Who We Are
Rabbi Dr. Leila Gal Berner
Rabbi Leila Gal Berner received her B.A. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem She Berner received her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles in medieval Spanish Jewish History. Dr. Berner was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (1989) and received a second rabbinical ordination from Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, in 2009. She founded Ezra Uganda Assistance in 2016 with the goal of supporting the Abayudaya Jewish community of Namutumba, Uganda, and currently serves as Ezra Uganda’s President. Rabbi Leila lives in Frederick, Maryland with her wife, Franna Ruddel and is the happy savta (grandmother) of Olivia, Aliya and Lucy.
Rabbi Avraham Bachman
Rabbi Avraham is the spiritual leader of Ruach Hamidbar, a Jewish Renewal community in Scottsdale, Arizona. Avraham was born in Rochester, NY. He received his degree in Special Education and Psychology at Syracuse University in 1974 and J.D. from Gonzaga University in 1977. He also attended extracurricular classes at the Eastman School of Music. In his youth, he attended a Conservative synagogue with Orthodox services. He served as president of USY while in High School. Rabbi Avraham is involved in interfaith activities, including serving as chair of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, chair of the annual interfaith event at the Mormon Tabernacle, and current chair of the North American Interfaith Network. Avraham is a partner of the law firm Fetzer Simonsen Booth and Jenkins, while also being a professional musician with his talented wife Andalin, recording engineer, and producer. Andalin and Avraham have three married children and nine grandchildren.
Rabbi David Balto
Rabbi David Balto is a hospital chaplain and a hospice and bikur cholim volunteer. He leads services each month at a maximum security prison and is also a student of Jewish spiritual chant. David and his wife Naomi are committed to acts of charity and loving kindness and are committed members of their Jewish community.
Rabbi Yafa CHase
Rabbi Yafa Chase is the Director of Western MA Programs for the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. She hold a Masters in international development and has worked with refugees, orphans, and vulnerable families around the world. In 2017, she was blessed to officiate at the first Jewish wedding in Namutumba, Uganda.
Rabbinic Pastor Ruth Delfiner
Ruth Delfiner was born in Vienna, Austria and came to the U.S as a schoolgirl. As an adult, she has worked in a number of professions, most recently as a hospital chaplain in Boston. In pursuing ordination to better serve her patient population, she met Reb Leila and fellow student Shadrach Mugoya. Since then she has been very interested in the Jewish community of Namutumba, and how cooperation between their community and ours can strengthen both.
Brenda first went to Africa – Benin (then Dahomey) and Lagos, Nigeria – with Operation Crossroads Africa when she was 19, and fell in love with the warmth, openness, and potential for longer, healthier lives for African people. Returning to college, she learned everything she could about Africa, and applied to the Peace Corps. After graduating, she spent 2 years as a PC Volunteer in Senegal and traveled widely in West Africa before returning to graduate school in the US to study African education. Subsequently, she worked for the Peace Corps in Washington, DC, to create and lead an informal education program to support development efforts. However, when life intervened with her earlier plans, while she maintained her deep interest in Africa, she focused her career on non-profit organizations in the US.
Brenda is the daughter of a pulpit Rabbi who was also a full time public school teacher. She has been active in Jewish communal organizations throughout her life.
Rabbinc Pastor Cantor Lisa Levine
Cantor Rabbinic Pastor Lisa Levine RYT500 is a Cantor, composer, chaplain, yoga teacher and builder of bridges between faith communities. Her calling to serve the Jewish community began as a NFTY song leader and led to her Ordination through HUC-JIR-DFSSM and Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Lisa’s healing music, liturgy, prose and poetry is widely published and shared around the world. "Sound of Your Soul” is her pandemic Yoga recording and back tracks weekly Yoga Shalom at Home zoom practices. Her book “Heart of Light: Poems of Longing, Loss and Life” is available on Amazon along with her acclaimed book Yoga Shalom and Yoga Shalom Leaders Guide. She serves as Artist-In-Residence at Temple Shaari Emeth in Malapan, NJ and serves as JSSA Chaplain in Montgomery County, MD.
Director of Fundraising
Laura Lewis Mandeles joined the Ezra Uganda Assistance board in 2018 and has been active in developing the organization’s capacity and infrastructure for fund raising by introducing professional fund-raising practices in record keeping, communication, and prospect development. Following almost a decade in the Development Office at National Public Radio, Laura launched a thirty-year career as a consultant to nonprofit organizations, specializing in strategic planning, fund raising, organizational transitions, and meeting facilitation. At the same time, Laura developed as a cantorial soloist, earning a Certificate in Jewish Sacred Music from Hebrew College in 2017. Ever a seeker after Jewish knowledge, also in 2017 she entered the ALEPH Cantorial Ordination Program and anticipates receiving smicha as a hazzan in January 2023. Originally from New York City, Laura is a graduate of Princeton University, earning her bachelor’s degree from Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. She now resides in Fairfax, Virginia, with husband Mark. They are the proud parents of two adult children, including Samantha, who is also a member of the Ezra Uganda board.
Samantha Rose Mandeles
Sam is an open-source intelligence researcher focusing on extremism and anti-Semitism and a long-time advocate for African Jewry. Sam earned her M.A., cum laude, in Counterterrorism and Homeland Security from Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel in 2016, and her B.A. in Bio-Archaeology and Middle Eastern Studies from Hampshire College in Massachusetts in 2010. She is currently a Krauthammer Fellow with the Tikvah Fund, and previously spent nearly three years living in Israel. Her writing has been published in numerous media outlets, including Newsweek, JNS, and The Algemeiner, and she has spoken to audiences all over the country on issues such as campus anti-Semitism, Middle Eastern history, media bias and misinformation, and Jewish activism. In her spare time, Sam is a painter and photographer; she has achieved 2nd degree black belt in tae-kwon-do and currently trains as an amateur powerlifter. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and cat.
Hazzan Dr. Randall Miller