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 Rabbi Howard Tilman

Rabbi Howard Tilman joined Congregation Beth Israel in July 2017 and has enthusiastically embraced this growing community. Through partnerships with professional staff and lay leadership, he has worked to enliven the synagogue’s religious services, educational opportunities, and family programming. Rabbi Tilman loves spending time with the congregation’s many learners of all ages and enjoys bringing modern and classical perspectives, as well as humor, to all of his teachings. Elsewhere in the community, Rabbi Tilman serves as President of the Scotch Plains – Fanwood Ministerium and is an active member of the Union County Board of Rabbis. He is an alum of the Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship and was in the initial class of AIPAC’s Leffel Israel Fellowship.

Rabbi Tilman was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in May 2014, where he received the Eliezer Slomovic Award in Talmud. For his Capstone Project in rabbinical school, he analyzed the similarities between the Talmud and modern social media as well as their educational potentials. He previously served as a member of the clergy team of the Jacksonville Jewish Center, where he worked in a variety of roles, including supervising Shabbat and Holiday programming, teen educational programming, and Israel advocacy. While in Jacksonville, Rabbi Tilman became a leader among the clergy of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality and its push for an expanded Human Rights Ordinance in the city.

Prior to the rabbinate, Rabbi Tilman graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and spent three years working as a producer for Sporting News Radio alongside the likes of Troy Aikman, Tony Bruno and Tim Brando. A passionate sports fan his whole life, he appeared on and won an episode of Sports Jeopardy! in August 2016. Rabbi Tilman has extensive experience working with youth of all ages in multiple synagogues and schools and at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. He has also worked with college students and serves as a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi‘s Council of Rabbis.


He is married to Naomi, who is the Senior Regional Director for BBYO’s Greater Jersey Hudson River Region. Together, they are proud parents of Micah and Sophie, who keep everyone busy with their youthful energy.

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Cantor Matt Axelrod

Cantor Matt Axelrod was born and raised in the Boston area. He is a graduate of Brandeis University and received his Masters of Sacred Music and Ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1993. While studying at JTS, he came to our synagogue as the latest in a series of student cantors. Upon graduating from the Seminary, Cantor Axelrod remained at Congregation Beth Israel and became our first full-time cantor. He has proudly served in this community ever since.

Active in both the Jewish and interfaith communities, Cantor Axelrod serves as vice president of the Cantors Assembly and is a past president of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Ministerium, comprising clergy of various faith communities as well as leaders of local civic organizations. Additionally, Cantor Axelrod has served on the United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education and is a past president of the Cantors Assembly New Jersey Region. He sings with the New Jersey Cantors Concert Ensemble, which performs throughout the state and helps to raise scholarship funds for cantorial students.

Cantor Axelrod has been a regular columnist and contributor to the online Bar & Bat Mitzvah Guide as well as, and is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder. His third book, Raising the Bar Mitzvah: Reimagining What Our Kids Learn is due out in September 2020. He has been a frequent presenter at synagogues, Jewish community centers and conferences, speaking to groups of parents and teens about the process of preparing for their b’nei mitzvah and how to successfully navigate that period. Most recently, Cantor Axelrod appeared--briefly--in the HBO miniseries "The Plot Against America."

Cantor Axelrod is also an avid aviation enthusiast, and is a licensed pilot and flight instructor. When not flying over New Jersey, he is likely out running and training for his next marathon. He is married to Tali, a principal in Bridgewater, and they are the proud parents of Judah and Josh.

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Aviva Tilles, Director of Congregational Learning 

Aviva Tilles was raised in the greater Washington DC area. After graduating high school from the Charles E Smith Jewish Day School during which time she was an active USYer including being a chapter president, Encampment co-chair & going on USY on Wheels and USY Israel Pilgrimage, she spent a gap year in Israel on NATIV - USCJ's college leadership program before heading to Worcester, MA to attend school at Clark University where she earned her Bachelors in Sociology and her Masters in Public Administration.

Following school she began working full time for USY for the next 13 years in NYC as the Director of USY Summer Programs, in Seattle as the Regional Youth Director for the Pinwheel Region and in Chicago as the USY Systems Manager/USY International Convention Director before taking a year off to work in the experiential hospitality world during which time she realized she missed the Jewish youth world and the east coast so she is thrilled to be returning to both.

Throughout the past 15+ years she worked in different Jewish congregational schools throughout the country, ranging in everything from being an all-in-one teacher to four different grade levels to spearheading a Project Based Learning curriculum for 8th - 12th graders.

Aviva is a proud aunt to 3 amazing nephews and likes to spend her time rooting on the NY Yankees, attending Broadway shows (and listening to the music in her office), cooking and watching Friends and The West Wing.

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Aaron J. Kessler, President

Aaron and his wife Susanlisa live in Scotch Plains with their 3 daughters, Maya, Rebecca and Sarina. The Kessler family moved to the area 7 years ago and immediately got involved in synagogue life. Many know the Kesslers as the family that had their oldest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah on the same day as their youngest daughter’s baby naming. Aaron and Susanlisa met in USY and growing up both spent a lot of their time volunteering, working, and participating in synagogue activities. Aaron previously served on the CBI Executive Board as Vice President and then Executive Vice President. When not at the synagogue, Aaron can be found on the soccer field cheering on his daughters’ club and high school teams.

Aaron holds an MBA in Healthcare Administration and is the Chief Operating Officer for a large ambulatory surgery center in New York City.

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Sat, November 27 2021 23 Kislev 5782