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Music Leaders

Cindy Michelassi, Song and Band Leader 

Cindy has been a member of Congregation Etz Chaim since 1990. She served on the Board of Trustees for 8 years, and taught in the religious school for 12 years. She began song leading in the religious school in 1993, and became the congregation’s Song Leader in 1995. Cindy is a 26 year veteran of Hava Nashira and Shabbat Shira, the annual Song Leading and Music Conferences held at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Cindy has certifications from the URJ’s Synagogue Leadership Institute and the Rabbinic Aid program. She currently represents our congregation as a member of the Elmhurst Interfaith Leadership Network. She has worked for many synagogues and Jewish organizations in the Chicago area, including Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors in Geneva, the Chicago area B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and the JCC Apache Camp. She is currently also serving as music and service leader for Temple B’nai Israel and Aurora Jewish Renewal Congregation in Aurora, and Temple Beth El in Rockford. She has taught adult Hebrew and adult B’nei Mitzvah classes for many years at Congregation Etz Chaim. Cindy has produced four recordings of Jewish music. Her original composition, “R’fuah Sh’leimah” is published in Manginot: The Complete Jewish Songbook for Children, Volume II. Visit Cindy’s web site

Email Cindy


Marla Aviva Bentley, RJE 

Director of Lifelong Learning and Music

Marla Aviva Bentley, RJE (she/her) is the Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Etz Chaim and conductor of the CEC Choir. She has worked in the field of Jewish education for more than 20 years. Before coming to CEC, Marla served as the Director of Music at Temple Beth Israel in Skokie. Marla is passionate about fostering Jewish identity through learning, music and Tikkun Olam, the repair of our world. She cares deeply about her congregants and seeing each person as a unique and precious individual created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. 

Marla serves on the Executive Board of the Guild of Temple Musicians, an affiliate of the American Conference of Cantors, as the Immediate Past President. For 5 years she was the conductor of HaZamir Chicago, a chapter of HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir. Marla is proud to serve on the camp faculty of Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). 

Marla is a graduate of the Executive MA program at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) where she earned a degree in Jewish Education. She has a Bachelor of Music degree with Honors in Choral Music Education from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Master of Music degree in Vocal Pedagogy from Oakland University, Rochester. 

A native of Metropolitan Detroit, Marla now calls Deerfield home. She is a lifelong learner and loves to read and listen to audiobooks. Marla also loves to be in nature, camp, sing, bake, and spend time with her husband, Newell, and their children, Hannah and Jaret, and rescue dog, Duke.


Marissa Kerbel, Collaborative Pianist

Marissa Kerbel (she/her) is a pianist and pedagogue based in Chicago, IL. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in piano performance from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati where she studied with Michael Chertock and James Tocco. Other significant pedagogical influences include Marvin Blickenstaff and Dr. Erin Bennett. Marissa has performed in master classes with Christopher O’Riley and Michelle Cann. Marissa also holds a Master’s Degree in Music Theory from the University of Cincinnati and has presented research on analysis of popular music, rhythm and meter, and twentieth century approaches to tonality.

 Marissa is passionate about performing as both a soloist and a collaborator. She currently serves as an Associate Member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and Principal Keyboard of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. Marissa is one of the founding members of the chamber music collective OLEA through which she performs new and underperformed works for small chamber ensembles. An advocate for new music, Marissa has performed and premiered several new works by emerging composers. In 2022, as a member of OLEA, she commissioned “Wave Hands Like Clouds” from composer Owen Hopper, and the group recently premiered an expanded version of the work entitled “Wind Blows Lotus Leaves” at New Music Chicago’s ImpromptuFest in 2023. In 2021, Marissa commissioned a song cycle for Baritone and piano entitled “Circles and Spades” from composer Jacy Pedersen. Her forthcoming debut album, “In 24 Years: The Instrumental Music of Lili Boulanger,” will serve as the first complete recording of Lili Boulanger’s repertoire for the piano as both a solo and collaborative instrument.

Marissa operates a thriving studio of private piano students in her home, as well as mentoring several online students from across the United States. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member teaching piano and music theory at the Wilbur Wright College. Visit Marissa's website

Terry Shapiro, Junior Choir Director

Terry Shapiro leads the Etz Chaim Junior Choir and teaches Sunday school music at Congregation Beth Tikvah in Hoffman Estates and at Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin. He loves to sing, and sing in the Etz Chaim Adult Choir. He teaches psychology at Aurora University and consults for Social Security Disability. For fun, he sings and plays guitar, most recently at Potbelly for the past 7 years. 

Sue Leftwich, Music Teacher

Sue Leftwich has been a member of Congregation Etz Chaim since 1994. She has been part of the religious school faculty since 1997, beginning as a kindergarten teacher assistant, followed by a chug teacher for three years and has been teaching the music classes since 2001. Sue teaches traditional and contemporary Jewish songs, including holiday and Shabbat songs in both Hebrew and English to the primary department students (pre-school through second grade) each week.  Additionally, she helps the eighth graders choose appropriate songs for their Yom HaShoah service and participates by singing the selected songs during the service.  Sue is also a vocalist/guitarist in the congregation's Life Tree Ramblers band and has been a band member since its inception in 2006. 

Fri, July 12 2024 6 Tammuz 5784