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Our Team

Rabbi Rachael Jackson

Rabbi Rachael Jackson is thrilled to be a part of this incredible community, Central Florida’s largest Reform Jewish congregation, which prides itself on being engaging and welcoming. With a passion for teaching, learning, pastoral care, and social justice, Rabbi Jackson knows that CRJ is a great shidduch (match).
Prior to her CRJ tenure in 2023, Rabbi Jackson served as sole clergy at Agudas Israel in Hendersonville NC. During her HUC-JIR student years, in addition to being part of small congregations, she was also a Fellow at the Cincinnati Jewish Community Center. While there, one of the programs she created and spearheaded was “Experiments with a Message,” directed to preschoolers, using science experiments as a way to teach Jewish values.
An important facet of Rabbi Jackson’s rabbinate is to seamlessly meld Judaism and modernity, to integrate natural law and Jewish living. As an alum Fellow of Sinai and Synapses, she and other alumni created a podcast [Down the Wormhole] which explored the relationship between science and religion. Bringing relevancy and relationships to Judaism is a crucial part of her rabbinate.
Rabbi Jackson received a B.S. in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University. She was an analytical chemist for nearly a decade before truly falling in love with the beauty that is congregational life. This led to a change of careers and in 2015, she earned her Rabbinic Ordination from HUC-JIR.
Rabbi Jackson is married to Danyul Jackson, and together they have a sweet young son Adrian. They are all excited to be at CRJ! She is a dedicated cross-stitcher, avid reader, and enjoyer of card games in her spare time.
Rabbi Jackson can be reached at

Soloist Laurie Simmons

Laurie Simmons shares her passion for Jewish learning in everything that she does. She is an educator and a life-long learner. Laurie has been a Cantorial Soloist for over seven years in Jacksonville, Florida, and a B’nai Mitzvah Tutor for more than ten years. Laurie worked for Hospital Homebound in Duval County as a Special Education teacher for six years at the Wolfson Children’s Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, and home visits.
She has been a student at the Academy of Jewish Religion, New York, for many years and will start the ALEPH Ordination Cantorial Program in June. She is a private student of Cantor/Rabbi Rachelle Nelson, who resides in Miami, Florida. Cantor/Rabbi Nelson is a graduate of Hebrew Union College and is a well-known composer of Jewish music throughout the world. Laurie has served on several boards within the Jewish community and in multiple leadership roles.
She was born in New Jersey, raised in Pennsylvania, and moved to Jacksonville, Florida, during her teen years until recently. She and her husband met at Florida State University, married after graduation, and have two wonderful sons. She loves Jewish music, prayer, and song-leading; she aspires to become clergy. Laurie is dedicated to her family and the Jewish community. She has a warm and welcoming personality and is excited to join the CRJ community.
Soloist Simmons can be reached at

Rabbi Emeritus Steve Engel

Rabbi Engel is actively involved both inside and outside the synagogue. Rabbi Engel has brought his creativity, dynamism and relationship building skills to our congregation since 1997. Outside of CRJ, he presently serves on the Board of New Hope for Kids-Grieving Center for Children in Maitland, Florida and is a founding member of The Interfaith Council of Central Florida.  He is involved in a program repairing bicycles for the homeless and  has served as an adjunct professor of religion and a guest lecturer at Rollins College and the University of Central Florida.
Rabbi Engel received a B.A. in Physics from Rutgers University and a Masters Degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. He received Rabbinic Ordination in 1988 and a Doctorate in Divinity in 2013 from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. His Rabbinic thesis was entitled “A Critical Psycho-biography of Kivie Kaplan Against the Backdrop of Black-Jewish Relations in the 20th Century”.
Rabbi Engel was co-creator and co-host of an NPR affiliated interfaith radio show with a Reverend and an
Imam and has been prominent on the national scene related to his interfaith work and Social Justice work. He has appeared in The New York
Times, USA Today, US News & World Report, CNN, Larry King Live, The Today Show and other media. 
Rabbi Engel is married to Beverly, a gerontologist and they have three children and two grandchildren. He is an avid cyclist, woodworker, baseball card collector, and loves his work as a Rabbi as he finds it challenging and invigorating.
Rabbi Engel can be reached at

Executive Director Michael Kancher

Michael has been the Executive Director at CRJ since January of 2007. Prior to coming to CRJ, he was the Executive Director at Shir Hadash, a conservative temple in New Orleans.
As an Executive Director Michael has had the opportunity to be involved with NATA (National Association of Temple Administration), where is currently serves as an officer on their board. He has been involved with NATA for over 15 years and enjoys being able to represent CRJ and the greater Jewish community on the national level.
Michael was born and raised in New Orleans, graduated from LSU and ran his families’ furniture business before transitioning into the Jewish communal professional world.
Michael is married to Pam, and they have two boys. Michael roots for the LSU Tigers and is an avid New Orleans Saints Fan.
In his spare time, he can be found at amusement parks and every year attends the New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Michael Kancher can be reached at

Director of Education Jesse Cohen

Jesse is truly excited to begin his role at CRJ and to be able to contribute to this community and help shape the ways in which we educate and welcome the youngest members of our congregation. Prior to joining the CRJ team, Jesse spent the last 12 years teaching middle school history, algebra and theatre. For him the key to learning and success is engagement, the foundation for education is igniting passion and energy in learners while building trust, meaningful relationships, and community – and, of course, having fun.
Jesse has also spent the past 10 summers at the Program Director at Camp Green Lane (a Jewish overnight camp in Pennsylvania), where he created an exciting and intentional curriculum, innovative programming, and planned special events. Jewish overnight camp taught him important life skills, how to make the perfect s’more and helped Jesse build a sense of Jewish identity.
Jesse grew up outside of Philadelphia, attended West Chester University where he received his bachelor’s in education, and moved to Central Florida 11 years ago. He is married to Kate, and they have a son named Baker. They have a dog, Midge (named for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and two cats, Pete & Sam. He is a diehard Philadelphia Eagles Fan (Go Birds!!), a lover of pizza, and a theatre enthusiast.
Jesse is excited to be able to create a space where young people can grow, learn and discover their unique place in our culturally rich Jewish community.
Jesse Cohen can be reached at

Director of Programming & Marketing Sarah Weissman

Sarah is looking forward to beginning this new role at CRJ and being able to provide fun and exciting programming. Prior to joining the CRJ team, Sarah spent 4 years as the Senior Camp Director at Shalom Orlando and prior to moving to the Orlando area, spent many years working at the Bender JCC in Rockville, Maryland as the Camp & Program Director and Director of Youth & Teens, and at the Stamford JCC in Connecticut as the assistant Camp Director. Sarah sees herself as a lifelong Jewish communal professional and can attribute her love of working in the Jewish community all the way back to when she was a madrichim (teacher’s assistant) at the temple she grew up at.
Sarah has a passion for programming that stemmed from her time spent at URJ Eisner Camp & URJ Crane Lake Camp (both located in the Berkshires, MA), first as a camper, then a counselor and unit head. Attending and working at Jewish sleepaway camp helped shape her Jewish identity and is where she saw the impact of Jewish programming first hand.  For her programming is a way to bring people together to create connections, build new relationships, and have fun!
Sarah grew up in upstate New York, received her B.S. in Business Administration from SUNY Buffalo and received a M.S. in Education from The College of Saint Rose. She loves living in a place where it is sunny year-round and doesn't ever see snow.
You can find Sarah baking (ask and she will bake you some delicious goodies), trying out a new restaurant, or visiting Disney World and Universal in her spare time.
Sarah Weissman can be reached at

Clergy & Office Assistant Annie Hernandez

Annie Hernandez can be reached at

Facilities Manager Michael Velez

Michael Velez can be reached at 407-645-0444

Part-time Maintenance Alan Dalton


Part-time Bookkeeper Julie Bain

Julie Bain can be reached at 407-645-0444

Part-time Accountant Cindy Reyes

Cindy joined the CRJ family in 2018. She was born in Connecticut and has lived in Multiple cities on the east cost of the U.S. Cindy began a career in accounting over 17 years ago and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Accounting in 2010. She enjoys traveling with her children, DIY projects, sports, and volunteering assisting patients with dementia.
Cindy Reyes can be reached at
Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784