Kohenet Smicha

Me receiving Smicha!
Ketzirah being Annointed by RK’Jill (RK’Bat Shemesh behind)

There’s been lots of questions about what receiving smicha (ordination) as a Kohenet means to me.  It’s harder to answer than you’d think.  But I do want to talk about this.  The most common questions are:

  1. Do you feel different?
  2. Now what?

Do I feel different?

Yes.  I did from the moment after physically receiving smicha.  There was an expansiveness in my chest, around my solar plexus.  This sensation lasted for several days.  It was very odd, but it really made me realize that something had truly changed from the inside out.  It was notably different than what I experienced with the Becoming ordination.  That was from the outside in.  I’m not sure I could have put those words to it then, but now I can.

My Becoming ordination was my spiritual community stating that I was seen as a spiritual leader and a holder of the community’s heart.  Each member of that community, and a few others,  publically gave me their blessing as part of the ritual.  What changed was my relationship to the community and theirs to me.  It was a change from the outside in.

With Kohenet, the experience was so different.  The physical act of  smicha, laying on of hands, for each individual woman used the words:

From Behind
From Below
From Above

While that seems from the outside in, my experience was inside out.  Even though a huge part was the connecting of each woman to the other women in our class, it was still inside out.  The change was in me.  The key line was the final line of the personal smicha for each woman:

And from this moment on, you are a Kohenent.

That’s when something changed inside of me.  What that means, I don’t really know yet.

Now What?

I wish I knew.  The smicha ceremony was on Shabbat.  Sunday, I flew home.  Monday, I slept.  Tuesday, I went back to my  corporate “day job.”   Would I like to give up the day job?  Of course, but I haven’t figured out how to earn a solid income without it, yet.  Truth is, I do a lot of priestessing there.  It’s not what they think they pay me for, but it’s needed and wanted, nonetheless.

Here’s where I’m heading next:

  • Return to teaching this year, after a three year break during the Kohenet training.
  • Leading a Rosh Hashanah service again this year — and that several Kohanot will be journeying to DC to be a part of it!
  • Get more involved, somehow, with the Jewish community — without giving up Becoming.  That’s a sacrifice I’m not yet prepared to make.
  • Do more with DC Harvest and see where that can take me.
  • I’ve had a couple of HUGE breakthroughs as an artist  in the last few months, so I’d like to continue with my artwork and see how far I can push myself creatively.
  • Continue the Wheel of the Year guides and maybe trying to compile them into a book along with the seasonal haggadot.
  • Continue improving my Hebrew!

That’s a pretty big list, considering I have a demanding day job!  That list doesn’t even include things like “keep employed” and enjoy my husband’s company, visit with family and friends, providing priestessing ritual/rite of passage services, and everything else.

If you read all of this and would like to see more pictures of the final week of Kohenet and the Smicha Ceremony, there’s plenty on Flickr.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this and any suggestions for what’s next!

Kohenet Training: Week 7

The First Kohanot!!
The first cohort of Kohanot (Yosefa not pictured). That’s me in the pigtails. This was taken the day after the ceremony, so we’re looking a bit more casual.

The final week of Kohenet was a whirlwind.   The training weeks are a total immersion in liminal space.  Each day feels like a week, and yet by Thursday — you can’t believe it’s almost over.  The experience was even more amplified this time because it was my last training week and Shabbat meant smicha.  The week wasn’t just a wrap-up either.  Each day offered up classes I wanted to be fully present for and absorb as much as possible.  Here’s a taste of what we covered this last week:
Kohenet Bet Schedule (exerpts)

  • Davvening (Morning Prayers)
  • Bnai Mitzvah Ceremonies
  • Kohenet Vocabulary Class
  • Spirit Journey
  • Home Blessings
  • Green Energy of Prie$te$$ing (how to make a living and issues around money)
  • Jethro as Model for Priestessing (text and Talmud study)
  • Healing and reclaiming women’s sexuality
  • Jewish views of the soul

All this was mixed in with Smicha preparations and a variety of other activities.  Emotions for everyone seemed to run high.  We were all aware that this was the end of one aspect of our journey together, and everyone was taking that very seriously.   For myself, I realized mid-week how sad I was that I hadn’t asked to lead morning prayers this session.  It’s not something I have the opportunity to do ever outside of Kohenet (yet), and I really enjoyed it.  My intertwined worlds don’t provide me many opportunities (yet) to lead Jewish services, and I missed an opportunity that probably would have been offered if I had spoken up.

I hope in the future we can have advanced training weeks dedicated to a single topic where we are able to spend a whole day on one area.  I’d love to have a full day of Talmud study with Shoshana, a day of Text study with Jill, and a day of experiential immersion with Holly.  It would really give us a chance to dive in deeply, instead of scraping the surface to unearth possibilities for our own later exploration.

But for now, I’m sitting with what’s happened and letting myself discover what it all means.

Kohenet Training Update: Week 5

The first training week for Kohenet Bet began with far less drama for me than the first round of training. I was a complete mess of nerves and stress my first week, and even broke into tears when my husband dropped me at Elat Chayyim that time. Now it was more like returning to school for your senior year. You know that there is still a lot of work to do, but you’ve got some history and experience under your belt and it’s all much more comfortable.

I really was looking forward to the second half of the training program and its focus on Life Spiral events. Actually, just working with the idea of the Life Spiral instead of Life Cycle was very exciting. I loved looking at the concept that not only do our own lives build on our experiences, but also that we build on all the experiences of all our ancestors. A circle seems so limited with a finite beginning and end, but the spiral keeps growing and building all that comes before it and puts more focus on the journey than the destination.

We focused this week on rituals concerning fertility, pregnancy, and birth. The assigned reading before the session covered a lot of the depth of ritual specifics and history, and I definitely found a few favorites that I’ll start with if people ask me for good earth-based baby namings and such. Our session on the mikvah, ritual bath, was one of my favorites. Mikvah has yet to become a part of my practice, although conceptually I really like it. I was shocked to learn how negative an experience it has become for many woman. My only true Mikvah experiences have been with Kohenet and those have been very satisfying experiences. I have had experience with ritual bathing elsewhere, and those too have been very good experiences for me. R’Jill mentioned the The Mikvah Project, which is a really extraordinary book of images of women at the mikvah.

Our guest teachers this week were Rabbis Raquel S. Kosovske and David Seidenberg. Rabbi Raquel lead a session on the Placental Tree of Life, which was fascinating and bizarre. Frankly it was bizarre to me to spend that much time talking about placentas, but at the same time why not? It’s something every single person deals with in their life and yet it’s one of those birth mysteries we just don’t discuss. I’d never actually seen a picture of one before. Thankfully, it was in black and white, which reduced the general ickiness factor for me, but what was amazing is that one side seriously looks like a tree. Placentas do seem to truly be a tree of life. One of the books R’Raquel passed around was Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. Not something I’d casually read, but possibly one I’d add to my library.

Rabbi David lead a session on Jewish Ecology that completed changed my poorly formed opinions of Rambam – Moses Maimonides. Turns out that good ole Rambam was more progressive than I ever gave him credit for, finding his 13 Principles to be very limited and annoying. In his writings he seems to a proponent of the Gaia Theory and very ecologically focused in the Guide fof the Perplexed. Truthfully, I’d never realy explored his teachings before and R’David’s discussion prompted me to pick up a copy of The Guide of the Perplexed and start reading a few pages a day. The conversation veered off into quantum physics for a bit, and overall was very engaging and exciting.

I got the chance to lead morning Davvening, prayers, on Wednesday morning. I really enjoy the chance to lead a semi-traditional Jewish service because it’s such a rarity for me. The Kohenet siddur is just amazing and I love Holly, Jill and Bat Shemesh‘s songs, poetry, and translations. Last time I lead morning Davvening I went over by about 15-20 minutes, which I felt really bad about. This time I think I was a little too obsessed with the timing, but overall I was really happy with how it went. My ritual intent for the service was to ground everyone in the reality of Kohenet, especially the new Kohenet Aleph class. For them it was only their second day, and I wanted to give them a nice anchor for the morning. Very exciting for me was also the chance to honor my sister, with what I now call “Amy’s moment” — the traditional Oseh Shalom after a silent meditation. It’s something waits for in every service and I knew it was a nice traditional thing that would help ground people after singing new versions of everything and different versions of all the traditional prayers. A Rabbi from the Oraita program that was also at Elat Chayyim with us came and shared her own Mah To Vu chant. It was lovely and I loved that she came to join us!

As usual, Bat Shemesh’s talmud class was one of my favorites. I was so inspired this time that I specifically requested Advance Priestess Training weeks that are entirely talmud focused! There’s never enough time to dig into anything, and I could spend a week (or a lifetime) just exploring and reconstructing the talmud from a Kohenet perspective.

I guess the last thing to share is about the new Kohenet class. They are really wonderful. It was such a crazy experience with two classes there and plenty of growing pains organizationally, but nothing that can’t be cured with time and patience all around! I didn’t have a chance to get to know all of the new women well, but I didn’t get to know all of my own cohort well the first week either. There were a few in particular that I really got to know (*Waves, Hello!*) and just really enjoyed being around and learning from during our combined classes.

That’s honestly just a taste of the week. The days are so full and fulfilling that it’s just incredible.



Kohenet Training: Week 4

I want to begin my writing about the Kohenet initiation week by introducing myself — my new self. An initiation should leave a person feeling altered, and my Kohenet-Tzovah initiation was no exception. I will not be writing specifically about the initiation ritual — sorry you had to be there. I do want to talk about my new name, where it came from, and what it means. Many traditions include a new name as part of an initiation, but Kohenet is not one of those traditions.

“But wait,” you say, “you came home with a new name?”

Yes, I did. But everyone else did not. My new name was a true gift from RK’Jill Hammer (R=Rabbi K=Kohenet). Some time ago, I wrote about my issues with my names. Just before I was asked to inscribe my name in the “Sefer HaKohanot,” RK’Jill said she had a gift for me. It was a name. She remembered that I had said I didn’t want to name myself again and wanted to offer me one. It was Ketzirah, which means harvest. It fit perfectly. It fit about as comfortably as Carly does.

As soon as my sister Kohanot heard it, they all had the same reaction. They heard it for the first time during our initiation ritual. Ketzirah embodies everything I want to be and do moving forward. I don’t expect the people who have known me for years to stop calling me Carly, because I’ll always be her, but I am now going to begin weaving this new name into my life.

I heard the call as Chava Chai, but now will begin the work as Ketzirah.


Tzovah Project: Seders for all Seasons

This essay is part of my project for my Tzovah (first-level) initiation with the Hebrew Priestess Institute. The project I have been working on for the past year and 1/2 is to develop seasonal seders. The physical deliverable I will present to the directors of the program and my sisters in January will be the first seder, in what I hope will be an on-going and life-long project: Seders for all Seasons .

When I began working on my project for my Tzovah initiation for the Hebrew Priestess Institute (Kohenet), my intent was to complete seven seders in two years. As my first seder for Passover took nearly two years to complete the first edition, I’m really not sure why I thought I’d ever get through so many. In the end, the process led me to begin with Tu B’Shevat and discover what may be a project that will last a lifetime.

Part of my work, I’ve realized in the past few years, is helping others just connect with the next step. For so many, modern synagogue services do not provide the connection with community, history, or even God that people are seeking. And so they turn away. This is due to many factors. Among them is a lack of education about the service structure or a knowledge of Hebrew. Judaism requires knowledge and active effort in all of its forms. My hope is that by providing alternatives, such as a seder ritual, people will begin to bridge that gap by finding enough at any level of knowledge to enable them to participate, and to pique their curiosity to learn more. Many of the elements of a traditional Passover seder are included to inspire “wonder” in children. Now we need to inspire wonder in both children and adults. This isn’t about dumbing things down. It’s about providing the right level of detail and the ability to grow within a framework.

Earth-based Judaism is about recovering the flow of natural cycles that Judaism does honor — we’ve just forgotten it. The focus in the past two-thousand years has moved far from the agrarian and tribal roots; mostly out of necessity. We have the opportunity to recover and reinvent this tradition. These seders will explore and honor both the rich traditions of centuries of Judaism and that holiday’s overall place in the wheel of the year. To do this, I will focus specifically on the cycle of the seasons of the North-eastern section of the United States because that is where I live. However, someone in Europe, Asia, Africa, Israel or even the California will have different seasonal cycles. I will also do my best to include the ability to explore how to honor the Shekhinah in her presence in your world.

This leads to one of my more “heretical” view points that will infuse the seders. I reject the myth of the exile of Shekhinah. I believe the presence of God to be far more resilient than that myth allows. What has been revealed to me, the knowledge that I have received, is that Shekhinah was released to infuse the world when The Temple fell. Now, no matter where we are, we can reach out to her. We can give offerings. We can feel The Presence in everything around us. That is something to honor and cherish. And so honoring the sense of place in which we each live is a crucial part of the experience of the Seders for all Seasons project. Where we live now, deserves to be honored as well as our ancestral, spiritual homeland.

The unifying factor of all the seders I create will be the use of fours. (Dalet -ד ), which might be expressed in four cups, four dishes, four parts. The fours will represent the four elements, four seasons, four directions, four kinds of beings, four winds, four mothers, and four phases of the moon. This was chosen in part, as the four cups of wine and four questions are such distinct and recognizable parts of Passover seder. Other than that each will be as unique as the holiday itself.

I also hope that these will be greatly influenced by the wider community. I hope that anyone who choses to use one or more of these seders will share their experience and any choices they made to ensure that their natural world and history were honored. I hope you will join me on this journey, either by making use of these seders or allowing this idea to inspire you to learn more and create your own rituals. If Judaism is to survive, and I believe that it is worth saving, we must remember that it is a growing and living tree. There are as many branches and off-shoots as there are deep and needed roots. She can support us all, but we each must own the responsibility of doing what we can to support her. I can do this.

I’ll be posting the Tu B’Shevat Seder just after the first of the year for anyone who may wish to use it.