Sunday August 29th
Neil is Rabbi Emeritus at Beth Shir Shalom, Santa Monica, CA. He brings his passionate expression of Judaism and his strong sense of social justice to the pulpit. He helps create Jewish community, facilitates discovery of our spiritual selves and works with us towards Tikkun Olam – healing the world.
Neil's accessibility makes him responsive to his congregants and community. He uses his singing and musical talents to communicate the riches of Jewish tradition. Through his contemporary interpretation of ancient and modern texts he enables us to personalize and apply them to our daily lives.
Neil has personal commitments to organizations that deal with interracial and interfaith relations and homelessness issues. He is active in many community organizations, including Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) from which he received the Giant of Justice Award.
Neil has chaired the Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition and his area’s Interfaith Holocaust Service and also serves on the boards of American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and the Santa Monica Area Interfaith Council. A graduate of UCLA, Rabbi Comess-Daniels was ordained in 1979 at the Hebrew Union College and is often asked to mentor young rabbinic students.
He was the founding rabbi of Temple Shir Shalom, one of the two communities that came together to become Beth Shir Shalom. He became emeritus in 2020 and now, in addition to continuing involvement with Beth Shir Shalom, is working part-time as a hospice chaplain and as Rabbi-in-Residence for a local Lutheran church. He is married and has two children (and - mazel tov! - a brand new grandson).
Nicole is General Counsel to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where she provides strategic legal advice to the union on a broad range of legal matters, including many of SEIU’s innovative organizing campaigns. She is also a partner at James & Hoffman, P.C. During her more than 20-year legal career, her practice has focused on the intersections of economic justice, racial justice, gender equality, and LGBTQ rights. In 2017, Nicole was appointed to the ACS board of directors.
Nicole is particularly proud of her role as counsel on SEIU’s amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in a successful defense to the Affordable Care Act, and as the architect of the labor movement briefs in the case which overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and the subsequent case which achieved full marriage equality. She has represented SEIU and the Change to Win labor federation in a broad range of cases in state and federal courts, including helping to defend the Affordable Care Act, legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and marriage discrimination, and a successful challenge to Pennsylvania’s onerous voter ID requirement.
Prior to her work at SEIU, Nicole was a staff attorney at Planned Parenthood Association of America (PPFA), where she litigated reproductive rights cases throughout the country and advocated on Capitol Hill for access to reproductive healthcare. Previous to that, she was a litigation associate at Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C., where she was a member of a legal team that handled a number of high-profile civil liberties and LGBT rights cases, including Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark Supreme Court case that held that laws prohibiting private sexual activity between consenting adults are unconstitutional. Nicole is also active in Jews United for Justice, a Maryland and D.C. based social justice organization which has fought for fair housing, the passage of laws to increase the minimum wage, bring about marriage equality, and protect immigrants through the state’s mini-Dream Act.
Nicole and her former spouse brought a lawsuit following the birth of their eldest son in 1996 challenging the refusal of the Israeli consulate to register him as a child born to two Israeli citizens abroad because he had two mothers. After years of litigation, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a landmark decision ruling that required the Ministry of Interior to record both mothers as the parents of one child. The case received considerable media coverage in Israel and internationally and is considered one of the major civil rights cases decided by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Nicole earned a BA in Women's Studies at U.C. Berkely, and graduated Order of the Coif from Boalt Hall (U.C. Berkeley) School of Law, where she concurrently completed a master’s degree in public policy (MPP) from Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Nicole served as a law clerk to the Hon. Betty Binns Fletcher on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the Hon. Thelton E. Henderson on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Nicole was a Hagigah camper at UAHC Camp Swig in the of Summer '80, a CIT in '81, and on staff 82-86 (Israeli dance leader). She made Aliya in 1988, and lived in Israel on and off between 1984 - 2010. Nicole has three sons, and they all grew up going to Jewish summer camp and being on staff. The two oldest, Mattan (25) and Naveh (22), went to the URJ Camp Harlam in Pennsylvania. Segev (18), attended Habonim Camp Moshava in Maryland, where he is a first year counselor this summer. Nicole continues to participate regulalry in Israeli Dance, as does her youngest son, Segev.