Rabbi Leah Rachel Berkowitz Background


Reform Rabbi/Jewish Studies Faculty, Gann Academy, Waltham, MA 2013-June 2015

• Leads Reform worship at morning minyan, grade-level Shabbatonim, and school retreats.
• Led Alternative Liberal Minyan, where students engaged in spiritual activities through !movement, meditation, creative writing, art and discussion (2013-2014).

• Collaborates with faculty on Jewish Studies Curricular Redesign.
• Courses: Foundational Course in Jewish Studies (9th grade); Modern Jewish Literature (12th grade); Ethics of Social Justice (10th grade); Reading the Book of Genesis (12th grade).

• Jewish Journey Advising Pilot Committee: Helped build a team of rabbis that meets regularly with students to discuss their Jewish lives and learning.
• Jewish Life and Learning Working Group: Serves on an exploratory committee on Jewish Life and Learning as a part of the school’s two-year reaccreditation process.

Fall 2014
• Tikkun Olam Union: Faculty Advisor, student social action umbrella organization.
• “Rebuilding New Orleans”: Faculty Advisor, Spring 2014 Exploration Week Program.
• Advisor to 12th grade students (2014-2015); Advisor to 10th grade students (2013-2014).

Part-time Educator, Kevah Boston Educators’ Network, Boston, MA Fall 2014 to present Facilitates Jewish text learning for small independent communities in the Boston area.
High Holy Day Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El, Longview, TX
“Rabbis on the Road” program, Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
Associate/Assistant Rabbi, Judea Reform Congregation, Durham, NC
Sabbatical Rabbi, Judea Reform Congregation, Durham, NC

• Led worship and delivered sermons for Shabbat, High Holy Days and festivals.
• Designed new worship services for Yom Kippur Afternoon, Selichot, Sukkot, and family
services for High Holy Days and Festivals.
• Instituted monthly “Community Shabbat” morning services and luncheon for seniors and other demographic groups who cannot attend Shabbat evening services.
• Initiated monthly “Kabbalat Shabbat” alternative musical service, aimed at young adults and families with teenagers.
• Directed team of writers and performers that produced the annual Purimshpiel.
• Led Religious School tefillah and preschool Gan Shabbat services.

Adult Education:
• Women’s Group Shabbaton: Coordinated day-long retreat on Exploring Jewish Prayer. 2008-2013 Aug 2009-Feb 2010
• “Shabbat on a Thursday”: Designed year-long program to teach congregants how to cele- brate Shabbat in their homes.
• “News and Nosh at Noon”: Organized a monthly discussion of current events from a Jewish perspective, held at popular lunch locations in the Triangle area.
• Introduction to Judaism: Co-instructor for 10-week group class. Supervised conversion students through year-long independent study process.
• Taught 3-6 week modules on selected topics such as Understanding the Prayer Service, Jewish Views on the Afterlife, Women in the Bible, and Creating Modern Midrash.

Youth and Family Education:
• Families Exploring and Learning Together (FELT): Supervised family programming for pre- K through 6th grades in the religious school.
• Rising 6th Grade Retreat: Partnered with temple educator to develop overnight Shabbat retreat to kick-off to the b’nai mitzvah process.
• Community Midrasha: Developed new curricula for the Jewish Community High School Program including “Topics in Jewish Identity” class (10th grade) and service-learning pro- gram (11th-12th grade).
• Mitzvah Class: Developed and co-taught six-month curriculum of learning activities and !social action projects for students preparing for b’nai mitzvah.

Additional Synagogue Activities:
• Provided counseling and presided over life-cycle events: weddings, funerals, namings, conversions, and b’nai mitzvah.
• Coordinated 20s and 30s programming for graduate students and young professionals.
• Co-supervised Social Action, Adult Education, and Religious Practices Committees.
• URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Camp Institute, Oconomowoc, WI: Limmud Faculty for Tiferet (Arts) Unit, Summer 2011; Limmud Faculty for

Moshava (Adventure) Unit, Summer 2009.

Rabbinical Intern, Temple Beth Elohim, Brewster, NY 2006-2008

High Holy Day Rabbi, Brandeis University Reform Chavurah, Waltham, MA Fall 2006

Editorial Intern, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, URJ Press, New York, NY 2006-2007 Collected creative pieces for the
“Voices” section and drafted promotional study materials for the pilot parasha.

Student Rabbi, Temple Beth Am, Monessen, PA 2005-2006 !Chaplain Intern, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, NY Summer 2005
Neurology, Oncology, and Neonatal Intensive Care Units; Perinatal Loss Support Group.

High Holy Day Rabbi, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ Fall 2004

Cultural Studies Coordinator, JCC PRAMUS Camp, Melrose Park, PA Summer 2004 Designed and implemented Jewish cultural programming—including a Shabbat experience for young children and creative social action projects for teens—at K-12 arts and music camp.

Annual Guest Lecturer, Temple Sholom in Broomall, Broomall, PA 2001-present Leads text study, meditation, and discussion session for Women’s Spirituality Group.

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, NY 2003-2008
• Rabbinic Ordination, 2008.
• Master of Arts in Religious Education, 2008.
• Master of Arts in Hebrew Literature, 2007. Rabbinical Thesis: “ ‘Who Built up the House of Israel’: Reproductive Power Plays in the Biblical Narrative” (Advisor: Rabbi Andrea

• Premarital Counseling Practicum for Interfaith Couples, May 2014.
• Yours, Mine and Ours Facilitators’ Training for Working with Interfaith Couples, May

• Songleader Boot Camp, JCC St. Louis, MO, February 2014.
• Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Summer Learning Program in Bible and Talmud,Jerusalem, Israel, July 2010.
• PREPARE/ENRICH Relationship Assessment Training, Winston-Salem, NC, February !2010.

• Women’s Rabbinic Network: Networking Vice President, 2013-present. Coordinates national learning opportunities, recruits regional representatives,and provides support for regional and national educational programming for the WRN.
• CCAR Journal: Reform Jewish Quarterly: Editorial Board, Summer 2012-present.
• CCAR High Holy Day Machzor Committee: Chair, Alternative Readings Sub-committee, January 2011-present. Contributing member, Spring 2010-present.
• Urban Ministries of Durham: Board of Trustees, July 2009-June 2011.
• HUC-JIR Soup Kitchen: Fundraising Co-chair, 2006-2007; Head Chef, 2005-2006; Volunteer, 2004-2008.
• Davar Aher: HUC-JIR Student Publication: Editor-in-Chief, 2007; Editorial Board, 2005-2008.
• The Clothesline: HUC-JIR Year-In-Israel Student Publication: Editor-in-Chief, 2003-2004.
• Brandeis Reform Chavurah (BaRuCH): President, 2002-03; Education Coordinator, 2001- !02; Service Coordinator, 2000-01.

• “Reimagining Role Models,” in Graf, Rabbi Alysa Mendelson and Schorr, Rabbi Rebecca Einstein, eds., The Sacred Calling: Forty Years of Women in the Rabbinate. New York: CCAR Press, 2014 (expected).
• “A Prayer for New Members,” “A Prayer for Marriage Equality,” and “A Caregiver’s Bless- ing,” in Covenant of the Generations: New Prayers, Poems, and Meditations from Women of Reform Judaism. Women of Reform Judaism, 2013.
Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
• Bachelor of Arts, Magna Cum Laude, Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. • Journalism Program; Hebrew Minor.

• Reform Jewish Outreach Training, Boston, MA.
• Wedding Ceremonies and Contemporary Pastoral Challenges, June 2014.
• Clinical Pastoral Education, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, NY, Summer 2005.
• “Response to Rabbi Elise Goldstein on Brit Milah.” CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly. Fall 2012.
• “Keeping the Sabbath.” Fidelia’s Sisters: A Publication of the Young Clergy Women Project. March 13, 2012.
• “Book Review: Eating Animals.” The Reform Jewish Quarterly: CCAR Journal. Fall 2010.
• “The Truth about Cats and Dogs.” Union for Reform Judaism’s Ten Minutes of Torah. October 18, 2010.
• “Tzimtzum or Temporary Expansion.” Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility. January 2010.
• “Choosing a Faith that Fits.” The News and Observer. Religion Section. November 27,2008.
• Contributing Author, God: Jewish Choices in Struggling with the Ultimate. Los Angeles: Torah Aura Productions, 2008.
• “At the Same Table” and “Counting Sheep . . . Counting My Blessings,” in Schwartz, Harriet L., ed. Spirituality 101: The Indispensable Guide to Keeping-or Finding-Your Spiritual !Life on Campus. Woodstock: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2004.

• Women of Reform Judaism Centennial Prize, HUC-JIR, 2007.
• Michael Alper Memorial Prize in Education, HUC-JIR, 2007.
• Aaron and Margery Levenstein Prize in Human Relations, HUC-JIR, 2006.
• Marvin Gimprich Prize in Rabbinics, Rabbi Robert L. Lehman Award, HUC-JIR, 2006.
• Louis and Dorothy Sperling Memorial Prize in Modern Hebrew Literature, HUC-JIR, 2006.
• Rhoda Malino Prize in Modern Hebrew Literature, HUC-JIR, 2005.
• Lavine Scholarship Recipient, HUC-JIR, 2003-2008.
• Ezra Z. Shapiro Family Prize in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University,2003.
• Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society, Brandeis University, 2003.
• Eta Beta Rho Hebrew Honor Society, Brandeis University, 2003.
• Justice Brandeis Scholar, Brandeis University, 1999-2003.
• Wendy J. Blickstein Memorial D’var Torah Award, NFTY Convention, 1999. 

[VT has put together a video of photographs of Rabbi Berkowitz. Please have a look.]

When I was born, a family friend reportedly exclaimed, “With a name like that she’s going to be a Sisterhood president!” But God had other plans for me.

The Jewish community has always been where I felt most alive, most engaged, and most loved. While my entry point into Judaism was a love of Jewish prayer and music, I also cherished the sense of community I felt during Shabbat worship in synagogue, at summer camp, in youth group and at Hillel.

As I immersed myself in the study and practice of Judaism, I discovered a tradition that is beautiful, logical and meaningful: from the rituals of mourning that support us when we are grieving, to the “attitude of gratitude” we cultivate through daily prayer, to the way we wrestle with the traditions of our ancestors during Torah study.

I could imagine no better way to spend my life than sharing the warmth and beauty of the Jewish tradition with other people. And so, at an age when most of my peers still imagined themselves becoming movie stars and astronauts, I set my heart on becoming a rabbi.

I entered rabbinical school naively thinking that Jewish communities sprung forth organically around charismatic leaders whose own love of Judaism was contagious. My perspective changed when, for a graduate-school project, I interviewed an interfaith couple at my student pulpit. Although they had little religious education between them, Michael and Alice had managed to raise two Jewish children. Their daughter was enthusiastically preparing for bat mitzvah, Michael was a regular in my adult education classes, and Alice identified as Jewish, although she had never formally converted.

While they seemed perfectly comfortable in the synagogue, their family had stopped making seder in their home after Michael’s parents passed away. Alice didn’t know how to make brisket. Michael didn’t know how to lead seder. Not wanting to ignore the holiday completely, they ate their Passover meal in a restaurant. It broke my heart that something as simple as a lost recipe or a lack of familiarity with the haggadah had prevent- ed such a dedicated family from celebrating the holiday in their home.

I realized then that my life’s work would be something far more challenging than teaching classes and presiding over worship. I needed to teach my congregants, person by person if necessary, how to be in charge of their own Jewish lives. I couldn’t hope to keep Judaism alive purely by setting an example. I needed to teach couples like Michael and Alice how to set their Jewish table.

My purpose as a rabbi is to empower the next generation of Jews to live their best Jewish lives. This might have been much easier if my goal had been to hand out a finished product, a one-size-fits-all Judaism with simple instructions for usage and care. But a strong Jewish future can only exist when we teach the members or our community how to create meaningful Jewish lives for themselves.

Many Jewish professionals liken their role in the Jewish community to a treasure chest, an all-you-can-eat buffet, or even a dry-cleaner. I imagine my rabbinate as a hard- ware store. I aim to provide individuals and families with the tools and resources they need to build and repair their Jewish lives. Only by working together can we construct a positive prayer experience, a sense of religious literacy, an authentic set of home rituals, or an ap- proach to answering life’s big questions.

Some builders are looking for basic tools and instructions on how to use them. Others need help drawing blueprints and choosing materials for a specific project: a sledgehammer for breaking down barriers, a can of paint for putting finishing touches on an already solid structure, or a roll of duct tape to hold it all together when things are fall- ing apart.
My Jewish experience thus far, in communities of all shapes and sizes, has provided me with my own set of valuable tools that I carry with me wherever I go.

I carry with me a commitment to creating a diversity of Jewish experiences for the communities that I serve. Coming from a long line of believers, seekers, and wrestlers, I empathize equally with those who pray fervently, whose who sit in the back reading the footnotes of Mishkan Tefillah, and those who can’t sit still at all. My family has taught me that the greatest gift we can give to the Jewish people is to greet each one of them with our arms open wide, for those who wish to embrace tradition and for those who wish to wres- tle with it.

I carry with me a love of the Jewish story. As an avid reader and writer, I seek out creative ways to make our sacred story relevant and meaningful to our modern lives. Through divrei Torah and text studies, children’s stories and blog posts, I aim to show how the Torah can be a mirror in which we see ourselves, a prism through which we can see the world around us, and a telescope through which we can search for God.

I carry with me the belief that an enriching Jewish life is grounded in these essential Jewish ideas: appreciating our blessings; sanctifying time; balancing work and rest; mind- fulness in everyday actions; balancing tradition and change; recognizing and celebrating the dignity of every human being; taking responsibility for oneself and others; and creating community in an increasingly cold and disconnected world.

My desire to transmit these ideas to the next generation has instilled in me a pas- sion for lifelong learning. I believe that it is equally essential to provide positive Jewish ex- periences and valuable basic skills to our young people, to encourage teens to make Jewish choices as they become adults, and to equip adults to be the primary educators of the next generation.

While serving as a congregational rabbi, this passion inspired me to create multiple points of entry through which my congregants could access Jewish life. I created diverse worship experiences for Shabbat and holidays, offered classes on everything from “How to do an Aliyah” to “How to Write Midrash,” and encouraged our members to contribute their own talents to our community through art, music, and their commitment to social justice.

My passion for Jewish learning also motivated me, after five incredible years serving as a rabbi at Judea Reform Congregation, to become the first full-time Reform rabbi at Gann Academy. Working at a pluralistic Jewish high school has given me the opportunity to further hone my skills in teaching Torah, building relationships, and creating meaningful worship experiences for a diverse Jewish community.

Through my daily encounters with our teens, I learn what inspires this generation and what turns them away, what weighs on their minds and what they have to offer the Jewish community and the wider world. I love watching our hyper-competitive, technology-addicted students celebrate and rest together at Gann’s Shabbatonim. Disconnected from their schoolwork, and their devices, they connect with one another through prayer, shared meals, and endless games of ping-pong.

Taking part in our curricular redesign has given me a front-row seat to an organiza- tional change process that is both radical and thoughtfully executed. The creativity and in- novation of my fellow faculty continually inspires me to challenge myself and to try new things in the classroom and in worship.

Being outside of the pulpit rabbinate has also provided me with the invaluable ex- perience of being a congregant. My free Shabbatot have become a time to explore how different communities approach worship, learning, and community engagement.

Moreover, I now know what it’s like to walk through the doors of a sanctuary and not know a soul, which will forever transform how I reach out to newcomers in my own community.

While I deeply value these experiences, I have discovered that I miss building rela- tionships with families over time: naming the children of couples I married, consecrating the children I named, and confirming the teens I prepared for b’nai mitzvah. It excites me to celebrate simchas with families I have mourned with or prayed with in the hospital, and to watch Jews-by-choice come into their own Jewishness after we walk through the process of conversion together. I love experiencing the rhythms of Judaism within the life of the synagogue: greeting members of my community each Shabbat, preparing the annual Purimshpiel and yes, even the high-stress process of writing High Holy Day sermons.

This leads me back to where I started: my fervent desire to serve a congregation as rabbi. The Jewish life that I wish to build for myself is one lived in the service of a commu- nity, guiding people through the Jewish year and the family life-cycle. I hope to engage students of all ages in Jewish learning and living, and to challenge the members of my community to bring positive change into the world through the pursuit of justice and the practice of kindness.

It has been a blessing and a privilege for me to bear witness to the Jewish lives that my congregants and students are creating. As I prepare once again to serve a congregation as rabbi, I look forward to building relationships that will last a lifetime.

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  1. Letter to Congregation – Congregational Meeting to Approve Rabbi | Vassar Temple Blog

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