Largest ALEPH Ordination Ever

Photo by Mary Blye Kramer
Photo by Mary Blye Kramer
Photo by Mary Blye Kramer

On January 11, 2015/ 20 Tevet, 5775, on the Sunday afternoon inaugurating the annual conference of OHALAH: The Association of Rabbis, Cantors and Rabbinic Pastors for Renewal, the ALEPH Ordination Program, the largest progressive ordination program in North America, welcomed nine new rabbis, one rabbinic pastor and two hazzanim (cantors) into the lineage of ordained Jewish Renewal leaders. Distinguished rabbis and educators from across the denominational spectrum of Jewish life along with family and friends filled the ballroom at the OHALAH conference for an inspiring ordination ceremony.

The annual ordination ceremony blends the ancient tradition of awarding smicha (ordination) through the “laying on of hands” with the ritual creativity of the students who design the surrounding ceremony. As the music and chant begin, the Core Faculty and the VAAD of the Ordination Program proceeds into room. All stand to honor the beloved teachers who guide our growing seminary-without-walls, which embraces 80 students from throughout the US, Canada, South America and Europe. The ALEPH program represents an unbroken line of ordination back to the Baal Shem Tov in the 18th Century.

The ALEPH Ordination Program and all assembled held with sorrow the absence of our beloved Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l, founder of the seminary and inspirational guide of Jewish Renewal, who in every prior year would be the first to greet the processional. This first year of his absence was even more poignant as all stood to greet the festive procession led by the Director and Dean of the Ordination Programs: Rabbi Marcia Prager, our Chacham Rabbi Daniel Siegel, followed by the Director of the Cantorial Program Hazzan Jack Kessler, the Director of the Rabbinic Pastor Program R’P’ Shulamit Fagan, and Rosh Hashpa’ah Rabbi Shohama Wienerilve. Processing next were Rabbis Nadya Gross and Shawn Israel Zevit, Director and Associate Director of the Hashpa’ah (Spiritual Direction) Program. The procession of teachers continued with members of the Core Faculty and VAAD:Rabbis Leila Gal Berner, Elliot Ginsburg, Victor Gross, Laura Duhan Kaplan and Steve Silvern.

The 2015 ordainees are:

  •         Rabbi Richard Backer
  •         Rabbi Rebecca Kushner
  •         Rabbi Evan Krame
  •         Rabbi David Markus
  •         Rabbi Abby Michaleski
  •         Rabbi Lori Shaller
  •         Rabbi Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser
  •         Rabbi Shifra Tobacman
  •         Rabbi Rain Zohav
  •         Hazzan Daniel Kempin
  •         Hazzan Steven Klaper
  •         Rabbinic Pastor Heena Reiter

Musmachot 2015 small_9093

Smicha Ceremony 2015_9788

OHALAH member Rabbi David Teva, a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, was awarded a second smicha in recognition of further studies and in acknowledgement of his contribution to Jewish Renewal.

Yashar koach to each of ALEPH’s new musmachim.

May their journey forward unfold with grace and abundant blessing.

The Ordainees

Rabbi Richard Lawrence Backer, a resident of Newton, Massachusetts, has been studying for rabbinical ordination since 2008. With ten years of hospice and hospital chaplaincy experience, Mr. Backer is currently the Pastoral Care Coordinator for Winchester Hospital in Winchester, Massachusetts. In addition, Mr. Backer is a Board Certified Chaplain, certified by the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, and is a member of the Massachusetts Bar. Prior to beginning his second career in pastoral care, Mr. Backer had a distinguished career in international real estate, as Vice President for Gunwyn Development Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts and as Senior Vice President at Pembroke Real Estate, a division of Fidelity Investments in Boston, overseeing the acquisition and development of a real estate portfolio in: Boston; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Tokyo, Japan; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Mr. Backer also served as a Real Estate Specialist at the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C. Mr. Backer earned his Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1978, a Masters in City and Regional Planning from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1983 and a Juris Doctor from Boston College Law School in 1983. Also, in 2010, Mr. Backer received a Masters in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College, recipient of The David Nisson Touroff Memorial Prize for meritorious work in Jewish studies and psychology.

Hazzan Daniel Kempin lives in Frankfurt, Germany. He has been in the ALEPH Cantorial program since the beginning of 2008. He has served as Cantor/Shaliach Tzibur for the Egalitarian Minyan of the Jewish Community in Frankfurt since the beginning of 1994, and also travels to serve other communities in Germany. He was born in Wiesbaden, Germany. He studied music and several semesters of Jewish Studies at the University of Frankfurt and at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Since 1983 he has given concerts and taught workshops in Jewish music in Great Britain, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Israel and the USA.  He has recorded five CDs, two of which won several musical awards. He has been engaged in the Interreligious Dialogue for more than thirty years, serving for 5 years in the Council of Religions in Frankfurt, and was a co-founder of the Interreligious choir in Frankfurt.

Hazzan Steve Klaper is a resident of Oak Park, Michigan. He has been in the ALEPH Cantorial program since 2010. He is a Jewish troubadour – a spiritual storyteller, minstrel and teacher. Steve collaborates with Franciscan Brother Al Mascia, promoting interfaith dialogue and reconciliation through the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, and is spiritual leader of Shir Hanishama, a Renewal havurah that meets at Song and Spirit. Steve received smicha as a maggid from Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum in 2008. With over 40 years experience as a professional musician, Steve infuses traditional Jewish teachings with ancient and contemporary melodies, mystical chant and wide-ranging stories.  He has recorded several CDs of Jewish music as well as an award-winning children’s music CD, I Have a Little Shadow, based on the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. Steve is High Holiday hazzan at Cong. Shir Tikvah in Troy, MI, and presents concerts, classes and worship experiences at churches, synagogues, festivals and conferences throughout the country.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame, resident of Potomac, Maryland has been studying in the Rabbinic Program of the ALEPH Ordination Program since 2008.  He is the co-founder of the Jewish Studio, which provides Jewish experiences for adults in the Greater Washington DC area.  Evan is a past president of several non-profit organizations including the Hillel at George Washington University and Shared Horizons, Inc. that manages a pooled special needs trust for persons with disabilities.  Evan was a founder of the American Friends of the Anne Frank House and continues to serve as an officer after 20 years.  Evan has been honored with Hillel’s Exemplar of the Year, Israel Bonds Young Leadership Award, Jewish Federation of Washington’s Campaigner of the Year, ORT’s community leadership award and the Shared Horizons Humanitarian award. Evan continues as a partner in Krame and Biggin, a Maryland law firm specializing in estates and trusts work, with an emphasis on assisting the families of persons with special needs.  Evan is a graduate of Brandeis University and George Washington University Law School and has an LLM in Taxation.

Rabbi Lucy Rebecca Kushner, lives in Iowa City, Iowa, and has been studying for Rabbinic Ordination since 2009.  She has part time pulpits in Temple Sholom in Galesburg, Illinois, Sons of Jacob in Waterloo, Iowa, and leads monthly musical Kabbalat Shabbat services at Agudas Achim in Iowa City.  She has two degrees in classical music from the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany, and has worked over three decades as a professional flutist in German opera and radio orchestras.  She has published both poetry and prose in German, the most recent being a contribution in “Transatlantic Immigration Stories.”  She is currently writing her thesis on “Zacharias Frankel as a Jewish Educator” for her Master of Science in Jewish Education at Spertus Institute in Chicago.

Rabbi David Evan Markus, a resident of Chappaqua, New York, has been studying for rabbinical ordination since 2008.  He has served since 2012 as associate spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El of City Island (New York City, New York), an independent congregation dedicated to Jewish spirituality through music, prayer and learning.  Markus is a syndicated blogger for My Jewish Learning, and his published scholarship focuses on spiritual direction and liturgical innovation.  Markus also serves as Vice Chair and General Counsel of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, the umbrella organization for Jewish Renewal that includes the ALEPH Ordination Programs.  In secular life, Markus has a full-time public service career on behalf of the State of New York.  He currently presides as Judicial Referee in New York Supreme Court, Ninth Judicial District.  Previously Markus served as special counsel to the Chief Judge of New York State, senior counsel to the New York Senate, and faculty at Fordham and Pace Universities.  Markus earned his Juris Doctor magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, and his Masters in Public Policy with honors from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, which bestowed on Markus prestigious Innovator in Public Service award.  He earned his Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude from Williams College.

Rabbi Abby Beth Michaleski, a resident of Camden County, New Jersey, has been studying for rabbinic ordination in the ALEPH Ordination Program since 2006.  Prior to entering rabbinical school, she worked for many years as a b’nai mitzvah tutor, teacher, cantorial soloist and lay leader for multiple congregations in the South Jersey and Philadelphia areas while earning her Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies from Gratz College in  Pennsylvania.  Ms. Michaleski has served as the Spiritual Leader of Temple Beth El of Hammonton, NJ since 2006 and will continue as their rabbi following ordination, bringing the creative, dynamic and spiritual energy of Jewish Renewal to this congregation and the larger Jewish community. While following this path of Jewish learning and teaching, she has also worked as an Addictions Specialist, certified and Licensed by the State of New Jersey since 1991.  She has been providing education, training, assessment and therapeutic services in a wide variety of settings and offers this specialized knowledge and experience to the Jewish community as well. Ms. Michaleski maintains a private practice and works as a Substance Abuse Evaluator for the New Jersey Judiciary. She earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology with Highest Honors from Rutgers University and an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science from Camden County College.

Rabbinic Pastor Heena Reiter lives in Charlottesville, VA, and began studying for rabbinic ordination in the ALEPH program in 2008. In 2011, during her required unit of chaplaincy, she recognized her calling to pastoral care and transferred to ALEPH’s  Rabbinic Pastor program.  In 1991 Heena helped found P’nai Yisrael Chavurah, and has since served as its Co-Spiritual Leader. She directed the Gesher Center for Jewish Spirituality, Meditation and Healing in Charlottesville from 2000-2009.  She served Congregation Beth Israel, Charlottesville as a religious school teacher, coordinator of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Music Programs and tutor during the past 25 years.  Passionately interested in and committed to the power of listening as a tool of healing, Heena participated in three Compassionate Listening Project delegations to Israel and the Palestinian territories, beginning in 1998, and remains involved in local interfaith and inter-spiritual peace initiatives.  In all her work, Heena strives to integrate her knowledge of psychological/personality systems, a commitment to meditation, spiritual practices and personal growth, and her background as a psychiatric nurse and holistic health practitioner with her Jewish studies and the interfaith education she received during her chaplain residency. She received a B.S.N., from Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, C.U.N.Y., and her M.S.N., from the University of Illinois at the Medical Center in Chicago.

Rabbi Lori D. Shaller lives in Oak Bluffs, MA on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. She has studied in the Rabbinic Ordination Program since 2007.  Lori has been the guest spiritual leader with various Jewish congregations and Unitarian Universalist churches for three years, teaches private students, leads interfaith, clergy spiritual direction groups and sees private clients in spiritual direction.  The Jewish Women’s Archive has published Lori’s curriculum on Jewish women in the Labor Movement.  Lori has been a rabbinic fellow with Rabbis Without Borders and was a participant in the 2014 Jewish and Muslim Emerging Leaders Retreat sponsored by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives.  Lori has been an educator and curriculum writer for twenty-five years, working in the areas of world history, Shakespeare and curriculum design.  She was a recipient of the award for excellence in teaching through Northeastern University’s World History Center.  Lori earned an ALB cum laude from Harvard University and Masters of Teaching Social Studies Education, Grades 9-12 and Masters in American Jewish History from Boston University.

Rabbi Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser lives in Western Massachusetts in Greenfield.   She entered the ALEPH program in 2003.  She is the Smith College Jewish Student Advisor and also facilitates a support group for parents of Jewish religious school children who have emotional and physical difficulties.  Shapiro-Rieser also works as a therapist with a specialty in Autism Spectrum Disorders, and has co-authored the forthcoming book, The Secret Rules of Social Networking.  She is currently working on a handbook on Autism Spectrum Disorders to be used by synagogue religious school staff.  She received a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology from Antioch University, a graduate certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders, and a Doctor of Ministry in Jewish Spiritual direction from the Graduation Theological Foundation.  In 2010 she was recognized by Interfaith Connections of Western MA, for her work in strengthening faith connections for individuals with disabilities.  For the last two years she has been nominated as Advisor of the Year by Smith College students. Shapiro-Rieser is also a novelist who writes about Jewish subjects.  She published the book A Place of Light, which was a finalist for the Harold Ribalow Prize.

Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman lives in Emeryville, CA and has been a student in the ALEPH Rabbinic Ordination Program since 2007. Shifrah has served as a member of the spiritual leadership team of Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati, CA where she is currently developing an adult education program titled The Spirit of the Matter, aimed at enriching the work of social justice and environmental activists through deeper engagement with Jewish texts and tradition. She earned a Masters in Jewish Studies from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley CA (2010), with a thesis titled Ancient Threads, New Weavings: Counting the Omer Then and Now, and is the author of Omer/Teshuvah: 49 Poetic Meditations for Counting the Omer or Turning Toward a New Year. Shifrah has dedicated most of her professional life to supporting and promoting the health and wellbeing of individuals, communities and society as a whole. She trained professionally as a Feldenkrais Practitioner® with the Somathematics Training Program, San Diego, California (1991) and has served as a massage therapist Feldenkrais Practitioner®, health educator, and public health professional. Shifrah earned a Masters in Public Administration with a focus in health care and organization change from California State University, Hayward, CA (1998).

Rabbi Rain Zohav resides in Rockville, Maryland. She has studied for rabbinic ordination in the ALEPH Program since 2007. She currently serves as Director of Education of Shirat HaNefesh congregation in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Her published D’vrei Torah include: Washington Jewish Week. “And God Saw That It Was Good,” B’reishit, Oct. 15, 2014; “Misguided Challenges to Leadership,” Korach, June 18, 2014; “Plagues in Our Time Prompt Need for Change,” Va’era, Dec. 26, 2013 (originally published as “The Challenge of Living Sustainably” on Jan 29, 2013); “The Creation of Earthlings,” B’reishit, Oct. 11, 2012. She earned a Masters in Jewish Studies with Highest Honors from Gratz College and was also the recipient of the Graduate prize in Bible studies 2012, and the Bible studies and Jewish studies Graduate prizes in 2013. She earned her B.A. in Philosophy and Religion, Summa Cum Laude from Mary Baldwin College, and was the recipient of the Outstanding Adult Degree Student Award.