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About the Mussar Leadership Program

A Program sponsored by Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel
Our Program

The Mussar Leadership Program (MLP) fills a void for individuals experiencing emptiness from being immersed in the material world and looking for something greater than themselves. MLP offers a spiritual path steeped in their tradition, and accessible to modern students. The 19th century Mussar Movement, initiated by Rabbi Israel Salanter, provides an accumulated body of knowledge and literature to answer the question: “If everyone knows what it means to be good, why is it so hard to be good?” The Mussar spiritual journey raises awareness of forces beyond our conscious knowledge that cause us to act or not act according to our values. Through study, self-reflection and group exercises, we awaken to a Jewish spirituality that is compassionate, moral and generous.

Our Unique Approach

The Mussar Leadership Program’s uniqueness lies in its integrated contemporary approach that engages students with primary texts, commentaries, a practice based on positive psychology and an approach to halachah as a Jewish mode of existence in a contemporary key. Moreover, the discipline of middot practice is not for the purpose of self-improvement, but as a way to focus on the needs of the other. The Mussar Leadership Programs’ approach provides a response to our ‘me first’ narcissistic age through a constant and guiding focus on the other.

A Modern Theology

Over the last 12 years, MLP has developed a modern theology and practice that brings the reality of Torah to everyday life. The central cornerstone is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The theology is based on the insights of the Kelm Mussar School and the French philosopher Emanuel Levinas who posits, “God is the obligation to serve the infinite other carried on the face of my neighbor.” Our students awaken to a Jewish spirituality that is compassionate, moral, and generous. They think beyond themselves and make choices that benefit others, creating stronger, more positive relationships.

Mussar Classes

The Mussar Leadership Program offers introductory and continuing classes that focus on foundational Mussar texts, theology and practice. Students commit for a semester at a time; a complete curriculum is offered over a period of four years. Mussar Leadership classes are offered in Center City Philadelphia, South Jersey, Germantown, the Philadelphia suburbs, an in various parts of the country, including California and Oregon. Distance learning classes are also offered. Each class is divided into a shiur or lesson, and a va’ad or group work.

Why Mussar?

In true rabbinic fashion, we answer that question with several questions of our own:

Mussar Can Change Your Life

• Why is it so difficult to do what is good?
• What is the relationship between living a religious life and an ethical one?
• How can religion strengthen an ethical life?
• And most significantly, in a cultural milieu in which personal and spiritual satisfaction are seen as identical, how can we achieve a spirituality that takes us beyond ourselves?

Mussar Leadership Program (MLP) addresses these critical issues within a contemporary Jewish context. Mussar, the tradition of moral and ethical character development, is a centuries old toolbox filled with practices that assist in continually rediscovering that joy and holiness happen in those moments when we are fully present to others.

  • Mussar is an engaging contemporary spiritual practice that enables us to transform ourselves and our relationships, allowing us to live a moral, responsible life.
  • The central cornerstone of Mussar is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Our students awaken to a Jewish spirituality that is compassionate, moral, and generous.



Click on each staff picture for a brief bio
Rabbi Ira Stone
Rosh Yeshiva
Rabbi Ira Stone, consummate teacher and stirring speaker, is a major force in the resurgence of the mussar movement. Rabbi Stone’s first book on mussar is A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path to Mussar (Aviv Press 2006). His commentary on Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto’s Mesillat Yesharim was published by The Jewish Publication Society in September 2010.
Nancy Axelrod
Executive Director
Nancy is both the Executive Director of the Mussar Leadership Program and a madricha, leading our South Jersey va’ad. A Mussar student since 2009, Nancy brings a social justice perspective to her teaching, but also enjoys helping others to see how Mussar can transform their personal relationships.


madrich מדריך (madreekh) noun male / madricha מדריכה (madreekhah) noun female / madrichim מדריכים (madreekheem) plural:
Guide; trainer; educator; group leader; va’ad facilitator; tour guide; camp counselor.
Rabbi Jonathan Bernhard
Rabbi Bernhard serves as senior rabbi at Adat Ari El (Valley Village, CA) where he has served since his ordination in 1996. For him, Judaism is about Tikkun: Tikkun ha’Nefesh/developing our soul and Tikkun ha’Olam/repairing the world.
Rabbi Joshua Boettiger
Rabbi Boettiger is the spiritual leader of Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland, Oregon. He is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, and is a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow. Rabbi Boettiger leads three Mussar cohorts in Ashland, and also teaches Jewish meditation and leads silent retreats.
Rabbi Rachel Bovitz
Rabbi Rachel Rudis Bovitz, Director of Millennial Engagement at The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), is known for her dynamic and innovative programs. Rabbi Bovitz previously was Adjunct Professor of Jewish Students at American Jewish University, focusing on Judaism and Gender and continues to run a series of independent learning programs including Mussar (ethical spiritual practice) study groups. Rabbi Bovitz began her rabbinic career as Associate Rabbi of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, and was the founding director of the Conejo/West Valley Florence Melton Adult Mini-School.
Rabbi Richard Camras
Rabbi Camras has been senior rabbi at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, California since 1999 and previously served as Associate Rabbi of Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland. He founded the Conejo/West Valley branch of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School in 2007 and serves as President of the Pacific Southwest Regional Rabbinical Assembly.
Mindy Shapiro
Mindy Shapiro is a Jewish communal professional with over 25 years of experience. She was the founding director of Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing!, a program of Moving Traditions. She has also worked for other Jewish organizations including Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, International Hillel and the Gershman Y. Mindy has been studying Mussar with Rabbi Stone since 2003. Mussar provides her with a framework for leading a more mindful life, something she would like to help others to do. She is also a papercut artist. Mindy has a B.A in Women Studies from University of MD. and an M.A. in Women Studies from George Washington University.
Eugene Sotirescu
Eugene grew up in Romania and Israel. He has degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Yale. He lives in Philadelphia where he works as a software engineer and is a member of congregation Mishkan Shalom. Eugene has been studying mussar with Rabbi Stone since 2006.
Dr. Beulah Trey
Born into a South African Jewish family, raised in an orthodox Jewish community, married into a fourth generation reform family, follower of a conservative Rabbi and a member of a Reconstructionist synagogue, finding Mussar has given Beulah a practice that incorporates the diverse paths inside and outside Judaism that have nurtured her soul. Aware of the power of Mussar to transform lives, she pioneers the applications of these practices to leadership, team and organizational transformation.
Daria Jacobs-Velde
Rabbi Jacobs-Velde is the rabbi and co-founder of ZMANIM (, an organization which cultivates multi-generational Jewish community in West Sonoma County, exploring and celebrating connections between Judaism and the natural world. She was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2009, and during her time there was introduced to the practice of Mussar. Since 2006 she has been engaged in this traditional, powerful practice, as taught through the Mussar Leadership Program in Philadelphia. From 2012-2014 , she taught a Mussar cohort at Congregation Ohev Tzedek, in Ohio, where she also served as the co-rabbi with her husband, Josh.
Sonia Voynow
Sonia Voynow is a psychotherapist in private practice, and the founder of Surviving and Thriving, an organization that draws on Mussar teachings to help parents and grandparents of children with autism. Raised in a conservative Jewish family, and a member of Germantown Jewish Centre, Sonia has found that Mussar has not only enlivened her religious and spiritual practice, it has also provided valuable guidance in many other aspects of her life. She has studied Mussar since 2005 with Rabbi Ira Stone. Sonia has her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and her Masters in Social Work from Temple University.

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