Student Rabbis

Congregation Shir Ami is a longtime participant in the Student Rabbi program of the Reform movement’s Los Angeles seminary (the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion or HUC-JIR).

Each year, we are pleased to welcome students in their second or third year of rabbinic training. These talented Jewish professionals begin their term with us by leading High Holiday services. Then, each of them joins us once a month throughout their school year to lead Shabbat worship, teach in our Shir Ami School, lead lifelong learning programs, and share in the life of our community. We grow with them as they grow with us.

 Our Current Student Rabbis

Student Rabbi for 5783-5784 (2022-2024)

Sarah Livschitz is a third-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). She loves finding spirituality and connection through community, text, music and nature. Sarah comes from New Zealand and is passionate about supporting Jewish life in small communities.

Sarah is currently a fellow in the iCentre’s Master’s Concentration in Israel Education and was an Elissa Froman Social Justice Fellow with the New Israel Fund in 2022.

Before starting at HUC-JIR, Sarah undertook non-political research and provided advice as a policy
advisor at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in New Zealand. In her spare time,
she enjoys hiking, riding bicycles and sharing photos of her niece.

Our Past Student Rabbis

Student Rabbis for 5782 (2021-2022)

Jake PetsoldJake Petzold is a rising second-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His rabbinical studies follow more than a decade working as a writer and strategist with a focus on advising leaders and organizations at the intersection of public, private, and philanthropic issues. Student Rabbi Petzold has worked with senior leaders in business, politics, philanthropy, and media on developing and delivering their voices in the public conversation from the pages of The New York Times and Washington Post to the halls of Congress and the World Economic Forum in Davos. He grew up in an interfaith household in Los Angeles, where he was drawn into synagogue life by music and performing arts and propelled by Jewish tradition to pursue a career of public and communal service. Student Rabbi Petzold earned a B.A. in Government from Claremont McKenna College and served as a House of Representatives Page in the 110th Congress. After nearly a decade in New York City, like his beloved Dodgers once did he is currently relocating from Brooklyn to Los Angeles – with his wife, Rachel Wald, and baby son, Abraham.

Student Rabbis for 5781-5782 (2020-2022)

As you know my name is Rebecca Chess. I am a proud Canadian born in Winnipeg, Canada. I graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English. During university I split my time between the theatre community in the tech-booth as a stage manager and as an organizer for Hillel UofT where I created much needed LGBTQ2IA and Jewish community. After university I followed one of my passions of logistics and entertainment and became a film producer’s assistant. After about a year in the industry, I felt that I needed to be somewhere I could have a bigger impact on people’s lives. I wanted to continue my work in the Jewish community. I’m very passionate about accessible and inclusive community centered around Jewish values, ritual, and education. Some of my hobbies include creative writing (poetry), improv comedy, TV/Film, ice hockey, cycling, and cooking and baking.

One last important note I identify as genderqueer and use they/them pronouns. So I ask when you refer to me to please use these pronouns. I know it’s not always easy for people to understand and if/when any questions or concerns come up, I have many resources to share.


Michael Walden is returning for a second year.





Student Rabbis for 5780 (2019-2020)

Anna Calamaro, a Chicago native, is a rising second year rabbinical student at HUC and a JDC-Weitzman Fellow. Anna completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in Jewish Studies in 2014. She then worked at Metro Chicago Hillel for 4 years, instilling a passion for Jewish life in emerging adults across 12 universities throughout the Chicagoland area. During this time, she also earned an MA from Hebrew College in Jewish Education with a Certificate in Experiential Ed. Anna’s rabbinical path is rooted in her commitment to Tikkun Olam, community building, and passion for inclusivity, dialogue, innovation, and global Jewish peoplehood. In her free time, she enjoys food tours, singing, and spending time with her husband, Yaakov, and their dog, Kafka.

Michael Walden earned his BA from Cornell College and his Master of Science in medical biochemistry from Drexel University. He created the pilot program in science education at the Grin City Artist Residency, served as a hiking guide in Denali, Alaska, and was an experiential Jewish educator at Livnot U’Lehibanot in Tzfat. His experiences helping young Jewish adults discover themselves led him to the University of Arizona Hillel, where, as an Ezra Fellow, he pioneered interfaith programs, mentored students, and established the organization’s preeminent Jewish educational and student engagement program. He has been an Eagle Scout, a yeshiva student, and a Birthright Israel Fellow. He has studied both on a MASA initiative and at Pardes’ Summer Program. As a rabbi, Michael aspires to serve the North American Jewish future by promoting man’s search for meaning, innovative education, and Jewish social activism.


Student Rabbis for 5778 – 5779 (2017-2019)

 Klein Sam sm dsSam Klein is beginning his journey to become a rabbi at HUC-JIR and just finished his first year in Jerusalem as part of the program. He grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois where his father was the rabbi of the local Reform congregation for nearly two decades. Throughout the years, Sam has been highly involved Jewishly, attending the URJ camp OSRUI for several years and went on to lead his temple’s NFTY youth group and Hillel in college (Cornell University) as President for the Reform movement on campus. While in Israel studying at HUC-JIR, Sam participated in the Shalom Hartman Institute and a rabbinical internship with the Reform community of Be’er Sheva. This summer he will be a lead educator for NFTY in Israel, guiding teens in the Reform youth movement across Europe and Israel. He is very much looking forward to joining Congregation Shir Ami this August!



Mira sm dsMira Weller is a student of HUC’s rabbinical school and the Ziegler School of Jewish Nonprofit Management. A Southern California native, she trained as a child in viola, violin and piano performance. She is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (’12) in Washington, D.C. where she studied Culture, Politics and Foreign Service and played endless chamber music. She has served both as an educator and curriculum builder for University Synagogue’s religious school in West Los Angeles since graduation, as well as a music teacher and performer. In 2015, she was awarded the Kathryn Davis Peace Fellowship for her work in conflict mediation and peace building across the Jewish community. Excited to share this sacred connection between Jewish worship, music and community, she looks forward to joining Congregation Shir Ami in the fall.


Student Rabbi for 5777 (2016-2017)


Liora Alban is a third-year rabbinical student. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA and attended The University of California, Berkeley where she majored in Religious Studies with a concentration in Judaism. Liora completed her junior year of study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked during this year at Women of the Wall. Liora is always looking for ways to combine her passions of Judaism and art. In fact, during her years in Berkeley she worked at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life and directed UC Berkeley’s only Jewish A Cappella group. Liora moved to Jerusalem for another year beginning in June of 2014, this time to begin her rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College. She returned in 2015 for her second year of rabbinical school, and began working as a Hebrew school teacher at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles. She also served as the student rabbi of the China Lake Naval Base in Ridgecrest, CA. This summer, Liora will be working as a Unit Head at URJ Camp Newman. Liora is looking forward to meeting everyone at Congregation Shir Ami. She hopes that 5777 will be a year full of joyous praying, learning, and growing together.


BryanZiveSMrBryan Zive joins us again for a second year as a Rabbinic Intern.

Student Rabbis for 5776 (2015-2016)

BryanZiveSMrRabbinic Intern Bryan Zive is joining Shir Ami. Bryan, a rising second year student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, is honored and excited to be serving as a student rabbi with Julie Bressler at Congregation Shir Ami! He grew up in Los Angeles, CA, was a camper and staff member for over 10 years at URJ Camps Newman and Swig.

Bryan graduated from Ohio State University in Columbus with a B.A. in Jewish Studies and Ethnomusicology and attended the Cantorial School of The Academy for Jewish Religion, CA in 2009. He served Temple Israel in Columbus as their Music Director from 2005-2009, and most recently served Temple Sinai in Denver, CO as the full-time Cantorial Soloist. Bryan also visits various synagogues, camps and Hillel institutes throughout the year to perform, educate and create community through his original contemporary Jewish music. You can visit his music website at

Bryan is married to his beautiful wife, Melyssa. He and Melyssa live in Anaheim, CA with their two wonderful dogs and are excitedly expecting the birth of their son in July 2015!

rabbijuliebresslerJulie Bressler joins us again for a second year as a Rabbinic Intern.






Student Rabbis for 5775 (2014-2015)


Julie Bressler is a second year student at Hebrew Union College and is thrilled to be serving as a student rabbi at Congregation Shir Ami this year. She grew up in Alamo, and attended Washington University in St. Louis, where she majored in Women and Gender Studies and American Culture Studies. After graduation, she worked at College Bound St. Louis as an AmeriCorps member and then returned to the Bay Area to serve as the Engagement Associate at Berkeley Hillel and the Program Director of the East Bay Jewish Teen Foundation. Julie also taught Religious School and led youth group and summer camp programs at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette. In addition to her studies at HUC and student pulpit at Shir Ami, Julie works as a religious school teacher at University Synagogue, Congregation Or Ami and Temple Israel of Hollywood. She spent last summer working as a unit head at URJ Camp Newman where she attended as a camper from 1997-2003.


Benj Fried, is very grateful to be coming back to Shir Ami for a second year.  Benj grew up in Palo Alto, and graduated from Menlo Atherton High School.  He went to Stanford University as an undergraduate and graduated in 2010 with a BS in Biology.  Following Stanford he attended Harvard Divinity School, earning a masters degree in Theology. He has worked throughout the Jewish community: through Stanford Hillel; as a religious school teacher at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos, CA; as a songleader and counselor at URJ Camp Kalsman; and as a rabbinic intern at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. This past summer, Benj worked as a hospitalChaplain at Stanford Hospital, and Benj is working on his third year of rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College.



 Student Rabbis for 5774 (2013-2014)

BenjABenj Fried, is very excited that he will be working with Megan Brudney at Congregation Shir Ami in the coming year.  He has read that Shir Ami is a lovely synagogue with “really dedicated” members. Benj grew up in Palo Alto, so his roots are definitely in the Bay Area.  He went to Stanford University as an undergraduate and graduated in 2010 with a BS in Biology.  Following Stanford he attended Harvard Divinity School, earning a masters degree in Theology. He has worked throughout the Jewish community: through Stanford Hillel; as a religious school teacher at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos, CA; and as a songleader and counselor at URJ Camp Kalsman. Benj begins his second year at Hebrew Union College in the fall, and this summer, 2013, he will be working as a Rabbinical Intern at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Sermon: “Mah Rabu Ma’asecha Adonai” delivered on Shabbat Vayikra 5774 on 3/7/2014.
Sermon:  “The Power of Sacrifice” delivered on Shabbat Behar 5774 on 5/9/2014.
Sermon:  “Remaking The Universe” delivered on Shabbat Masei 5774 on 7/25/2014.

meganaMegan Brudney is a rising third-year rabbinical student hailing from Athens, Georgia (the home of the Georgia Bulldogs), and is a proud graduate of Duke University, where she majored in linguistics and minored in Spanish. After graduation she spent four years in Washington, DC, where she worked at PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, gaining experience in youth work, grant-writing, grant management, and fundraising. In 2010 Megan moved to Jerusalem for her first year of HUC and then elected to spend an extra year in Israel before returning to Los Angeles for her second year. Megan works as a songleader and teen educator at the Santa Monica Synagogue in Los Angeles and last year served as the student rabbi of Sun Valley, ID. Over winter break Megan traveled to El Salvador on an American Jewish World Service Rabbinical Student Delegation. This summer, 2013, you can find Megan at JCC Camp Kingswood in Bridgton, ME, where she will be working as their Judaics Director and songleader. Megan is looking forward to meeting you all and growing and learning together in 5774!

Rabbi Brudney was ordained at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles Campus, on the 7th of Iyyar, 5776 (May 15, 2016), and is currently serving as Assistant Rabbi at Temple Beth El, Bloomfield Hills, MI.  She can be contacted at

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