Who We Are
Our leadership team collaborates to ensure we are always striving toward excellence and enriching our environment. Our strategic direction focuses on instilling a love for Judaism and Torah, providing a platform for each of our students to actualize his or her potential, and making a Modern Orthodox Jewish education available to everyone who wants one, whenever we can.
Rabbi Dr. Yossi Kastan, our Head of School grew up in North Miami Beach. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and Business from Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business, his semicha from Rabbi Ari Kahn, and his Master’s and Doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in South Florida. He is a graduate of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) and the Harvard Principal’s Center. Prior to coming to Berman, he was the Head of School at Brauser Maimonides Academy in Hollywood, Florida. He is married to Kara, and they have four children, Anaelle, Netanel, Lielle, and Gavriel. When he is not at school or spending time with his family, Rabbi Dr. Kastan can be found reading, cooking and baking, or exercising.
Rebecca Gautieri, our Preschool Director, grew up in the Washington area in a family that was always active in the Jewish community. She earned her Bachelors degree in Nursing from Boston University. She completed Early childhood lead teacher training with the State of Maryland. She is an active participant in the Jewish Federation's Early Childhood Directors' Council and with the first alumni cohort of the Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute. She has recently begun a new Community of Practice of Orthodox Early Childhood leaders from around the country. Morah Rebecca lives with her husband Joe in Olney, Their three grown children all attended Berman.
Rachel Handloff, our Lower School Principal, grew up in Farmington Hills, Michigan where she attended Hillel Day School. Rachel graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and a minor in Judaic Studies from the University of Michigan. After a one-year fellowship at University of Michigan's Hillel, Rachel moved to Maryland to be the full time youth director at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD. While working at Beth El, Rachel attended The Johns Hopkins University and graduated with a Master of Science in Counseling. Rachel was a middle school guidance counselor at The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and The Potomac School prior to joining Berman in 2009 as the Lower School Guidance Counselor. Rachel lives with her husband Rich and daughters Hannah and Sophie in Rockville.
Suzy Israel, our Lower School Principal, was born in Israel and raised in Toronto, Canada. She attended Midreshet Moriah in Jerusalem after High school. She obtained her BA from York University in Toronto, after which she returned to the teachers’ program at Midreshet Moriah for an additional year. Suzy earned her MA from State University of New York while living in Rochester NY. While in Rochester, Suzy taught 3rd Grade in an elementary school as well as resource classes in a girls’ high school. Since moving to Maryland in 2003, Suzy has been an Educational Support Services teacher and Director at our school. Suzy is passionate about finding the appropriately challenging educational program to meet the academic and spiritual needs of every Jewish child. She lives in Kemp Mill with her husband and children.
Rabbi Moshe Shields, our Middle School Principal, grew up in
Toronto among hockey fans. He graduated from Ner Israel high school and went to Bais Yisroel Yeshiva in Israel. Upon returning to the States, Rabbi Shields studied at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore and at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. After marrying his wife Rachael, Rabbi Shields received a Masters in School Administration Loyola University in Chicago. Moshe, Rachael, and their five children live in Olney, Maryland.
Batsheva Atlas, our Middle School Dean of Students, was raised in Baltimore and graduated from Stevenson University. She received state certification in Special Education from Goucher College. Mrs. Atlas was previously a guidance counselor at Bais Yaakov Middle School and vice principal of the boys' division of Yeshivat Rambam. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and children and enjoys baking, painting scenery, reading historical fiction and watching musicals.
Melanie Eisen, our Middle School Director of Teaching and Learning, grew up in the Montreal.She earned her Bachelor's degree in Jewish Studies from McGill University MA in Rabbinic Literature from McGill University, and MA in Education and Human Development from GW University. After 22 years of classroom teaching, Mrs. Eisen has spent the last six years coaching teachers and directors, most recently in her role as Director of Educational Innovation at Prizmah, and before that at the YU School Partnership. She has provided professional development for schools and \communities around the country and has guided curriculum implementations at every grade level. Melanie lives in Northern VA with her husband, 2 children, and dog.
Mrs. Malka Popper, our Rabbi Moshe H. Levinson Upper School Principal, grew up in Seattle, Washington. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Jewish Studies from Stern College (Magna Cum Laude), received her Master’s in Biblical and Talmud Interpretation from Yeshiva University and was a Senior Fellow in the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmud Study. In addition to her academic studies, Mrs. Popper has been an Educational Fellow at the Jewish Center of Manhattan, Visiting Scholar at Congregation Ohev Shalom in Washington, DC, and has served as the Director of Operations for The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot. Most recently, Mrs. Popper served as the Assistant Head of School at Northwest Yeshiva High School in Seattle. She is a veteran educator who has traveled throughout North America teaching Jewish text study. Mrs. Popper lives in Kemp Mill with her husband Danny, and children, Ami (Berman ‘30) and Shira (Berman ‘32).
Ms. Dita Cooper, our Upper School Dean of Students, grew up in Teaneck, NJ. Ms. Cooper received her bachelor's degree in religion from Barnard College of Columbia University. She is a graduate of the Pardes Day School Educators Program in Jerusalem where she received her master's degree in Jewish education and a certificate in day school education from Hebrew College, as well as a certificate of advanced Jewish studies. In addition to her work in Jewish day school education, Ms. Cooper has served as a senior staff member at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack and co-created the teen track at the 2017 JOFA Conference. She has served as a Judaic Studies teacher and grade level coordinator at SAR High School in Riverdale, New York for the past four years. In that role, she has been responsible for addressing social/emotional, academic, and disciplinary issues for her students and creating a culture of trust and support that allowed students to thrive. She has led a cohort of more than a dozen advisors, developing curriculum and conducting training for the advisory program, which gathers students in small groups to foster community, discuss critical issues, and address topics relevant to their development as teenagers. Dita lives in Potomac with her husband and two sons, Noam and Itai.
Faina Stepensky, our Finance Director, was born in Kiev, Ukraine on Yom Kippur. She moved to Moscow, Russia after getting married and attended Moscow University. She graduated with a Bachelors Degree in English and a Masters Degree in Economics. She immigrated with her family to the United States in 1979. She worked as the finance director for The Cardiovascular Research Foundation in Washington, D.C before coming to Berman in August of 1999. She is a veteran among the Berman senior administrative team members. Faina lives in North Potomac, MD with her husband. They have 2 wonderful children of whom they are very proud; their son is a physician at Shady Grove Hospital and their daughter is a program director at a day program for adults with disabilities.
Jennifer Zukerman, our Director of Institutional Advancement, was born and raised in Southeastern Virginia. She obtained her BA from George Mason University, after which she spent a year learning at Nishmat in Jerusalem. She was working toward a MA in Psychology when she turned her attention to Jewish communal service. After moving to Maryland Jennifer worked for the Hillel Center for Jewish Life at the University of Maryland for 3 years and developed a very favorable impression of the Berman Hebrew Academy graduates she met there. In 2002, Jennifer joined Berman as the Director of Development, where she filled roles both in development and in marketing/communications. In 2014, Jennifer became our first Director of Institutional Advancement, with responsibilities focusing on marketing, communications, admissions, building use, and external affairs. She lives with her family in Silver Spring, and she and her husband are proud to have three children currently enrolled at Berman and one who has graduated.
Hannah Strasser Olson was born and raised in California, where her passion for the Jewish community and Jewish communal work was ignited. After receiving her BA in Religious Studies from UC Santa Barbara and her Teaching Credential from the California State University, Sacramento, she spent 10 years teaching in public and private Jewish Day Schools. Her career path switched to fundraising and donor relations when she became the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Foundation of the West and then the Director of Major and Planned Gifts at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Hannah is the mother of two boys, an avid reader, chef, and committed Crossfitter.