Executive Director Lesley Mills
Lesley Mills became Executive Director for Beth Israel in October 2007 after serving as Acting Executive Director from July 2007. She oversees synagogue business operations, including finance, real estate, human resources, development and fundraising.
Lesley joined Beth Israel as development director in July of 2006. During her initial year at Beth Israel, she conducted a development assessment and instituted a development infrastructure and plan to support the future growth of Beth Israel. Lesley also took an active role in the senior rabbinic search and in writing Beth Israel's Long Range Strategic Plan, which she is helping to implement.
Lesley came to Beth Israel from Washington state. Between 2003 and 2006, she served as executive director for an animal welfare organization, building their fundraising program and expanding their community profile and operations. Prior to this, Lesley spent 13 years with Jewish Family Service of Seattle as director of operations and human resources. Her for-profit experience includes serving as risk manager for a large national real estate investment firm in San Francisco.
Lesley is a member of the National Association of Temple Administrators (NATA) and the Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP). Lesley Mills may be reached at 858-535-1111. Her assistant is Heather Taylor-Williams.
Program Director Bonnie Graff
Bonnie Graff has served as the Program Director of Beth Israel in San Diego since 1982. A native of Chicago, she earned her B.A. at the University of Illinois and her M.A. at Michigan State University. After receiving her degrees Bonnie taught History and English in middle school and high school and then retired to start a family. Returning to work part time, she served as Public Relations Director for the Woman's Institute for Continuing Jewish Education in San Diego and the United Jewish Federation.
A chance enrollment in a class through the Agency for Jewish Education brought her to the position of Program Director at Congregation Beth Israel, where she instantly found her professional niche. During her tenure at CBI she has overseen a wide variety of programs, classes and special events in the areas of Adult Education, Social Action, and Outreach to Interfaith. Bonnie serves as staff for both synagogue auxiliaries, Women of Beth Israel and Men’s Club. Coordinating CBI’s thirty-three Chavurot, she has also provided programming for demographic groups from young singles and couples to empty nesters and seniors. In her professional role, she has been intricately involved in many aspects of fundraising, membership, caring community and public relations as well.
Bonnie is married to psychologist Barry Graff and they have two daughters: Erin, a professor of Spanish and Portugese at USC, and Allison, Executive Director of CityYear, Los Angeles.
may be reached at 858-535-1111 ext. 3128. Her assistant is Laura Preisman.
Director of Religious School Education Ava Keenen Kurnow
Ava joined the Lee and Frank Goldberg Family Religious School staff as Director of Judaic Studies and assumed the role of Director of Religious School Education in 2011. Before joining Beth Israel, Ava worked as director of lifelong learning at Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For 23 years before that, she was director of education at Temple Chai in Phoenix, Arizona. While in Phoenix she also served on the city's Educator's Forum and taught workshops for new Jewish principals and other colleagues at conferences and at Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) biennials.
Ava's creative programming has earned her awards from the National Association of Temple Educators (NATE), where she served as a consulting board member, and from the Center of Advancement for Jewish Education (CAJE). She won the Belle Latchman Award from the Council for Jews with Special Needs, where she also served as a consulting board member. A contributor to the URJ's new and cutting edge "Chai Curriculum," Ava has published many articles in Jewish periodicals.
Ava holds a BS in Accounting and a Masters in Educational Administration and Supervision from Arizona State University. She has studied at the University of Judaism, and the Hartman Institute and Pardes in Jerusalem. Ava and her husband, Michael Kurnow, reside in Leucadia. She has two grown sons and two grandchildren.
Director of Early Childhood Education Tammy Vener
Tammy Vener views the Early Childhood Education department as a place where young families can begin or continue their Jewish journey. It is with great joy that she welcomes and helps families share and engage in a Jewish life.
Tammy has been the congregation's Early Childhood Director for nine years, and she's been involved with the congregation for 15 years. In 1981 she became a fourth-grade teacher at the Jewish Day School that was then opening its doors at Congregation Beth Israel. She taught in the Beth Israel Day School for three years. After her son was born, she continued as the science teacher and as the unit head in charge of the older campers at the former Camp Beth Israel. (Tammy's husband, Louie, was the director of Camp Beth Israel.)
Tammy knew she wanted to become a teacher by the age of 12. She graduated from San Diego State with a BA in Liberal Arts in 1979. The following year she received her California teaching credential and taught in San Diego City Schools for one year.
Tammy is married to Louie Vener and the couple has three children, Jacob, Molly and Sophie, all of whom attended the Beth Israel Day School. The Vener family has been active Temple members for 18 years.
may be reached at 858-535-1144 ext. 3120.
Director of Education Emeritus Helene Schlafman
Helene has been in Jewish education for over 50 years, most of them at Congregation Beth Israel, where she is the Director of Education Emeritus. Currently Helene teaches in the Religious School and High School, and teaches and directs the Madrichim program. She also presents Family Education programs for the Religious School.
Helene is a Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude graduate in Intellectual History with minors in Hebrew, Bible and education.
She is nationally known for her innovative programming. The Religious School, under her direction, was featured in the Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education's Lead Communities: Best Practices Project. Her ground-breaking Madrichim program for teens is over forty years old, and serves as a role model for programs throughout the country. Helene has received many awards for her weekend camp programming and the prestigious Telly Award for the rock music video that she produced with Cara Freedman.
The highly successful Bill and Sid Rubin Preschool and the former Beth Israel Day School were both developed under the tutelage of Mrs. Schlafman. She also began Camp Beth Israel, BIBS (Beth Israel Babies), and developed and produced the award winning children's theater company, SHOW BIS, with Music Director, Cara Freedman.
One of the most rewarding aspects of her years at Beth Israel is that she remains connected to so many of her students and now has the privilege of teaching Torah to their children and to her own grandchildren. She is affectionately known as "Eemah."
Executive Director Emeritus Stuart Simmons
Retired Executive Director Stuart Simmons has been honored with the title Executive Director Emeritus. Stuart was born in Los Angeles and has lived most of his life in California. Before joining Beth Israel, Stuart worked for 18 years in the areas of youth, education, camping and temple administration at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles. From 1965-1968, Stuart served on active duty in the U. S. Navy during which time he spent 14 months in Vietnam with a Naval Mobile Construction Battalion. In 1963, he worked at the UAHC (now known as the URJ) office in Los Angeles as Regional Youth Advisor.
Stuart now serves Beth Israel as Cemetery and Masoleum Representative. Beth Israel's Cemetery & Mausoleum Association provides Jewish burial space for members and their extended families at several local cemeteries. Pre-need purchase can be arranged by contacting Stuart at 619 871-4160.
For information without obligation regarding all burial options available to CBI members contact Stuart Simmons, C&M Representative at 619 871-4160.