Julie Gales, Madrikha and Ex-Officio Board Member

Julie Gales has been the madrikha of the JCS since 1999. As a native Detroiter, she grew up in the Jewish Parents Institute, one of America’s earliest secular Jewish organizations. Her desire to give back to the secular Jewish community that was so influential in her life led Julie to study at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism (IISHJ). In 1993, she was ordained as a madrikha.

Julie performs all Jewish ceremonial services for the JCS community: officiating at bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, weddings, baby namings, and funerals; conducting First Friday Shabbat, High Holiday, and Second Night Pesach Seder observances; assisting members with pastoral counseling; and helping JCS members interpret and find meaning in Jewish foundational texts as contemporary Jews.

Julie graduated from Tufts University in 1983 with a bachelor of science degree in geological sciences and earned a master of science degree in structural geology and geophysics at the University of Michigan. For twenty-one years, she worked for the Legislative Service Bureau’s Research Services Division as an assistant director and a science research analyst, advising Michigan legislators and staff on a wide range of scientific, engineering, and environmental issues. She is currently working as the administrative director of the Molecular and Behavior Neuroscience Institute at the University of Michigan.

Julie’s family is both intercultural and transracial and blends the many traditions from their secular Jewish, British, African American, and Muslim backgrounds. The JCS is a very welcoming home for this type of diversity.

In her free time, Julie loves to downhill and cross-country ski, hike, and bake with her husband and their two daughters.

Wendy Sadler, School Principal

Wendy Sadler, M.Ed., holds degrees in history, English, and education leadership. She has worked in the Metropolitan Detroit Community for over 25 years and the Greater Community of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, including at the Jewish Cultural Society, for the past five years. Currently she facilitates batter intervention programs for men and women at Charron Services in Oakland County and Catholic Social Services in Ann Arbor.

Wendy’s experience includes:

  • 25 years as director, mentor, and educator in private education in Metropolitan Detroit
  • director of Shalom Street Museum.
  • winner of the Goldie Levine award for Outstanding Curriculum development.
  • developing and implementing programming, conferences, and educational support for teachers and educators.
  • chairing CAJE‘s 29th conference, serving more than 1600 participants from 12 countries.
  • serving on boards in local communities to support cultural diversity, GLBT communication, and religious understanding.

Board Members

Alon Yaffe (President)

Alon is the current board president of the JCS. He and his family joined the organization in 2004, and his son, Ari, graduated the JCS B’nei Mitzvah program in 2017. Alon grew up in a secular Jewish community in northern Israel and immigrated to the US in 1998. Alon has spent his entire adult life working in the software industry and is currently a senior manager at Barracuda Networks in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ruth Freedman (Treasurer)

Ruth is from Brooklyn and passed through Minneapolis on her way to Ann Arbor. She earned a bachelor’s in math from Hofstra and a Master of Public Health at Hunter College’s School of Health Sciences. She’s retired from her position as an administrator at the Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute at Michigan Medicine, where she worked beginning in 1989. While at Michigan Medicine, Ruth co-chaired the U-M Breast Cancer Advocacy & Advisory Committee.

Sylvia Funk

Sylvia grew up on the Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and immigrated to New York in 1961. She has three sons, and was widowed in 2012. Sylvia worked for the National Institutes of Health for many years, and in 1995 became chief of the office that provides immigration assistance and documentation to foreign scientists coming to NIH to conduct research. She retired in 2001 and moved to Ann Arbor to be close to sons Eric and Paul and her five grandchildren. Sylvia is an avid quilter, and enjoys playing the piano and reading. She loves music and is also on the board of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.  

Omer Berenfeld

Omer Berenfeld is a professor of internal medicine and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan. Omer was born and raised in Kibbutz Or Haner in Israel, and after earning his Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University in 1995, he moved to Syracuse, New York, where he married and where his three children were born. The family moved to Ann Arbor in 2008. His wife Celina is the founder and owner of an art conservation business, his daughter Sofia attends Michigan State University, and his sons Ilan and Sebastian attend Pioneer High School and Tappan Middle School, respectively. His children attend or have attended JCS’s Sunday School and the b’nei-mitzvah program. He and his family are frequent participants of JCS First Friday Shabbat and holiday celebrations.

Robert Davidow

Bob Davidow grew up in Huntington Woods, and went to Cranbrook, Dartmouth (A.B.), UM Law School (J.D.), Harvard Law School (LL.M.),  Columbia Law School (J.S.D.), and University of Chicago (M.Div.). He’s practiced law in Cleveland, U.S. Army JAG (including one year in Korea), Florida, and Illinois, and has taught law for about 30 years at University of North Dakota, Florida State, Texas Tech, and George Mason, with a year as a visitor at Queen’s University of Belfast. In retirement Bob has worked on a number of law reform projects, the latest of which involves a proposal to eliminate gerrymandering through adoption of a state-wide list system of proportional representation. Bob enjoys singing with the University of Michigan Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and has two children (by his first wife) and four grandchildren.   

Marni Hochman

Marni Hochman has has lived in the Midwest since heading to graduate school in Indiana in 1992. She’s been a member of JCS since moving to Michigan in 2003 and has been on the JCS board for longer than she can remember. She grew up on the East Coast, but has also lived in Taiwan and Japan. Marni has had many different career adventures, but is currently an ESL instructor at Jewish Family Services. Volunteer work at Washtenaw Literacy and the newly created Washtenaw Refugee Coalition also keeps her busy. She lives in Ypsilanti with her husband Terry Jackson, one of her children, and three cats. Her other child lives in Chicago and attends DePaul University. Both children went through the JCS B’nei Mitzvah Program—one served on the board, and the other has volunteered as a classroom aid.

Cady Vishniac

Cady and her daughter Luta have been members of the Jewish Cultural Society and regulars at the First Friday Kabbalat Shabbats since moving to Ann Arbor in 2017. Cady attended the University of Massachusetts, The Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan, but decided in 2019 that she would stop at three English degrees, not five. For fun, Cady writes fiction and reads the Yiddish classics in Yiddish. For work, she edits a medical journal, but in the past has also looked after people’s dogs, worked as a human statue, and made an awful lot of coffee. For the JCS, she helps Bev with the newsletter and runs the website and social media presence.

Vicki Patraka

Dr. Vivian Patraka, professor emeritus, directed the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society at Bowling Green University in Ohio, where she taught English and American culture for thirty years, often writing on the subject of Jewish culture. She earned her doctoral degree at the University of Michigan and now lives in Ann Arbor again part time, spending her winters in Florida. During her time at Bowling Green Vickie was known for her mentorship of younger faculty, and she is now a dedicated volunteer in Ann Arbor, contributing not just to the Jewish Cultural Society but to the local Protectors of Equality in Government.