Tikshoret Teacher Feature: Rabbi Debra Smith

Tell us about yourself!

I am the founding Rabbi of Or HaLev Jewish Renewal Community in New Jersey, now a Virtual Zoom community. I am a clinical social worker and family therapist and received Rabbinic Smicha from the ALEPH Ordination Program. I also have Smicha as a Maggidah.(inspirational Jewish storyteller). I am the author and editor of Every Tallit Tells a Tale and of Heart Whispers: Sharing Reflections with G-d and I am the editor and a contributing author of two collections: Words From the Heart: Multifaith Prayers Poems and Blessings and its just released sequel, Fractured Hearts: Multifaitih Words of Hope and Healing. I am a faculty member in the AOP, where I teach Introduction to Pastoral Counseling and Clergy Ethics. I am a multi-faith activist and educator and am co-chair of a NJ Chapter of sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom.

What attracted you to ALEPH in particular?

Years back, I had read a lot about Jewish Renewal and found that it resonated with me. I began attending Services at P’nai Or Philadelphia where I met many other like minded people where were also passionate about Jewish Renewal. I met Rabbi Marcia Prager and began a process of discernment that led me to apply to the ALEPH Ordination Program’s rabbinic program which enabled me to fulfill my long time dream of becoming a Rabbi. I was attracted to ALEPH because of its liberal, egalitarian, creative, innovative and inclusive approach to Judaism and because of its focus on the Four Worlds and also on the importance of deep ecumenism and the environment.

Do you have a favorite class or series that you’ve led?

My favorite classes/series that I have led are the ones that focus on Multi-faith work, which I have co-taught with my colleagues Sister Eleanor Francis and Dr. Shabiha Sheikh. In these classes we have explored our different faiths’ approaches to life cycle stages, the calendar, basic beliefs and values, through text study and interactive discussions with participants.

What has surprised you most about leading programs virtually?

I love leading virtual programs for so many reasons. People can attend from all over the world, not being limited by location or their inability to drive at night, etc. The size of the group is not limited and the virtual format creates a new concept of “Community” and allows me to be in community with people from all over the globe.

What might someone be surprised to learn about you?

I am an avid photographer, especially of nature. I have done numerous photography exhibits and enjoy doing this very much.

I also am bi-lingual, speaking Spanish fluently as my second language and have lived and studied in Spain. I have a degree in Hispanic Philology from the International University in Santander, Spain.

Do you have any upcoming classes or programs with ALEPH, and what can you tell us about that upcoming program?

I will be teaching a class on Exploring Parables of Jesus in February, with my colleague, Sister Eleanor Francis. We will be exploring the Jewish roots of the parables of Jesus. We will begin with the Parable of The Good Samaritan and discuss it from both a Jewish and a Christian perspective, focusing on its historical, political, religious and literary contexts. This will be part 1 of our new series on The Parables of Jesus.

To learn more about this program, as well as our other offerings visit https://aleph.org/virtualprograms/.