Clergy and Staff
Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Ph.D., has been a Jewish lesbian activist from the pulpit, on the page and on the Web, in the classroom, and in the streets of Los Angeles for over two decades. Since 1994 she has been rabbi of Los Angeles congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), “House of New Life,” the first synagogue in the world founded by gays and lesbians , and today an LGBTQS inclusive, progressive, diverse community celebrating Jewish faith and culture.
Rabbi Edwards has seen the harm done to LGBT individuals when discrimination is preached by religious authorities and practiced by families and communities of faith, and she works to counteract that damage. From the AIDS crisis to marriage equality to protecting the environment (visit BCC’s green building 6090 W. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles) to Judaism and Jewish sacred texts, Rabbi Edwards is a sought after speaker, teacher, writer, and clergyperson, advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people as well as serving their spiritual needs.
A frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, she is widely published in books on queer and Jewish topics, as well as on websites where her scholarship on traditional Jewish texts combines with the personal and the contemporary. Rabbi Edwards was named by The Jewish Daily Forward in 2013 as one of 36 “Most Inspiring Rabbis,” in 2014 as one of seven LGBT “Leaders and Legends” in the City of Los Angeles, and in 2016 as a “Pioneer of LA Pride: LGBT Activist & Spiritual Leader.”
In addition to ordination as a rabbi and a masters in Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) – the seminary of the Reform Movement of Judaism, Lisa Edwards holds a BA from Brown University, an MA from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Iowa.
Rabbi Edwards and her wife, lesbian activist and archivist Tracy Moore, have been together since 1985, marrying in a Jewish ceremony in 1995 and a California civil ceremony in 2008. Most of all, Lisa Edwards is known as a rabbi who understands the struggles of her congregation and speaks to the hearts of her congregants.
Juval Porat , M.Arch., was born in Israel and moved to Germany with his family as a child. For high school, he returned to Israel, where he studied at the Bnai Akiva Yeshiva. Back in Germany for university, he earned a master’s degree in architecture, and worked as an architect in Berlin.
While in school, Juval served as a cantorial soloist at several congregations. The passion for singing and service leadership bred by those experiences led him to pursue cantorial studies at the newly established Institute of Cantorial Arts in Berlin, part of the Abraham Geiger College. He spent his final academic year at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, where he wrote a thesis on the development of the Friday evening liturgy in Germany, and in June 2009, was invested as the first cantor to be trained in Germany since World War II.
Cantor Porat’s career at BCC began when, while still a student, he served as BCC’s Cantor for the High Holy Days in 2008 and 2009. It felt so right, that he was hired as BCC’s Cantor the following year.
In addition to leading services, Cantor Porat works with BCC’s family education program, directs the BCC choir, teaches adult education classes, and works closely with Rabbi Edwards to meet the spiritual and musical needs of our congregation.
Wherever his wonderful voice is heard—from the bima, in his self-produced Cantors Concert and cabaret-style show, in Purim drag, on YouTube, with BCC’s choir or BCC’s children—there are always new pleasures and surprises. Cantor Porat’s talents truly help make BCC a home. In 2012, Cantor Porat produced a celebratory concert and CD in honor of BCC’s 40th Anniversary.
Cantor Porat’s blog can be found here: juval-online.com
Rabbi Heather Miller now serves as Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth El of South Orange County. She can be reached at (949) 362-3999 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We share our love & appreciation for Rabbi Heather and wish her great success in her new congregation!
Elissa Barrett joins Temple Beth Chayim Chadashim as Interim Executive Director with great joy for the opportunity to be of service to a community she loves and has been a member of since 2001.
Elissa comes to BCC after a long and fulfilling career in public interest law and non-profit management. At Bet Tzedek Legal Services, she served in a variety of capacities, including Interim CEO, General Counsel, co-founder of the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network, Director of the California Consumer Justice Coalition, and Director of the Sydney Irmas Housing Conditions Project.. Elissa also served as Executive Director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance during which time she co-founded Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.
Elissa is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and Tufts University. She has led and appeared on panels for the American Bar Association Equal Justice Conference, the Pro Bono Institute, SmartGrowth America, and National Council for Jewish Women, among others. Currently, she is a team member with CLUE’s Non-Violence Resistance Program, the Skylight Theatre Beyond Conversations Series and a former recipient of BCC’s Harriet Perl Tzedek Award. She
Elissa and her spouse, transgender playwright and author Joshua Irving Gershick, reside in North Hollywood with their splendid fur and feathered children.
Chelsie Uriarte, Office Administrative Assistant
Chelsie Uriarte had been immersed in Jewish and Queer communities throughout her life. She is passionate about creating spaces where people who identify as queer feel accepted and appreciated. She looks forward to bringing that outlook to the BCC Community and is excited to serve as our new Office Administrative Assistant.
Chelsie has worked in the Jewish sector as a preschool teacher at Beth Shir Shalom, as a Rosh Edah (Unit Head) at Camp Newman, and as Youth Director for Beth Ami in Santa Rosa, CA. For Ambi, a local bisexual organization, Chelsie plans and hosts regular events, including this year’s Pride Parade “Fairy Brigade.”
Rae Antonoff, Director of Education
Rae Antonoff, MAJE, is an artist and educator who has been working with Ohr Chayim as a teacher for four years and is thrilled to transition into the role of Director of Religious Education this year. Her research at Hebrew Union College focused on using art to accommodate learning disabilities in the Hebrew classroom, and she has since developed and piloted two accessible Hebrew curricula that have been implemented in over 40 Hebrew schools across North America — with many elements inspired or redesigned thanks to feedback from our very own Ohr Chayim learners! Rae can’t wait to continue learning and growing with the Ohr Chayim families in the years to come!
Fran Chalin, Cantorial Soloist Emerita, M.S.W./M.J.C.S., was BCC’s Cantorial Soloist for 15 years as well as its Choir Director. During her shared moments with BCC, Cantorial Soloist Chalin brought music that was a transcendent power to the BCC spirit, and evoked a true emotional response and hunger for Jewish music and study. Her voice and musical direction stimulated long lasting memories and deeply felt feelings about who BCCers were, where they came from and what their community mission was. Cantorial Soloist Fran’s unique use of music and energy served to unite, uplift, inspire, and prompt BCC’s connection to tradition, especially for the children. While she retired from her position at the end of 2007, Fran continues to make occasional guest appearances at BCC and continues to be an important musical force in the community.