Kohenet Training Week 3

Carly finds inner peace atop the castle of yoreMe on top of Whiteface Mtn, just days before the Kohenet Training Intensive. Looking all spiritual, aren’t I? 😉

I’ve finished the third Kohenet training intensive, and as always, I’m in a quandary about what to say about it. The training intensives are, frankly, life altering, which makes them difficult to explain in a succinct and understandable way. We’ve been calling them retreats, but as D’vorah Kelilah and I discussed — that’s the wrong word. It’s an intensive with days beginning at 7:00 for davvening and ending around 10:30-11:00pm. There were so many amazing moments in this latest intensive week, that I guess I should just start at the beginning.

Monday was just check in and get settled. Art dropped me off in the afternoon and then had to leave very quickly because he had a long drive home. I unpacked and spent the afternoon wondering who my roommate would be. I ran into Bat Shemesh early in the afternoon, and she gave me a sneak peak at the new Kohenet siddur — which would be handed out the next morning. I quickly met up with many of the other Kohenot and by dinner we were all hugging and chatting and getting re-acquainted with being in the same physical space with each other. We have monthly calls and frequent email communication, so it really didn’t feel like there had been much of a gap from seeing everyone. After dinner we had our opening ritual and an “herbal playshop.” We discussed herbs and women’s traditional role as a healer, and then made tinctures and oils. (oops, need to strain the herbs out of mine tonight!)

Tuesday morning I had the humbling honor of leading the first morning davvening. As if that weren’t enough, I got to lead the first service EVER with the Kohenet siddur. WOW! WOW! WOW! There were more than a couple of shechyantus said that morning. Davvening went well, I think, especially considering that I revamped my plan the night before — the moment that I got my hands on the siddur. After davvening we were all off to breakfast, and then back to the yurt, our home for the week, for the “Day of the Shamaness.” The Kohenet program is organized around 13 “netivot” or paths of Shechinah. Each intensive we explore Judaism through the lens of 2-3 netivah. We spent the morning in a mixture of text study and experiential work and then in the afternoon we had a guest teacher, Reb Rayzel Raphael! The session was entitled “Amulets, Angels, and Spirits.” It was a great session and now I have a lovely new amulet bag. Rounding out the day was a great Ma’ariv service lead by Reb Rayzel and then she put on a concert for everyone at Elat Chayyim. Phew! What a first day.

Wednesday morning, Yocheved lead morning davvening and did a great job. This was the day of the Doreshset — the seeker. Our morning session focused on the idea of pilgrimage with text study being lead by Rabbi Jill and the experiential work lead by Holly. The highlight of this day was Mei Mei’s “transformation” ceremony. After 30 years of living a Jewish life, Mei Mei literally took the plunge and stood before the Bet Din. It was so amazing. Presiding over her Bet Din and Mikvah were Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Rabbi Phyllis Bergman, and Rabbi Jill Hammer — with Holly Taya Shere and all the Kohenot too. Later in the afternoon we broke up into small groups to begin working together to plan other rituals for the week and then had a theology/prayer session.

Thursday morning Holly and R. Jill lead davvening, which was open to anyone at Elat Chayyim. We had a few guests join us for a lovely morning service. I’m never sure what people make of our very earth-based approach — but the guests seemed to enjoy the experience. Thursday was the day of the Mekonenet — the Mourning Woman. The difficult netivot that we studied during the week lent a strange energy to things, and many of us felt very ungrounded. Once many of us realized that others were feeling the same way, we all worked to help each other ground and focus. The day was spent in text and experiential study, before we moved into an intense evening ritual. Without disclosing more than I should, the evening ritual focused on healing for one of our sisters. It was an incredibly moving and powerful ritual. Because of this, R. Jill and Holly (thankfully) canceled our planned evening dance session with Rabbi Lynn. Not that I wouldn’t want to do that — but it was just not a good choice after the ritual. I ended the evening by running across the campus to hear Floxy Blu, a Kohenet sister, do a couple of songs at the open mike night.

Friday morning davvening was lead by Mei Mei Mriam and Ellie Lehota Mayan, and they did an excellent job. This day was that of the Matriarch. Part of our text study was exploring what the texts had to say about the role of Queen Mother. Amazingly, they have a great deal to say — if you look. After text study with R. Jill, Holly lead a great experiential class on “power and priestessing.” The rest of the afternoon was spent in class and then off to the Mikvah in the lake, which was MUCH warmer than many of us expected. I also discovered that trying to chant after treading water for five minutes is, well, hard! 😉 We had a private kabbalat shabbat service and then met up with all the other groups for dinner. During dinner each group did a 10 minute presentation on what their training intensive is all about. We embodied the netivot, with each woman taking one role and presenting it in the first person. I drew the Na’arah — the Maiden (more on that later). I think we surprised a few people, and confused some others, but the presentation seemed well received and I really can’t ask for more. After dinner there was drumming and dancing and fun!

Saturday morning I went to Torah Study with Arthur Waskow. There were a couple of options, and I decided that I would take advantage of the opportunity to study with someone outside the Kohenet program. After class we met outside the Yurt for morning services, and even read Torah by wrapping it around a tree. R. Jill had told us a story at the first training intensive about how the rabbis of old would do this if a suitable surface couldn’t be found. Other than people stepping in poison ivy — it was a great Shabbat service. After lunch we were back in the Yurt for Mishna study! Yes, I was excited about it. Bat Shemesh leads Mishnah study and she is a fantastic teacher. We also use Spring Levy to ask questions that we feel silly about asking, which makes the whole thing really enjoyable. Being Shabbat and all, their were more services and Havdalah and then dinner.

Sunday morning my ritual group lead a morning davvening/elemental ritual that I’m really proud of. I think we worked together to create a really nice ritual and that we worked hard to make sure that everyone was involved and participated. Go us! After breakfast, we had a session where R. Jill and Holly talked about the winter intensive/initiation and what the second half (2-3 years) of training will look like for those who decide to continue on. There’s no question in my mind that I’ll be continuing on and I’m excited about what the next few years will look like! After our closing ritual it was off to lunch and then onto the shuttle to the airport!

There were so many little amazing moments that week. I do want to call attention to one that I realized didn’t come up yet. I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel Barenblatt — the Velveteen Rabbi. She was there for DLTI training. She’s been much faster than I have about posting her thoughts on her DLTI training intensive! She was lovely and I’m a big fan of her blog and her “Chaplainbook” — so go check them out!

By the way — if you are considering joining the next class of Kohenet please feel free to contact me.


Kohenet Training: Week 2

Names are big deal in many cultures and religious traditions. Names are so important in Judaism that we even call God, “The Name.” (השם) In both of my spiritual communities I stand out as a bit of an oddity because I don’t have a “name.” I’m just Carly.

Now you are probably reading this asking, “what about Chava Chai (חוה חי)?” Right, well — actually — write. I only use that name in writing. It’s me when I’m writing words on paper, but not when I’m standing next to you. Only once has that name been used for me aloud and I felt like it was mine. There was a time that even though no one called me by a special name, I had one for myself and would use it in ritual environments. Years ago I was asked in a ritual, “what is your name in this place?” The answer came quickly and easily, and it wasn’t Carly.

This past week, I was at the second week of Kohenet intensive training. Someone pointed out that I have a problem with my name. I disagreed, but then it was pointed out that I didn’t even put it on my calling cards. I had “Peeling a Pomegranate” and the URL — but not my name. Now when I made the cards, my focus was on the site — not me personally — but isn’t that odd?

When I got home I started to talk it over with my husband and he pointed out that I’ve always had an issue with how little thought was put into naming me. My parents have always told me that my name was picked out of a book on the way to the hospital. I was supposed to be a boy — they picked the name at the last minute, “just in case.” My parents didn’t give me a Hebrew name either, my older sister was given one — but I guess they just didn’t bother with me. I picked my own Hebrew name when I started Hebrew school — Carmeit. I named myself after the most beautiful woman who was a cousin to an exchange student who lived with me when I was five or six years old. She died a couple of years later. She was the first person I cared about who died — so I chose her name.

That name while holding nostalgia, lost meaning over the years. That’s why I took on Chava Chai (חוה חי) about four years ago, but no one actually calls me that. I think the problem is that I’m tired of naming myself. I actually want someone to care enough to name me this time. I think the name will come either at the first or second Kohenet initiation. I see my future self so intricately tied to being a Kohenet that the name will come as part of this experience. I do know one thing though — I won’t be naming myself again. Maybe I’ll grow into Chava Chai (חוה חי), maybe I’ll grow into something/one else. The name will come, but not from me. Whether it’s from human lips or Divine emanation that rings in my ears, I can live with either. I just can’t name myself again.


Kohenet Training – Week 1

I’ve had a few days to begin processing the first Kohenet training intensive. I want to start by giving my heart-felt gratitude to all of my fellow Kohenot and our teachers. What I’ve realized is that more than any practical skills that I will learn in the next two years is that these women are going to help provide me with the experience that I believe will make me an effective priestess. Let me start by telling what we did, then I’ll follow up in other posts with my personal experiences and feelings.

The program is structured around 13 archetypes of the Shekhinah . These are what we will be studying over the two years through a variety of techniques – both scholarly and experiential. This first week, we explored three of the archetypes beginning with the Fool. It was quite a choice to begin with the Fool because it threw everyone off. That off-kilter energy that the Fool can bring permitted the day. One of the experiential exercises we did was to enact our “tormentors.” I had a very hard time with this one, but then realized that my tormentor in so many ways is silence (more on that realization later). We played, we danced, we laughed, and the pushing of boundaries began! We also studied some of the few bibilical/talmudic sources that relate to the Fool. I’ll be curious to see what others I can find, as there is limited source material on this archetype. My biggest takeaway from the day of the Fool was a realization that there is a big difference between the Fool and the Idiot (my term). The Fool is intentional. The Fool is the clown who knows exactly what she is doing and shakes things up because its the right thing to do at that moment. The Idiot stumbles through life causing chaos without ever knowing if it was the right thing to do or not.

The next archetype we explored was the Maiden. Again, this seemed like a very appropriate choice. Unlike the Fool there is ample amounts of scholarly texts about the Maiden. Jews love Maidens! Sweet, fresh young women — always a fine choice for biblical stories and midrash. We began by studying and discussing several readings and then moved on to the experiential portion. We had to create a ritual for Tu b’Av, a holiday for the Maiden in us all. We split into three groups, and each took a segment of the ritual. There was a bit of confusion (intentional?) about when this ritual was going to take place and we did a last minute scramble when we realized that we would be doing the ritual, well, now! With less than an hour of planning we managed to create a ritual, and given the fact that the three groups worked separately, it was remarkably cohesive. It was far from a perfect ritual — but for me it was a tipping point in the week (more on this later).

The final archetype we explored was the Priestess. Certainly this was an appropriate choice for the final archetype of our first week. I like that we waited until the end to discover the Priestess. We discussed the models of priestesses in the Tanach such as Hulda, Devorah, and Miriam. I’m sure we all walked in with ideas that changed during the week, and so I like that it was towards the end of the week that we were asked, “What is a Priestess?” Most people wrote a sentence or two that described their thoughts. I found that my mind did not want to create a structured definition. I had a stream of words that came into my mind. Here they are in the order that they came to me:

service space bridge connection storytelling myth-making truth-finding dream-embracing tradtion creation expansion life-affirming death-acknowledging paradox

In addition to Kohenet classes, each afternoon we joined the Women’s Week attendees for class. There were two to choose from, and I spent my week with R’Lynn Gotlieb in A Pagent of Biblical Women. This class was also a combination of study and experience. We took a guided journey to meet a biblical mother and receive a message. Then we made life-masks and turned them into the faces of the woman we met. At the end of the week we perfomed a pagent with each of us wearing our masks and telling the story/message of the woman we met.

Along with our classes was plenty of prayer. There was morning davenning and the most amazing Shabbat services I’ve ever attended. All this, and the food was pretty good too! Although, with that many Jews they really needed more “everything” bagels for breakfast. 😉

Finally, there are our projects. Each of us must develop a project that we will work on over the two years (in addition to other class work and reading). I thought I knew what mine was, and it was approved — althought with the caveat that it might not take me two years, and I’d have to come up with something else. I started thinking that I needed something more comprehensive that would truly take the two years to complete. I’ve come up with some ideas, and R’Jill gave me a few things to think about. I think I’m just about ready to finalize my project and then I’ll get to work!


Sacred Insect Repellent

I just received my official welcome email and the agenda for the first retreat. It’s monumentally overwhelming on so many levels! I’m completely excited and completely terrified. The fact that I’m going to be having class sessions with Rabbi Lynn Gotleib is enough to make it worth it. Add R’Jill and Holly and all the rest — yikes!

In reading the email there was a lovely moment of humor that I must share. R’Jill included a list of things that we should bring. Most are class related and spiritual. I don’t think the email is intended for publication, but the order of a few just made me laugh and I don’t see any harm in sharing this.

This came at the end of a long list of spiritual/ritual things to bring:

A sacred name you want to be known by

One or two “priestess” outfits that feel special to you

Insect repellent

I have long learned the importance of bug repellent in ritual. Anyone who came to Becoming’s full moon rituals at the Jefferson Memorial a few years ago learned that lesson. We went from using nice eco-friendly stuff to practically dousing if full DEET. We’d look up to the moon to just see a cloud of blood-thirsty mosquitos above us. It’s pretty terrifying!

I’m so excited about Kohenet beginning. My goal is to not embarrass myself to badly! I’m so nervous and star-struck right now that I’m not sure I could form full sentences.

Calling…Do you Answer?

In about a month I start training to become a priestess. A lot of people are asking me why I’m doing this. “Am I just doing it for myself,” they ask? “Is it going to be a career?”

The only is answer is that I’m doing it because it’s what I have to do. But that’s not entirely true. I could refuse. It’s a calling, not an order. That’s what’s so interesting about a calling – you can say no. I sure did for a while, and I’m sure most people do too. Think about – what would you do if you suddenly got a phone call and heard,

“Hi, it’s God. Just wanted to let you know that you got the job. I know you didn’t realize that you were applying for one – no one ever seems too, must talk to Michael about that, but you’ve got it. Take a little time and think about it. It’s a hard job and the pay isn’t always great, but be sure to check out the benefits package. What you earn in spiritual fulfillment, is really unbeatable.”*

You’d check to make sure someone hadn’t spiked your cocoa – that’s what you’d do.

I’m doing this because I need to do it. I have a choice, and I choose this road. I know it’s not going to be easy. I know it’s not something most people can or will understand. I know that and I still know I need to do this.

Now comes all the personal struggle and doubt. I start questioning my actions, my worth, my goals, my sanity. None of that matters – I’m still going to do it. Then I start imagining the first training intensive, and worry that the other women won’t like me. Worse – they won’t respect me and I’ll fail. And again, it doesn’t matter – I’m still walking this path.

How? I take one step at a time. I put one foot in front of the other. I banish the doubts of others. I gather my friends closer and hope they’ll understand this. I pray they’ll stand by me and support me. I’m doing this because deep down, at my truest self, it’s who I am. I think that’s what scares me the most.


*Not exactly word-for-word, but you get the point.