Why? Because so much of who I am has been inspired, shaped, and nurtured by the Jewish Renewal movement. For the past 17 years, I have been swimming in a sea of Renewal through friendships, mentorships, synagogue life, training programs, and retreats across North America.
My first Jewish upbringing was in mid-Missouri, in a small, unaffiliated community. It featured home- holiday celebrations, Hebrew school and bat mitzvah, political activism, High Holiday services, encountering anti-Jewish oppression, and feeling sometimes special, and other times scared, being different than most everyone else. Post-bat mitzvah, I rebelled against patriarchy and promptly inherited a paperback library on feminism from my mom’s friends. Out with Judaism and in with neo-pagan goddess worship and Wicca… what a relief!
By 22, after studying West African music for years, I was curious about my own Ashkenazi musical heritage. Could there be a viable spiritual path for me in Judaism?! I got Rabbi Marcia Falk’s prayer book, “The Book of Blessings,” and found myself praying and weeping with joy. Based on my book learning, I began leading communal prayer and teaching and experimenting with prayer, Torah study, and ritual, but I longed for guidance. After hitting some stumbling blocks while organizing young, queer Jews through the local university Hillel, I set my sites on Boston, to study at Hebrew College and find comrades and mentors.
What I found exceeded my wildest imagination! I found Reb Daniel Siegel and Reb Hanna Tiferet and the B’nai Or community, an Aleph affiliate. I found a feminist, heart centered, spiritually rich community of practice and care. Through B’nai Or and other ALEPH- affiliated retreats and programs, like the Kallah, I got much more than the new and ancient music I craved. I gained access to Jewish mystical wisdom. I found other queer Jews. I got grown up all over again by people who looked after me, mentored me, listened to my heartbreaks, cheered me on, and affirmed my centrality in the evolving project of renewing Jewish life. I made life-long friends all over the country. And I developed a freelance career leading prayer, tutoring b’nai mitvah kids and officiating life cycle events.
Six years later, in 2004, sitting in the mystery of how to further align with my life purpose, a job opening for Music Director at Kehilla arrived in my inbox by dint of my Aleph connections. True to my abba’s vision, there WAS a politically radical, spiritually rich Renewal community out there who needed me as much as I needed them! Four years into becoming part of our amazing Kehilla, it came time to take my learning and leadership to a deeper level by enrolling in ALEPH’s Cantorial Ordination Program. I was guided by teachers from my many Renewal adventures, and I learned with students from across the globe. I also did R. Diane’s “Embodying Spirit” training, and continue to re-charge and cross-pollinate ideas and music at the yearly Ohalah gathering for Renewal clergy.
My life and leadership with Kehilla would not be sustainable without the support, guidance and inspiration that our broader movement provides. I’m eager for all of us to feel into our connection with the bigger project of Jewish Renewal, and help shape the future we want and need. See you April 15-16!