ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Names New Leadership

Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt and Rabbi David Evan Markus

Contact: Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, Executive Director
(402) 770-2180 •

Next-Gen Appointments
Begin New Era for
Jewish Renewal Movement

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat (age 39) and Rabbi David Evan Markus (age 41) will be the next co-chairs of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Evan MarkusThese Next-Gen appointments, confirmed by the ALEPH Board of Directors to take effect in spring 2015, mark a new era for the Jewish Renewal Movement after the 2014 death of legendary founder Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

​These appointments continue ALEPH’s growth in leading Judaism’s renewal. In January, ALEPH named a first full-time executive director, Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin (age 34), and ordained 12 new rabbis, cantors and rabbinic pastors – the largest class in ALEPH history. The trans-denominational ALEPH Ordination Programs, with 82 students, now ranks among the largest of North America’s rigorous non-Orthodox seminaries.

At a time when most Jewish denominations are retrenching and synagogues are closing or merging, ALEPH is leading Renewal’s trajectory of inspired innovation, experiential programming for spiritual transformation, and networks bridging between and beyond Jewish denominations.  ALEPH will deepen its role as Judaism’s research and development laboratory under the inspired stewardship of Rabbi Marcia Prager, Dean of ALEPH Ordinations, and Rabbis Nadya and Victor Gross, Co-Directors of Programs.

Outgoing ALEPH chair Rabbi Jeremy Parnes said: “David and Rachel offer what ALEPH and Jewish Renewal need for this new era – a new generation of leadership to join ALEPH’s generations of leadership, deep experience leading organizations, engaging public profiles, wide nets of relationships within and beyond Renewal, and a vision for ALEPH’s future that embodies our ‘transcend and include’ approach.”

Markus and Barenblat said: “We are humbled for this opportunity to help shape a vibrant Judaism for the 21st century and beyond, and grateful to our teachers who brought us forward to walk alongside them.  Renewal is Judaism deeply alive now – forging new liturgies and prayer modalities, spiritual direction as a heart-centered practice of transformation, a Judaism rooted in the Earth that speaks to modern yearning, and ways to journey with other faiths in our collective reach forward.  At a time when Judaism is shifting on its foundation, as the 2013 Pew Study showed, ALEPH and the next generation of innovators will be vital to Judaism’s future.”

Barenblat and Markus met as undergraduates at Williams College in 1992.  As students they encountered Renewal together through the lens of Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus, the bestseller documenting the Dalai Lama’s request that Reb Zalman and other rabbis teach Judaism’s secrets of diaspora survival to Tibet’s exiled leaders.  July 2015 will mark the 25th anniversary of that historic meeting, which ALEPH will commemorate with a reunion program of celebration and learning at West Chester University (West Chester, PA).

Acclaim for ALEPH’s New Leadership

“What a blessing that Rabbis Rachel Barenblat and David Evan Markus are assuming the Chair of ALEPH!  With deep wisdom, generous spirits and genuine warmth, these fellow Rabbis Without Borders represent not only the best that ALEPH has already achieved; they are the ideal team to lead the movement toward all that it will yet achieve, with the help of heaven and the support of their colleagues, in the years ahead.  May they go from strength to strength.”
—Rabbis Bradley Hirschfield and Irwin Kula, co-presidents of CLAL (Center for Jewish Life and Leadership) and sponsors for Rabbis Without Borders

“I’ve had the distinct honor of learning with and from Rabbi Markus, whose ability to articulate with clarity the depth and breadth of Jewish Renewal’s vision will be a great asset to ALEPH.  As an acclaimed blogger, Rabbi Barenblat is cutting new paths to access Jewish wisdom both ancient and modern.  Renewal and the larger Jewish world will benefit greatly from their leadership.”
—Rabbi Jeffrey S. Fox, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat (groundbreaking rabbinic seminary for Orthodox women)

“Succession is a window into an organization’s soul.  It reflects what is precious about the past, how new leaders will reiterate its strengths, and renew its future.  With Rabbi David Evan Markus and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat as ALEPH’s new co-chairs, ALEPH is one organization that I’ll be paying attention to.”
—Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., author and organizational futurist

“In this time of important and emotional transition for ALEPH and Jewish Renewal more generally with the passing of its founder and spiritual leader Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, it was wonderful to learn that ALEPH has appointed rabbis David Evan Markus and Rachel Barenblat as the new chairs of the ALEPH Board. Both come highly prepared for this new task and bring energy, enthusiasm, and new spirit to take ALEPH to this exciting new phase. We are all looking forward to working with them.”
—Rabbi Shaul Magid, Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Professor of Jewish Studies, Indiana University/Bloomington

Bios of ALEPH’s New Co-chairs

Rachel Barenblat was ordained as rabbi and mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual director) by ALEPH. She holds her MFA from the Bennington College and BA from Williams College, and is author of three book-length collections of poetry: 70 Faces: Torah Poems (Phoenicia 2011), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia 2013), and the forthcoming Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda 2015).  Her Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach is used around the world; she also wrote (with Jeff Goldwasser) Days of Awe: the Velveteen Rabbi’s Machzor for the Days of Awe.  A Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, since 2003 Rachel has blogged as The Velveteen Rabbi, which Time Magazine named one of the top 25 websites on the Internet in 2008.  Rachel’s work also has appeared in Zeek, The Women’s Seder Sourcebook (Jewish Lights 2002), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry (Bloomsbury 2013), and Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education (Avenida Books 2014).  Rachel serves as rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband Ethan Zuckerman and their son.

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David Evan Markus, currently Vice Chair and General Counsel of ALEPH, was ordained as rabbi and mashpia ruchani (spiritual director) by ALEPH.  He holds his BA summa cum laude from Williams College, JD magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, and MPP in strategic management and organizational leadership from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government – which awarded David the global Innovator in Public Service designation, Wilmers Fellowship for State and Local Government, and Goldsmith Prize for Excellence in Press Politics.  A Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, David serves as co-rabbi of Temple Beth-El of City Island (New York City, NY).  He publishes on liturgy, spiritual direction and rabbinic life.  He is a syndicated blogger for My Jewish Learning; his works also appear in T’ruah, Shma Magazine,, Presence Journal and Kol ALEPH.  David’s academic works on liturgy and spiritual direction are forthcoming in New Matrix Publications and Avenida Books.  In secular life, David serves as Judicial Referee in New York Supreme Court, 9th Judicial District.  His prior public roles include special counsel to theChief Judge of New York, senior counsel to the New York Senate, and lead voter protection counsel for a major presidential campaign.  He lives in Westchester County, New York.

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