Rabbi Craig H. Axler
Shalom! It’s my pleasure to welcome you to Temple Isaiah (virtually at least).
I came to serve as rabbi of Temple Isaiah in July of 2012 and, together with my family, have found here a congregation that I can honestly say would be the synagogue I would choose for my family and myself. What we’ve discovered here at Temple Isaiah is a place that is friendly and warm; where the values and traditions of Judaism come together with an open and progressive vision for the future! Ours is a community that spans the generations (MiDor La’Dor); where joyful song resonates off the walls of our sanctuary; where hands are joined together in the sacred task of repairing our shattered world (Tikkun Olam); where we come together to study, wrestle and draw inspiration from the sacred texts of our people (Limmud).
A few things about me that might be of interest:
I’m a native of the Philly area, and served as a rabbi at Congregation Beth Or for nine years before I arrived at Temple Isaiah. I was ordained at the New York campus of the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in 2003, having been awarded an M.A. in Hebrew Letters in 2002.
Before I entered rabbinical school, I studied and worked for a number of years in the field of Music Therapy, completing my B.S. in Music Therapy at SUNY—New Paltz. My love of music connects with my love of Judaism. I was a songleader at the Union for Reform Judaism‘s Kutz Camp and Camp Harlam, where I have the great pleasure of serving on faculty every summer!
Among my other joys are cooking and baking, reading, enjoying the great outdoors and (above all else) spending time with my family. My wife Pamela is also a Music Therapist, and we are the (tired) parents of Lev, Eliana, and Noam. Additionally, my parents, Barry and Leslie, have recently moved to the area and become members of Temple Isaiah. We live in Clarksville and are very happy to be making our life in Howard County.
If you’re intrigued by any of the above, you’ll find a little more here in the Vision Statement I prepared when I interviewed to become the rabbi of Temple Isaiah. You can also find some of my writings on the Rabbi’s Sermons page. You can also find an archive of some of our LiveStreamed services here.
Contact me by phone at 301.317.1101 or by using our Contact Page.
Shelley Engel, FSA — Executive Director
As Executive Director, I oversee the daily operations of the synagogue, and am responsible for various duties that expand across all aspects of congregational activities. I serve as a liaison between congregants and the Board of Directors.
Prior to coming to Temple Isaiah, I was the Executive Director at Har Shalom in Potomac and B’nai Shalom in Olney, as well as Administrative Director for the Religious Action Center (RAC), the social justice arm for the Reform Movement. Additionally, I serve on the Board of Governors of the North American, and a certified fundraising professional through the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). I was the chair of the 2020 NAASE International Conference.
I have a B.S. from the University of Maryland in Management and Community Studies. I grew up in Bowie, Maryland and now live in Columbia, MD, where I have been for more than 30 years, with my husband Todd. We have two adult children; Randi is married to Richard Leshin and lives in the area, with their two boys, Landon and Ilan, while Jayme is living in Virginia with her husband Justin Boling and their two children Piper and Dax.
Please contact me if you want to know more about membership or Temple Isaiah in general.
Becca Droller — Cantorial Soloist
I have been leading Temple Isaiah in song since 2010. Born and raised in Alexandria, VA, I attended the Madeira School before heading off to Vassar College, where I earned a B.A. in Religion. After working in San Francisco for a few non-profits, I enrolled in graduate school, earning a Master’s of Social Work from Columbia University, with a focus on families and children. I spent three years working as a social worker and school-based mentoring coordinator at Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, before taking the leap to answer my true calling — becoming a cantor! I attended Hebrew College in Boston for two years and earned a Certificate of Jewish Sacred Music. I was thrilled to be hired as the cantorial soloist at Temple Isaiah and to move back home to the Washington, D.C. area.
I met and married my husband Aaron in D.C. and we now have two delightful boys, Hershel and Milo. I love leading Temple Isaiah congregants in prayer and singing my heart out. I also love working with children, and spent many years teaching early childhood music.
Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, RJE — Rabbi Educator
I came to Temple Isaiah in 2016, excited to be a part of a vibrant and warm community and to lead Kulanu, our Religious School Program, and Temple Isaiah quickly became a home for my family. I am originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up attending services and Religious School at Congregation Shalom. As I went through their program, eventually serving as a teaching assistant in the Religious School, the Rabbi-Educators played a big role in my own Jewish development that they inspired me to pursue this calling as my role in the Rabbinate.
I attended the University of Wisconsin where I graduated with a double major in History and Hebrew Studies, continuing to serve in the role of assistant teacher and then lead teacher, at Temple Beth El. After college, I continued on to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, first in Jerusalem and then in Cincinnati. Following ordination in 2002, I moved to the outskirts of Houston to serve as Rabbi of Temple Beth Tikvah. During my two quick years there, I met and married my wife Rachel, a Baltimore native who had moved to Houston to work for the Hillel. We then moved on to St. Louis where I served for seven years at the Rabbi of B’nai El Congregation. During this time, Rachel and I welcomed our sons Ari and Joshua.
We moved back to the Baltimore area in 2011 when I took the position of Education Director at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia. During my years there, I gained the knowledge and skills I needed to move on to the more expansive role of Rabbi-Educator.
I live with my family in Pikesville. where our newest family member is a hyper dog named Shushan.
Rachel Petroff Kessler, RJE — Family Educator
I have been at Temple Isaiah since 2010, working with kids and adults of all ages and stages as Family Educator. Originally from upstate New York, I’ve worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. I received my Bachelor’s in Middle Eastern Studies from Binghamton University and my Master’s in Religious Education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s New York School of Education, where I was awarded prizes for excellence in Jewish education and Modern Jewish Thought. I love studying Jewish texts, listening to Podcasts, and spending time with my amazing family. I live in Columbia with my husband and three children.
Allison Weil — Preschool Director
I am thrilled to join the Temple Isaiah Preschool as the new Director of Early Childhood Education. My family and I have been members of Temple Isaiah since 2019 and we were thrilled that our daughters were able to attend TIPS. They are now continuing their Jewish education through Kulanu. Originally from outside of Philadelphia, I attended Penn State and received a B.S. in Elementary and Kindergarten Education in 2005. After college, I attended the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC as a student in the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, receiving my MA in Jewish Education in 2008.
Throughout my career, I have worked as both a Jewish and secular educator. While in college and graduate school, I worked in several religious schools, staffed youth group events, and worked as a counselor and unit head at Camp Ramah in the Poconos and Camp Ramah in New England. After moving to DC in 2008, I taught for four years at JPDS, now known as the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School. While teaching Kindergarten and 1st Grade, I learned about the Reggio Emilia philosophy and implemented components of it in my classroom. After meeting my (now) husband, Matt, we moved to Howard County in 2011 where I worked at Bet Yeladim with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. I also taught Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd Grades for several years in Baltimore County. After welcoming our daughters, Abigail and Isabel, I began working at the Jewish Federation of Howard County as a Program Associate. My focus was PJ Library and engaging families with young children. I also worked as their Marketing and Communications Associate. I am thrilled to bring my career to Temple Isaiah and have the honor of working at this incredible preschool. I look forward to meeting all of our families and working closely with this amazing team of educators.
Contact Allison if you have any questions about our Preschool classes, Taste of TIPS, or enrollment.
Joanne Brazinski — Kulanu Assistant
I grew up in a really small town with only a handful of Jewish families; the closest temple was a 45-minute drive away, but I enjoyed being in youth group when I was a teen. At NFTY events, it was amazing to meet so many other Jewish kids. I definitely feel that the post-B’nai Mitzvah religious school classes were the most valuable to me, which is why my family joined Temple Isaiah after my older daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. At our previous congregation, youth programming ended after b’nai mitzvah, and I wanted her to have the education and experiences I had, including youth group. Both of my kids joined SYTI, with the older one becoming president her senior year. Both also worked as madrichim at TI, so they got exactly what I had hoped for when we joined. I’m looking forward to helping kids grow at TI.
I have a BA in Drama and Psychology, but spent most of the last 28 years as a computer programmer. The past 16 years I’ve also volunteered at Girl Scout camp, first as a unit counselor and for the last six years as the Program Director. I began when my kids were young; now one has graduated college, and the other is a Junior at Towson. It’s hard to believe — my husband and I still feel like college was yesterday! Purim and Passover are my favorite Jewish holidays; I love making and wearing costumes and I enjoy the challenge of cooking for Passover. I attend a couple of anime conventions each year, wearing costumes I’ve created. More traditionally, I also quilt, belong to a local quilt guild, and teach it part time.
Raya Kridel – Communications Coordinator
At Temple Isaiah, I serve as the Communications Coordinator, where I maintain our website, post to our social media accounts, edit and design The Prophet Magazine, and other printed marketing materials. I moved to Maryland from Indiana, where I previously worked as the Marketing Director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, Program Director for the Indianapolis Bureau of Jewish Education, and operated a small print and web design company, alephMEDIA, working primarily with non-profits and small business owners. I have also been an adjunct professor at the Indiana University School of Journalism teaching visual aesthetics, photography, and print and web design. I have a BS in Media Production and an MFA in Motion Picture, Television, and Recording Arts, both from Florida State University, as well as another BS in Graphic Arts Technology (Photography and Graphic Design) from Florida A&M University. I’ve done additional Doctoral coursework in Art Education and in Journalism. My husband Jeremy is rabbi at Machar: The Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism. We live in Columbia with our teenaged son, Shaye.
Lori Levitas — B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator and Clergy Assistant
I joined the Temple Staff in June 2015, after working many years at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore as an Administrative Assistant. Prior to the JCC, I was the Office Manager of Beth Shalom Congregation of Carroll County. I find it enormously satisfying helping the B’nai Mitzvah families every step of the way. To be honest, I am as excited as they are when the big day finally arrives. I am also Rabbi Axler’s administrative assistant; working with a man that I respect and admire, in our dynamic work environment, is very rewarding. My husband Howard and I have two grown sons, one of whom is married. When I’m not at work, I enjoy taking exercise classes at the local gym, spending time outdoors and traveling with my family.
Beth Luntz — Office Manager
I began working at Temple Isaiah 2005 as an assistant preschool teacher. In 2009 I also became the Assistant to the Religious School Director, finally “graduating” from the preschool in 2010 when I became the Temple Isaiah Administrative Assistant. My daughter was a student in the very first Temple Isaiah Preschool class, Mommy and Me, taught by Morah Renee Panoff at The Meeting House. My son was a Bar Mitzvah with Rabbi Mark Panoff, Emeritus and a member of Rabbi Craig Axler’s first Temple Isaiah Confirmation Class. I live with my husband and two children in Clarksville.
Contact me if you have questions about billing, school registration.
Lauren Reed — Office Assistant
Rabbi Mark J. Panoff, Rabbi Emeritus
Rabbi Mark J. Panoff grew up in the Boston area and received his BA from Hamilton College in 1967. He was ordained as a Reform rabbi from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati (1973). During rabbinical school he studied in Jerusalem at the Hebrew University and HUC.
Rabbi Panoff has a MS in Marriage and Family Counseling, and has done graduate work at Yale University, NYU and The Baltimore Hebrew University. In 1998 he received his honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC.
Arriving at Temple Isaiah in 1986, Rabbi Panoff led this congregation until his retirement when he became the congregation’s Rabbi Emeritus in 2012. Prior to leading Temple Isaiah, he was a rabbi at Central Synagogue (NYC), Congregation B’nai Abraham (Hagerstown, MD) and Congregation Mishkan Israel (Hamden, CT).
Rabbi Panoff, together with his beloved wife Renee (of blessed memory), left an indelible mark on this congregation with over 26 years of leadership and vision. He now resides in Boca Raton, FL.
Dalia Feldman — B’nai Mitzvah Tutor Emerita
Born and raised in Israel, I was chosen at the age of 16 to join the organization “Shurat-Hamitnadvim,” teaching Hebrew to new immigrant children and adults. At 18, I enlisted in the Israeli Defense Force for two years, serving as an instructor at a military school. In 1976 my husband, three sons, and I moved to Columbia, Maryland, and in 1986 I began teaching at the Temple Isaiah Religious School. I also began preparing the children of Temple Isaiah for their B’nai Mitzvah, a role in which I continue to serve. In 1991, I was nominated for the Glasner Award from the Board of Jewish Education for excellence in teaching. Thus far, I have prepared more than a thousand students for B’nai Mitzvah, along with two groups of adult B’nai Mitzvah students.