Our Clergy

Senior Rabbi

Rabbi Ari Averbach

Rabbi Ari Averbach has served as Senior Rabbi at Temple Etz Chaim since July 2019. 

Rabbi Averbach grew up in Agoura Hills, a student of the public schools and Los Angeles Hebrew High School. He graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, spending several years working in film and television. His volunteering, especially with Jewish World Watch, a non-profit organization fighting genocide in Darfur and Congo, changed his career path. Through this work, he was a guest lecturer at dozens of synagogues, churches, schools and summer camps around Southern California.

Rabbi Averbach was ordained at AJU’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, where he was presented the Chancellor’s Award for Academic Excellence and was honored to be elected the class speaker. During school, he earned certification in chaplaincy at Children’s Hospital, and served as the rabbinic intern at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Rabbi Averbach previously served as Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Illinois, and volunteered as a chaplain at local hospitals. He was the founding leader of the Rabbinical Assembly affinity group for Assistant Rabbis and served as Treasurer of the local RA chapter.

He was featured on CBS News, quoted in the New York Times, and was a contributor to Says You.

As a family, Ari, his wife Vanessa, a high school English teacher, and their three children, spend free time going for long walks, doing crossword puzzles and riding bikes.

Noam Fields-Meyer Gould is a musician, scholar, and community builder based in Southern California who strives to create musical experiences that are engaging, accessible, and joyous. A current PhD candidate in music theory at UC Santa Barbara, Noam was raised in the Los Angeles Jewish community as part of a family that sang constantly––around the Shabbat table, on long walks to and from shul, even on hikes. His love of Jewish communal singing has led him to serve in multiple leadership roles in Jewish organizations, including as choir director at Camp Ramah in Ojai and as a prayer leader at Congregation Shaarie Torah in Portland, Oregon. As an undergraduate at Emory University, he led High Holiday services for Hillels of Georgia in Atlanta. From 2021 through 2023, he served as the High Holiday Chazzan for Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, California, directing the choir, and creating multiple new music arrangements for it. He has also worked as a Teaching Associate and Assistant in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Music, primarily teaching the fundamentals of music notation and composition to non-music majors. He lives in the Santa Barbara area with his partner Kelly, their cats Arnie and Oslo, and their blue heeler Kaldi. 

Benny Sommerfeld was born in Göteborg, Sweden where he graduated with a M.Sc. in Applied Chemical Engineering. He then left for the USA to develop future transportation within the automotive industry. Benny has been involved in the Jewish community in parallel to his professions all his life and chaired many committees both in Sweden and at Temple Etz Chaim.

He is a member of the Executive Committee for the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club, supporting the clubs throughout North America. His involvement in Temple Etz Chaim started in early 2000. He has been President of the Men’s Club locally and regionally. Benny has served as Chazzan Sheni for many years as a lay leader and was also a member of TEC’s Board of Directors as VP, Religion & Worship for 4 years.

His position as Associate Chaplain will focus on enhancing the pastoral care and spiritual well-being of the community while finishing his degree at AJRCA Chaplaincy School. Other areas of his responsibility include Adult Education – together with Rabbi Averbach – and Torah reading for Shabbat and festivals.

Benny enjoys hiking, skiing, and going to the beach when the weather permits. He resides in Thousand Oaks, CA, and is married to his wife, Irma. They have two daughters, Naomi and Marissa.

Rabbi Richard Spiegel served as Senior Rabbi at Temple Etz Chaim from June 2000 to June 2019, after which he became Rabbi Emeritus.

Rabbi Spiegel was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Before coming to Temple Etz Chaim in June 2000, he served in synagogues in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas. Rabbi Spiegel has been an active participant and leader in the Rabbinical Assembly, the international body of conservative Rabbis, throughout his career. Most recently, he served as President of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Rabbinical Assembly and is a member of the Board of Jewish World Watch.

Rabbi Spiegel has inspired our membership with his love of Judaism and his warm and friendly manner. He is eager to reach out to members of all ages, from our youngest preschool students, to our most elderly seniors. His goal is to teach children and adults alike that our ancient Jewish heritage can be a vibrant and dynamic force in our 21st century lives.

He was married to his beshert Linda in front of the full congregation in June 2003. He and Linda are the parents of four wonderful grown children, two beautiful daughters-in-law and three adorable grandchildren.

He leads a weekly class, Tuesdays with Rabbi Spiegel.

Our social hall, Spiegel Hall, is named in his honor.

Rabbi Emeritus

Rabbi Shimon Paskow (z”l)

Rabbi Shimon Paskow (z”l) served as Senior Rabbi at Temple Etz Chaim from August 1969 through July 2000, after which he became Rabbi Emeritus. In 1969, Temple Etz Chaim consisted of a handful of members. Through the Rabbi’s guidance, the congregation grew into a major synagogue with a magnificent sanctuary on a beautiful campus.

Rabbi Paskow was honored by Jewish and local civic organizations for his dedicated work to the Jewish community and the community at large. Besides teaching Torah at Temple Etz Chaim, he also taught classes at the University of Judaism and the Hebrew Union College. Rabbi Paskow was honored by the Hebrew University in Israel with the Torch of Learning award. Also in appreciation for leading many tours to Israel, the Israel Ministry of Tourism presented Rabbi Paskow and his wife Carol with special recognition.

In August 2022, his beloved wife Carol passed away after a prolonged illness. In December 2023, Rabbi Paskow sadly passed away as well.

Rabbi Paskow played a significant role in the growth and development of our community, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of those who knew him. Our sanctuary is named in Rabbi Paskow & Carol Paskow’s honor. Rabbi Paskow and Carol’s daughter, Rabbi Michele Paskow, grew up at TEC. She has served as the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Emet in Simi Valley since 1992.