Meet the Religious School Teachers
Rachel Dufour: I was born and raised in Memphis, TN, and moved to New Orleans in 2013 for school. I am currently a senior at Loyola University studying chemistry and psychology. I am applying to PhD programs in neuroscience as my dream is to research degenerative neurological disorders. When not in class I can be found in the chemistry lab working on gold nanoparticle research (fun fact depending on the size gold can actually be pink and red!) or in the psychology lab researching interpersonal relationships and their diversity within populations of college students. Outside of science I am also a crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line (if you are in crisis, depressed, or need someone to talk to you can text 741-741) and am helping to start up the Active Minds chapter at Loyola University to help spread awareness and end the stigma around mental illness. For fun I flamenco dance, swim and paint! This will be my second year teaching at Touro Synagogue, and I am tremendously excited to be teaching again. Teaching Judaism to young students and seeing their awe and fascination is a weekly refresher and reminder that we should never lose the awe of our faith, but rather constantly nourish it and grow as Jewish scholars. Please feel free to email me with any questions or say hello at Friday Shabbat services.
Maya Shaar: Bio coming soon…
Maggie Willis: I have been an active member of Touro Synagogue since I was in Pre-K! I love working with children, especially the kindergartners because we get to play games, do arts and crafts and listen to music all whilst learning together. I also love seeing them grow up from year to year! When I’m not teaching here at the Religious School, I attend Southern New Hampshire University where I am studying psychology.
Bobbie Smith: Bio coming soon…
Leah Baer: I’m currently a senior at Tulane University and working to finish my degrees in Public Health and Environmental Studies. I’m originally from Memphis, Tennessee, home of the tallest free-standing elevator (Bass Pro Shops has taken over once our iconic downtown Pyramid). I’m picky when it comes to BBQ, so if you have any recommendations of places to get some in NOLA, let me know! When I’m not studying, I love spending time outside, exploring New Orleans and cooking new foods. You can often find me on long bike rides along the Mississippi River and hiking in the mountains when I can get away from the Bayou for a bit. This will be my second year working at Touro Synagogue. When I was little, I was the kid who loved going to temple on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings for class, so I love that I get to experience that with the first graders this year. I’m so excited to be teaching y’all’s children. Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you might have!
Ethan Krell: I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Birmingham, Alabama, shortly after. That is where my mom and grandfather both grew up. Because of my Alabama upbringing, one of my biggest passions in life is Alabama college football. It is basically another religion in my household. One of my favorite things to do is travel and see/try new things. I have been fortunate to go to many different places including India, Senegal, Morocco, Peru and Southeast Asia. Before my first year of college, I did a gap year program called Kivunim, which is based out of Jerusalem and focuses on studying several different countries and going to them to see them first hand. It truly was an amazing year. I am now a senior at Tulane with plans to go to medical school. This will be my 4th year working at Touro. During my freshman year of Tulane, I taught Sunday school, and the past two years I have worked with the Uptown Hebrew program. This year I really hope to teach the basics of Hebrew and want our students to walk away with the desire to learn more in the coming years. I went to a Jewish day school grades K-8 and learning Hebrew was one of the greatest skills I walked away with. It has helped me grow a stronger love for Israel and its people and it has connected me to Judaism in a unique way.
Michelle Neal: I was born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, where my father worked in the auto factories. When I was 25, my family and I moved to the Washington, DC area and lived there for over twenty years. My husband, Burt Neal, and I always loved New Orleans and visited as often as possible. Finally, in 2004, we decided it was time to move our family down here for good. This is my 11th year teaching third grade at Touro Religious School – I even taught my two youngest sons, Devin and Stephen, when they were in third grade. During the week I work for the Louisiana State Bar Association as an Outreach Coordinator. I get to travel all over the state of Louisiana talking to attorneys and encouraging them to get involved in activities. I am the mom to 7 kids (ranging in age from 15 – 35) and the nana to 9 (from 1- 15 years old). In my spare time I volunteer for organizations that work with people recovering from addictions. I also work with Pughearts, a pug rescue group in Texas (currently we have three pugs and two “others” living with us) and I also volunteer as a cruelty investigator with the Louisiana Humane Society.
Shelby Gadol: I am originally from Dallas, Texas, and am a lover of cats. I am currently double majoring in Jewish Studies and Art History at Tulane University. I hope to one day become a director of a Jewish youth camp or work at a Jewish non-profit. This is my first year working at Touro Synagogue and — because I attended a Jewish day school as a child — my first year EVER at religious school! I grew up attending and working at a Jewish sleep-away camp and most recently the JCC Uptown during their summer program. I am so excited to work at Touro and to teach my students one of the best stories and books in the Torah: Exodus! We will be finishing the year learning about Israel, a country near and dear to my heart. On top of it all, I am really looking forward to getting to know more of the Jewish community in New Orleans!
Hayley Yoskowitz: Bio coming soon…
Laura Adelman-Cannon: I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago. My mom’s family is from St. Louis, Missouri, and my Dad’s family is from Winnipeg, Manitoba (that’s Canada), so I’ve spent time in both places. I moved to New Orleans in 1999, with my husband, C.W. Cannon, who grew up here and wanted to move home. Monday through Friday, you can also find me involved in educational endeavors with the International School of Louisiana, where I am the Principal of the Jefferson Parish Campus. I am mom to Russell (9th grade) and Belle (5th grade). When I’m not working, I love to dance, knit, and read. I also like rugby and I practice yoga.
Alexandra Kugler: Bio coming soon…
Rabbi Alexis Berk: Rabbi Alexis Berk accepted the position of Rabbi of Touro Synagogue in the summer of 2008. She graduated with Honors from the University of California, San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, and was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in June of 2000. Following graduation, Rabbi Berk served in Nashville as Congregation Micah’s first Rabbi Educator. In 2011 Rabbi was chosen as one of Gambit Magazine’s “40 under 40,” – forty individuals under the age of forty whose skills and accomplishments have helped make New Orleans a better place to live and work. She welcomes conversation about the uniqueness of this community. Rabbi Berk and her husband Bob live in Uptown New Orleans with their two young sons and their dog Russell, all of whom are frequent and welcome visitors in the office.