Meet Our Staff

Helene Santo
Executive Director
212-452-2310 x14,

Helene joined Congregation Or Zarua as Executive Director after 13 years with the Academy for Jewish Religion, a rabbinical and cantorial school now located in Yonkers, New York. As Director of Operations, Helene managed the academic records and financial operations of the Academy, along with the website, the physical facility and the computer network. Helene grew up in a Conservative family in St. Louis, where she was active in Jewish youth groups and synagogue activities. After earning a BA in Spanish from Drake University, she received her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In 1981, she moved to 82nd Street on the Upper East Side to begin a 16-year career at Chase Manhattan Bank (now JPMorgan Chase), where she had credit and lending responsibility for various industries.

Since Congregation Or Zarua did not exist in the early 1980s, she moved to Brooklyn and joined Park Slope Jewish Center. At PSJC, a small, participatory, egalitarian Conservative congregation, she has served on the Board, tutored children for Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and led Junior Congregation and Teen Torah for many years. She met her husband, Matthew Eilenberg, at Park Slope Jewish Center and together they have raised three children, two sons and a daughter. Before he had to retire, she and her beagle, Maxwell, are a therapy dog team with the Good Dog Foundation.

Sigal Hirsch
Director of Youth Education and Programming
212-452-2310 x15,

Sigal is passionate about cultivating meaningful connections to the Jewish past and present, allowing learners to create a vibrant Jewish future.  Sigal’s experience in a variety of formal and informal Conservative Jewish educational settings—including Camp Ramah in the Berkshires and the Schechter School of Long Island—enables her to build a community of learning that creates knowledgeable, skilled and passionate Jewish youth. Sigal loves playing basketball, doing craft projects, reading (and re-reading), cooking and spending time with family and friends. Sigal earned an MA in Jewish Education from the Davidson School of Jewish Education and an MA in Jewish History from The Graduate School at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and earned a BA in Middle Eastern Studies and Judaic Studies from Tufts University.

Laurence Richards
Building Manager
Leave a message at 212-452-2310 x14

Deborah Wenger
Rabbinic Administrative Assistant
212-452-2310 x12,

Deborah has been involved professionally within the Jewish community in areas of administration, journalism and teaching.

Growing up in the greater Boston area, Deborah earned a Ph.D. from Boston University in the history and literature of ancient Israel. During her graduate studies she was on the administrative staff of the dean’s office of the School of Theology at B.U. Later, she taught all ages in a variety of settings: afternoon Hebrew school, college and graduate school, and Jewish adult education. She continues to teach adult shiurim (classes) in a voluntary capacity at her synagogue in Elizabeth, NJ. Also at her synagogue she and her husband, Avey, learn Daf Yomi each morning at 5:45 am.

Before joining Or Zarua’s staff in 2011, Deborah worked for 10 years in Jewish journalism, first at the “Kansas City Jewish Chronicle,” then at “The Jewish State” in central New Jersey. At “The Jewish State” Deborah wrote a weekly column called “Practice Tips,” in which she interviewed rabbis from three perspectives — Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform — on a Jewish practice or custom.

She enjoys visiting Israel with her husband, Avey; folk dancing; and – once upon a time – skydiving (she has a “C” license).

Each of the things Deborah has done professionally through the years has centered around administrative work within a learning environment. Creating order out of chaos is a joy. Finding creative and positive ways to direct the currents of an institution’s day-to-day functioning is exciting. Or Zarua’s mission as a participatory synagogue is a good fit, as she believes deeply that Judaism is a hands-on experience, not a spectator sport.