An Interview with Rabbi Shohama Wiener, D.Min.
Rosh Hashpa’ah (Head of Spiritual Direction and Development) for the ALEPH Ordination Program
What brought you to Jewish Renewal?
I met Reb Zalman z”l during the early 1980s, as a rabbinic student at the Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR) in New York. I was so drawn to his teaching that I began to commute to his Philadelphia home for monthly learning gatherings. There I found God, Hasidut and Kabbalah joined with open-minded and experiential spirituality. I was transformed.
In 1986, I was on an Israel pilgrimage with Reb Zalman. In the cave of Machpelah (burial site of our ancestors Abraham and Sarah), Reb Zalman blessed me to be a spiritual healer and director or guide (mashpi’ah). It was a peak experience, and has empowered the trajectory of my spiritual service.
What do you love most about Jewish Renewal?
I most love how Renewal engages me in all Four Worlds – soul, mind, heart and body. Renewal has given me soul family around the world that I treasure.
What do you feel have been your contributions to Jewish Renewal?
Even before I met Reb Zalman, I was studying and teaching meditation, healing, angels, ancestral guides and other transpersonal practices. Reb Zalman gave me both profound teachings and a soul family of spiritual seekers – at Elat Chayyim, at the ALEPH Kallah, and as AJR president and mashgiach ruchani(spiritual advisor) from 1986-2001. During those years, I completed a D.Min. at New York Theological Seminary (NYTS), researching and developing a training program in spiritual development for Jewish clergy.
I was overjoyed in 2002 when Rabbi Marcia Prager, Dean of the ALEPH Ordination Program Dean, invited me to join the ALEPH Vaad (core directors and faculty) then in formation as Rosh Hashpa’ah (Head of Spiritual Direction and Development). The Ordination Program supported and supplemented my visions of spiritual development – giving life to the idea that an integral part of the development of spiritual leaders includes professional support for the development of Spirit. Today ALEPH remains the only Jewish seminary requiring all students to participate in active spiritual direction throughout their years of study and beyond.
Another dream come true was when Reb Zalman encouraged me to develop ALEPH’s Hashpa’ah Training Program for Jewish Spiritual Directors in his lineage – a three-year immersion of learning and experience leading to certification for qualified students, and an additional ordination for clergy. I served as Founding Director and Director for its first three cohorts, then handed the program to my talented colleagues, now Director Rabbi Nadya Gross and Associate Director Rabbi Shawn Zevit, who lead the program into the future.
As Jewish spiritual direction was a new field when I came to ALEPH, I saw a need for a textbook to develop and advance Renewal spiritual approaches. From that yearning was born Seeking and Soaring: Jewish Approaches to Spiritual Guidance and Development, co-edited with Rabbi Goldie Milgram (Reclaiming Judaism Press). This text is now in its second edition.
Inspired by Reb Zalman’s legacy of deep ecumenism and what I believe is the multi-faith essence of spiritual truth, I also felt drawn to connect ALEPH academically with NYTS. Today ALEPH ordination students can earn a multi-faith NYTS M.Div., and ALEPH ordination automatically qualifies for candidacy to earn an NYTS D.Min. in liturgy, spiritual direction or multi-faith studies.
Another legacy filling my heart is bringing Jewish Renewal to the congregation I have served as rabbi since 2002, New York’s Temple Beth El of City Island, “Your Shul by the Sea.” There we piloted congregational initiatives based in hashpa’ah and multi-faith spirituality, with the help and blessing of a series of spiritually gifted ALEPH rabbinic and rabbinic pastor interns. One of them, Rabbi David Markus, has stayed on to be our co-rabbi, while also serving as co-chair of ALEPH.
Looking back on my 30+ years in seminary life, including over 14 years with ALEPH, I feel blessed for the hundreds of rabbis, cantors, rabbinic pastors and spiritual directors who are helping lift others into God’s light. I thank God every day for the loving relationships I retain with former students, now colleagues, who bring me great joy and fulfillment.
This post is part of Faces of Renewal, an ongoing series of profiles of people who are renewing Judaism in our day.