Meet the Clergy & Senior Staff

Rabbi David J. Gelfand

rabbigelfand2…a gifted teacher, caring counselor and eloquent preacher has inspired a renaissance of creative and dynamic Jewish living for his congregant families and yet also open to the wider public as over 300 new families have joined Temple Israel in the last several years. Many people of all backgrounds have been touched by him, especially through his inspiring teaching of Jewish values and tradition, as a spiritual counselor and leader, as well as a rabbi who’s door is always open. He arrived at Temple Israel, one of NYC’s historic synagogues, in June, 2007 and along with a most talented clergy team and staff, is always on the go. He is profoundly and passionately committed to both teaching Torah in the broadest sense and also helping people strive to “Be Torah” in their daily lives, as individuals and in community. His goals are shaped by helping people share in our “family of families” in becoming a kehilah kedosha, a sacred and inclusive community, sharing our journeys and our dreams.

Having created cutting-edge models for contemporary Jewish life based on pluralism, inclusivity, social justice, spirituality, outreach, and excellence in education for all ages, he is a passionate, engaging rabbi. David also uses his love of k’lal Yisrael and travel with his congregants in having taken over 1,000 people to Israel and also led multiple Jewish heritage trips to Eastern Europe, Cuba, Spain/Morocco, Argentina, Chile and Brazil; all of New York and around the world is his classroom and pulpit.

Previously he was Rabbi of The Jewish Center of the Hamptons where he initiated the highly acclaimed “Hamptons Jewish Summer Institute,” a unique, creative forum for Jewish learning, spirituality and culture. Having begun his career at Temple Beth-El in Great Neck, NY, he also served synagogues in New Jersey (Har Sinai) and Ohio (Fairmount Temple). For over a decade, after helping found the Interfaith Alliance, Washington, DC, the largest interfaith organization in the USA, promoting dialogue and civility, he served as a national officer. He also is a member of the National Council of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and has been active in a number of Zionist & Israeli organizations and institutions.

Rabbi Gelfand has been an outspoken prophetic voice of social conscience, activist and vigilant in the cause of human rights, social justice, interfaith relations, outreach and inclusion and has been so recognized in the communities he has served and internationally by the WUPJ with their “International Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Pursuit of Justice” of which he is Co-Chair of their national Rabbinic Circle, a member of their International Assembly and a leader of their North American Advisory Board. He currently serves on the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Board of Governors, their President’s Rabbinic Council.

He and his wife, Kathy, a gifted stylist and jewelry designer, and their four children reside in NYC & East Hampton. Devoted foremost to family, David enjoys travel, cooking, culture and nature.

Cantor Irena Altshul

cantoraltshul3Cantor Altshul was born in St. Petersburg, Russia but spent her formative years in Israel and came to New York City as a graduate college student. There she was drawn into synagogue life through her love of Jewish music.

Since her cantorial investiture in 2003, Cantor Altshul has served on the clergy team of Temple Israel of the City of New York and as the first invested Cantor at Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston, Virginia from 2007 to 2014. She holds a Master of Sacred Music Degree and cantorial investiture from the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. In addition to her studies in Cantorial school, Cantor Althsul holds a Master’s Degree in Music from Brooklyn College and a Bachelor Degree in Music from Tel Aviv University.

A trained mezzo-soprano, her performance experiences have included appearances with the Russian Chamber Choir, the New York Brooklyn College Opera Theater, the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, Israel, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Israel, and the Tel-Aviv Philharmonic Choir, Israel. Cantor Altshul was also twice invited to sing at The President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

In addition to her work in enriching the worship life of the Jewish community, Cantor Altshul partners with other synagogue professionals as a team, teaching adults and youth, performing life cycle events, making pastoral visits and being available to all people. “Surely music is a big part of what I do,” Cantor Altshul believes, “But it is being with people, helping someone in need that is equally, if not more important to me.”

Cantor Altshul is an active member of the American Conference of Cantors. She and her husband, Dr. Mitya (Dmitri) Chklovskii PHD and their children, Sammy and Mark Chklovskii reside on the Upper East Side.

Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman
Director of Lifelong Learning


Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman is the Director of lifelong Learning at Temple Israel of the City of New York. She received her BA in Judaic Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, her Masters of Arts in Hebrew Letters, Masters of Arts in Jewish Education and Rabbinic Ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Buyer-Witman began her journey in Jewish education as a Dean of Students at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, California. From 2006-2011 Rabbi Buyer-Witman served as the Director of Religious School, Youth and Camp Programs for Stephen S. Wise Temple where she was responsible for a number of innovations including a revolutionary new post b’nai mitvah program entitled, The Academy and her nationally recognized program, “TiLearn,” that blends on-site learning with distance learning. Since 2011 she has continued to innovate and reinvigorate learning for students of all ages at Temple Israel of the City of New York.

Rabbi Buyer-Witman has served in various leadership positions in the field of Jewish Education. She is the Editor for the CCAR’s “Mishkan HaNefesh for Youth: A Machzor for Youth and Families. She is a faculty member for the URJ’s Crane Lake and Eisner Camps. She has served as the Chair of the Limud Taskforce to reimagine Jewish Education for URJ’s Camps Eisner and Crane Lake. She also served on the Central Conference of American Rabbi’s Children and Youth Siddur Committee on the Board of Overseers for Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, the Board of the ARJE, and Hebrew Union College’s National Advisory Committee for the Certificate Program in Jewish Education, specializing in adolescents and emerging adults. In January of 2011 she co-chaired the National Association of Temple Educators National Conference in Seattle Washington, the topic of which was her true passion- Jewish Education and Technology.

Rabbi Buyer-Witman and her husband Michael Witman are the proud and boastful parents of three girls Lily, Josie and Nessa.

Rabbi Jim Stoloff

rabbistoloff2Rabbi Jim Stoloff graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Memphis in 2008 and was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in 2013. Since ordination, he has served as Assistant Rabbi of Temple Israel of the City of New York. When he’s not on the bimah, performing life cycle events, or leading Tot Shabbat with Sheldon Low (occasionally in a “Sammy Spider” costume), he can be found performing a wide and diverse array of professional responsibilities. In addition to leading Torah Study and teaching in our adult education programs, he also teaches in the Religious School, High School Academy, Early Childhood Learning Center, and spends two weeks every summer at the URJ’s Eisner Camp on their rabbinical faculty.
Deeply committed to the Israel-Diaspora relationship, Rabbi Stoloff helps coordinate our vibrant and diverse Israel connection opportunities. He is also involved with NYConnect, our group for 20s and 30s, and was a staff leader on their Birthright trip through Kesher. He is especially passionate about the concept of Tikun Olam as social action, heavily involved in Temple Israel’s many initiatives and programming such as Mitzvah Day, Stop Hunger Now, and Project Ezra. He loves working at Temple Israel, and is honored to have started his rabbinical career as part of the TI family.
An avid reader in his spare time, Jim also enjoys hiking, anything pertaining to his past life as a musician, and exploring his adopted hometown of New York City with friends.

Lisa Samick
Director of Early Childhood and Family Engagement

lisasamickLisa Samick is our Director of Early Childhood and Family Engagement at our Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC). She joined us July, 2013. Lisa’s professional track record working in top Jewish Early Childhood programs, combined with her academic pursuits at New York University, uniquely position her to succeed at Temple Israel. Her doctoral work, focused on questions of family engagement, beautifully complements our congregation’s vision for our ECLC, as well as our tot, toddler and playgroup programs. This holistic approach to Jewish education has been a hallmark of her passion and life’s work as an Early Childhood Director.

A proven innovator in the field of Early Childhood Education for more than 20 years with an emphasis on Jewish and family education, Lisa has particular strength in staff training and supervision, curriculum development and public speaking. She is a focused strategic planner with a big-picture outlook and has an outstanding track record in event planning, grant writing, admissions and exmissions. In addition, Lisa serves as adjunct Faculty for New York University in their Early Childhood and Special Education MA program. Lisa graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Education and child Development from The George Washington University and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Education and Jewish Studies with a concentration on Jewish Early Childhood Education from New York University.

Eugenia Edwards
Development Director

eugeniaedwards2Eugenia James Edwards is our Director of Development. Eugenia enthusiastically returns to Temple Israel after having served the congregation from 1994 to 2011, working with three of the congregation’s esteemed Rabbis. She served in a variety of capacities most recently as the previous Membership Director, welcoming new congregants to our family of families.

In 2011, Eugenia joined the staff of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh as their Fund Development Manager. At Habitat Newburgh, she worked to reorganize development efforts — creating functional systems for a robust fundraising program that includes financial support from individuals, foundations and government sources. In that role, Eugenia also worked with several faith communities, service and community groups, advocating for the need for decent and affordable housing.

Eugenia is a graduate from Hunter College with a B.A. in English and is completing a Masters degree in Public Administration. She has served as the Diversity Committee co-chair for the Mid-Hudson Valley Association of Fundraising Professionals. Eugenia currently resides in NYC with her twins, Rebecca and Ryan.

Elliot Czerwin
Operations Director

elliotczerwinBorn and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Elliot currently lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and 3 sons. He is a graduate of NYIT. Elliot comes to use with an extensive facility background mostly from the field of retail and hospitals. There he was responsible for the operation of the facilities as well as construction and design. Elliot also enjoys travel with his family and is an avid sports fan.



Cantor Emeritus Robert P. Abelson

cantorabelsonBorn in Brooklyn, Robert Paul Abelson has lived in or near New York all of his life. He is a graduate of the School of Sacred Music of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, on whose faculty he now serves. A member for many seasons of the New York City Opera, he has also sung with other prestigious operatic companies such as the Seattle Opera Association, St.Paul Opera, and the Goldovsky Opera Theatre.

He has appeared in concert with many orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony and the Mostly Mozart Festival. Robert Paul Abelson has specialized in Yiddish art song, and under the guidance of the late distinguished composer, Lazar Weiner, he performed works of neglected Jewish composers in addition to Mr.Weiner’s own inspiring pieces.

Robert Paul Abelson has appeared in film, television, and the theatre. He was one Of the stars of the Jewish musical revue, ON SECOND AVENUE in Its two productions. He also had a starring role in the Broadway musical hit, THOSE WERE THE DAYS, which completed a national tour.

Robert Paul Abelson is on the board of the American Society for Jewish Music. He is presently Cantor Emeritus at Temple Israel of the City of New York.