Professional Staff Bios
Rabbi Aaron Brusso
Rabbi Brusso became rabbi of Bet Torah after serving 9 years at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, MN. While in Minnesota Rabbi Brusso created an active group of young Jews in their 20s and 30s, taught Talmud, facilitated a study group on the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel, coordinated family trips to Israel, chaired the Minnesota Rabbinical Association and participated in the creation of a group that reaches out to members isolated because of age or illness. Rabbi Brusso also dedicated his time to issues of social justice by serving on the boards of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition and Jewish Community Action. He currently is co-chair of Koach, the Conservative Movement’s national presence on campus.
Rabbi Brusso grew up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago where he attended Solomon Schechter Day School, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and was active in United Synagogue Youth. He attended American University in Washington, DC where he received a B.A. in Political Science and Environmental Studies. While in Washington he worked at the Supreme Court of the United States and interned on Capital Hill for his congressman and senator. He was also a leader on campus at Hillel.
One day during his senior year of college, Rabbi Brusso’s Hillel director took him out to lunch and suggested that instead of law school he should consider rabbinical school. The following year he enrolled at the Jewish Theological Seminary where he received ordination from the Rabbinical School and an M.A. in Jewish Philosophy from the Graduate School. He was also awarded the Elbogen Fellowship Memorial Prize in Talmud and the Reverend Zvi Hirsch Masliansky Award in Homiletics.
While in Rabbinical School, Rabbi Brusso served as youth director at Temple Israel in Great Neck and Coordinator of USY Eastern European Programs for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in addition to acting as group leader for USY Pilgrimage/Poland Seminar. When not attending to pulpit duties, Rabbi Brusso enjoys writing, following politics, running and quaffing fine craft ales and lagers.
Rabbi Brusso is married to Hana Gruenberg, a native of New Rochelle. Together they have three Minnesota born children: Sari, Zoe and Ilan- please be patient as their accents undergo a transitional period.
Cantor Herman descended from performing vaudevillian grandparents on one side and off-the-boat, Eastern European orthodox Jews on the other, Hazzan Reuven (Randy) Herman seemed destined to integrate the worlds of musical performance and Judaism. He was raised in Grand Rapids, MI, and attended the University of Michigan, majoring in theater and psychology. After working briefly as a musician in Paris, and as an actor on the East Coast, Hazzan Herman settled in Chicago, where he cofounded the critically acclaimed Theater Oobleck, an avant-garde theater troupe. As a pianist, singer and songwriter, he has performed throughout the U.S. and abroad in nightclubs and festivals, at private events, and on live radio, and has worked extensively as a studio musician. In addition to contributing keyboard parts and vocals on several recordings, he has produced his own CD’s which have been heard on college and commercial radio and reviewed in major publications. He is featured on the CD The Spirit of Israel II, produced by the Cantors Assembly and the USCJ.
Hazzan Herman spent a year of study in Jerusalem, where he attended the Conservative Yeshiva, spent time in ultra-orthodox communities, and sang in the Great Synagogue choir. He received cantorial investiture and a Masters of Sacred Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC in 2008. He has been a featured guest cantor and concert performer in several synagogues throughout the U.S., and has led Shabbat services at the famed Chor Shul (Choral Synagogue) in Vilnius, Lithuania, and at the Great Synagogue of Stockholm. He served as the cantor of Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor (The Hamptons); as High Holiday cantor for two years at Temple El Emeth in Youngstown, OH; as a frequent leader of the legendary Friday evening services at Ramath Orah on 110th Street in NYC; as musical director of the Friday Night Live series at Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT; and as the substitute cantor for one year at Temple Israel of Great Neck. Hazzan Herman is currently working on a new CD of his exciting and innovative original Jewish songs. He recently returned from the Cantors Assembly Mission to Poland, where he performed with several cantors at the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival. After a one year, part time interim position at Bet Torah in 2007, Hazzan Herman joined the community as our fulltime Hazzan in the summer of 2008.
Michele Heller, Executive Director
Michele Heller has been running our synagogue since 1998 with the formal title of Executive Director since 2002.
Mindy (Bailin) Citera has been the director of Bet Torah Nursery School since 2001 and has been a teacher in the religious school since 1995. She holds a Master's degree in elementary education from Boston University and a Bachelor’s degree in English Education from SUNYAlbany. She has taught at the college, high school, middle school and elementary school levels, as well as pre-school and parenting classes. Mindy is the author of Around New York City with Kids, a Fodor’s Guide published by Random House. She has also written for numerous parenting magazines and newspapers over the last 30 years on parenting, education and children’s health. Mindy began teaching at her childhood synagogue in Bellmore, New York in 1970 and has worked in youth groups, religious schools, day schools, camps, and preschools in Long Island, Albany, Buffalo, Boston, Virginia, and Chappaqua before coming to Bet Torah. Mindy and her husband, Jerry, are the proud parents of Michael, an L.A.-based stand-up comic, Jenn, a New York City-based Events Planner and Rachel, enrolled at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Gina Fass, Director of Education for the Religious School
With over 20 years of experience in Jewish education, Gina Fass joined the staff of Bet Torah as the Director of Education for the Religious School in July 2016. She holds dual Master's degrees in Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Service from Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion and is a graduate of the prestigious Wexner Graduate Fellowship. Prior to joining Bet Torah, Gina served as a director of education at synagogues and Jewish camps in Minnesota, California and Connecticut. She has also taught high school and middle school Jewish Studies at Day Schools in Houston and Stamford. She has also directed youth programs, a community Hebrew High, and inclusion programs for Jewish teens with special needs. A world traveler, Gina has lived in cities across the United States, in France, and in Israel. She and her husband Jonathan, are the proud parents of Michal and Erez and live in Stamford.
Nili Ionascu, Director of The B'nei Mitzvah Program and The Schleiffer Center
Nili was born and raised in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. She concentrated on Arabic and Middle Eastern studies in high school and utilized that knowledge in her service with the I.D.F.’s intelligence division before and during the Six-Day War. After completing her army service, Nili continued her focus on Arabic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she also ran track.
Nili obtained a graduate degree in education from Hebrew Universifty, and taught Hebrew and Arabic at schools in Jerusalem and East Jerusalem before leaving to work as a film editor in Israeli television. After moving to the United States, she began working at Bet Torah in 1981, teaching Hebrew and tefillot to students with special needs. Since then, Nili has been directing Bet Torah Religious School's special needs program and preparing students for their b’nai mitzvot. She is a recipient of the Westchester Association of Hebrew Schools Teacher of the Year Award and the Ernest Rothschild Award for excellence in education.
Loen Amer, Director of Youth Engagement
Loen has been an experiential Jewish educator working with teens since she was one herself. Before joining the Bet Torah family, she was the Marketing and Recruitment Coordinator for Ramah Israel. As an educator on Long Island, Loen worked with teens at two Conservative congregations: Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights, where she was a teacher and Youth Director for five years, and the Woodbury Jewish Center where she was Youth Director for three years. She was the Wohl Family Engagement Coordinator at the Hillel at Hofstra University, and also volunteered as the Education Coordinator for the Rakevet Division of MENTY USY. Loen has a voracious love for lifelong Jewish learning, and most recently studied Torah le’shmah, Torah for its own sake, at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. She has also studied at Gratz College, Columbia University, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Loen lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side and enjoys baking and reading.
Maria Tomas, Executive Assistant to the Clergy
We are pleased to introduce Maria Tomas to our Bet Torah Family as the Executive Assistant to the Clergy. In her new role, Maria will be responsible for handling all of the administrative responsibilities for the clergy office. This will include working closely with the Rabbi and Cantor with their correspondence, mail, calendars and phone calls. It also includes active management of their schedules and assisting in preparing for Shabbat services, holidays and congregant life cycle events. Maria will also provide some support to the Ritual Committee and assist Nili Ionascu on B’nai Mitzvah schedules, to ensure coordination across the congregation.
Maria has a depth of experience in clergy administration and management. Most recently before joining Bet Torah, Maria served in a similar role for 13 years at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church. In addition, Maria has over 20 years of administrative management experience. Maria has a Masters of Arts in Psychology and Religion from Union Theological Seminary and Bachelors of Arts from Concordia College.
We hope everyone will get a chance to meet and get to know Maria. Maria is thrilled to be a member of our Bet Torah family and thanks everyone for the incredibly warm welcome.
Robin Weber, Administative Coordinator
We are pleased to introduce Robin Weber to our Bet Torah Family as the part-time Administrative Coordinator. In her new role, Robin will support the overall administrative operation of the synagogue and support the Executive Director. Robin’s role includes the usual range of duties for an administrative professional, and we expect everyone will have an opportunity to meet and work with Robin.
Prior to joining Bet Torah, Robin worked for over 15 years at Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford as the Senior Rabbi’s Assistant and Events Coordinator. Robin also worked in administration at Temple Sholom in Greenwich. Robin earned her Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing from Hofstra University.