bar of the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Made possible with support from the Jean and Jesse Wulfe Religious Enhancement Fund and Dr. Mike Ozer and Pat Kalmans

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Musician in Residence: Cantor Ellen Dreskin
January 25-28, 2024

Cantor Ellen Dreskin ( is a communal prayer leader, educator, spiritual director, and mentor in the areas of liturgy, worship, and spiritual practice. She educates toward a deeper understanding of prayers (both traditional and contemporary), and the act of prayer itself as a doorway into spiritual practice and transforming oneself in order to transform the world.

Ellen has served as a scholar-in-residence at dozens of congregations across the country, and as an educator and prayer/ritual leader at numerous Institutes, Camps, and Conferences, including the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, HUC-JIR, SongLeader Boot Camp, Hava Nashira, URJ Biennials, and the JCCA’s Sheva Center for Early Childhood Education. She teaches online and is a regular co-host of Eliana Light’s “LightLab Podcast,” taking deep dives into individual prayers and prayer-related topics.

Ellen was ordained by HUC-JIR in 1986, and has a Master’s Degree in Jewish Communal Service from Brandeis University. She is also trained as a spiritual director. She is married to Rabbi Billy Dreskin, and is extremely proud of their joint projects: Katie, Jonah (z”l), and Aiden.

Join choir and Cantor Ellen Dreskin at 6:00 p.m. 

*Schedule is still in progress and may change. More information to come soon. 

Join us for Pre-Shabbat oneg at 6:00 p.m. followed by services at 6:30 p.m. where Cantor Ellen Dreskin will include song in the D’var Torah. 

*Schedule is still in progress and may change. More information to come soon. 

9:00 a.m. Torah Study, Block Conference Room A 

We will study our weekly Torah portion with Cantor Dreskin

10:30 a.m. Shabbat AM Worship 

11:45 a.m. Shabbat Lunch and Learn, Barshop Auditorium 

Join in community and conversation. Registration coming soon.

7:00 p.m. Havdalah 

Congregational Kumsitz and Havdalah

*Schedule is still in progress and may change. More information to come soon. 

10:00 a.m. Sunday Scholar’s 


*Schedule is still in progress and may change. More information to come soon. 


Spring Scholar: Barry Finestone
February 9-11, 2024

Barry Finestone is President and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation. The Foundation supports Jewish education for youth, teens, and young adults in the U.S., with more than $600 million granted in its first 15 years of operation.

Prior to the Jim Joseph Foundation, Barry was Executive Director of the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund. He moved to the Bay Area in 2010 to become CEO of the JCC of San Francisco, where he oversaw dramatic growth and built it into the second largest JCC in the country. Earlier in his career he served as executive director of the two-campus Isaac M. Wise Temple, transforming its information technology systems and earning the Harris K. and Alice F. Weston Award for Outstanding Leadership.

Barry’s first job out of college was at a residential summer camp director in Waupaca, Wisconsin for Young Judaea. Barry says he never would have hired himself for that job, but the experience was invaluable in helping him learn how to run and operate an entity. His philosophy in work is to have a vision, start going there, and then hire the best people you can and get out of the road!

A Scottish native with 30 years of experience in the Jewish nonprofit world, Barry holds a degree in Community Education from Jordanhill College in Glasgow, Scotland. He and his wife, Ellen, have three children—Gabrielle, Ethan and Mia.

*Events schedule and registrations coming soon

Sunday Scholars Series

Sundays 9:30 - 11:00 a.m.

The Sunday Scholar Series focuses on a yearly theme from a variety of angles. Sunday sessions draw a diverse crowd. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable to ensure learners of all levels feel welcome and included. Some participants are parents of religious school students inspired to learn with their children, while others are exploring Judaism for themselves. Some participants attend all the sessions, while others come for the specific topics of their interest. Everyone is welcome, and everyone becomes part of the unique classroom community that Temple has fostered. You will leave with new ideas to think about and happy that you took this time for yourself.


Rachel Stern

Temple Beth-El promotes life-long learning and therefore offers learning opportunities at every stage of life. in addition to exceptional youth educational opportunities, Temple Beth-El also offers a robust adult education program. One example of adult learning is our Sunday morning series which in recent years has been taught by Rachel Stern. Rachel holds master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Jewish Non-Profit Management and has been in Jewish education for over 20 years. Rachel currently serves as the Chief Learning and Engagement Officer for Shalom Austin.

Reveal or Conceal- In a time of increasing antisemitism, many Jews are feeling uneasy. While some are choosing to stand tall and share their Judaism in countless ways, others are feeling weary and stepping away from all public forms of Jewish expression. Is your Jewish jewelry being worn for all to see or put away in your jewelry box?

San Antonio, Santiago, and Safed, Oh My!  We are charged as Jews to be linked to other Jews around the world and to take responsibility for each other.  When the dollars and the people’s power are limited,  how do we decide where to invest our time and resources? How can we care for Jews around the world and respond to the needs of our local community?

We Were Strangers in a Strange Land.  This session will explore the many ways we reach out to and help others, from newcomers in our own congregations to refugees seeking safety. How does Judaism guide us and what are initiatives that help us do this holy work?


To register for classes, please click here. For questions, please contact Sara Planto or Ellen Barshop

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