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We are a community of Hebrew Seminary faculty, staff, rabbinical students, lifelong learners, Kabbalists, scholars, spiritual seekers and kind supporters.

The mission of Hebrew Seminary is to train women and men as rabbis and Jewish educators to serve all Jewish communities, including the deaf community. Hebrew Seminary has been an inclusive and egalitarian community for the study and practice of Judaism since our founding in 1993.

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High Holiday Narrative

When you find yourself amidst the soul-searching Jewish holidays, your personal narrative can offer contemplative passage. Bring awareness to your narrative. Does your self-talk, your story, lean toward self-criticism or towards an inflated sense of self-worth. Perhaps your narrative is somewhere in between and also offers room for both growth and self-compassion in the New Year.

Rabbi Alan Lew, Jewish meditation ‘guru’, views our identity, reflected in our narrative, as a construct we fear will crumble so we spend too much energy on propping it up. In the process, we live at some distance from ourselves. Estelle Frankel, Rabbinic Pastor and psychotherapist writes:

“The very formation of the ego and its defenses can be seen as a descent into a mitzrayim [narrow place, i.e. Egypt] of sorts for our spirit, which is essentially limitless. To some degree, the narrowing of consciousness that accompanies ego development is inevitable and necessary, for in order to function in the world we have to develop a healthy sense of our own autonomy and will. But that very sense of our separateness becomes a mitzrayim, which we must transcend in order to embrace the fullness of our true being.”

Mindful awareness can support the transcendence of our ego-heavy narrative. We develop and rehearse our story in an effort to make sense of our internal and external worlds. Occasionally this story, our narrative, does not “embrace the fullness of our true being.” When we bring awareness to the self-professed reasons for our life’s unfolding we can ask, “Is my narrative empowering?” From our narrative emerges our future choices.

“Awareness makes choice and change possible,” maintains neurobiologist Daniel J. Siegel, MD.  “… applying the power of narrative in healing can liberate a life. Narrative is the overarching integration of our life’s past experiences with our ongoing awareness and the way we create our future life of possibilities.”

“Our future life of possibilities” is indeed our High Holiday wish for all: Gmar hatima tova, a good signing/sealing! Perhaps in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Repentance עשרת ימי תשובה, we could have the intention, the kavannah, of witnessing our narrative.

Designate a routine task as a prompt to bring awareness to your thoughts. For example, before you start the car or as soon as you sit down on the bus, take a few deep breaths and do nothing else but listen to your own narrative. Pick a narrative strand. Hold onto it long enough to discern what it expresses. Then let it go and continue witnessing. If you discover that possibility is the overarching theme of your narrative, share that energy with the world! If your narrative is holding you back somehow, try-on a Jewish spiritual practice or two throughout the coming year. Read Jewish texts. Ask the Shechinah to help you recognize your possibilities. During the High Holidays, she is closer than ever.





Hebrew Seminary Students post their High Holiday Homework

Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer teaches that each of us has the opportunity to create a Prayer Vision in preparation for the High Holidays.  “We need to visualize, think, and write down all the wonderful things that we want to happen to us in the New Year … and this is what I’m going to do for God in return.”  Below we share examples of this prayer vision process, as well as insights into HaShem’s 13 Attributes of Mercy, which we recite during the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

A Prayer Vision
By Student Rabbi Tirtzah Israel

The upcoming High Holy days, beginning with Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah, grants us the opportunity to reflect upon the blessings and challenges of the past year, while bestowing opportunities to revel in the prospect of renewal.  We let go of the old stuff in order to improve and to re-connect to our natural-selves.

As a candidate for rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Seminary, I envision for the upcoming year that I will be responsible for the following: (1) conduct Adult Education classes in the basics of Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism; (2) serve as an assistant rabbi at a Congregation providing life-cycle services and one-on-one Pastoral Counseling, and; (3) to further develop my private practice in the healing arts using the Kabbalah and Healing Meditations as taught by my mentor and teacher Rabbi, Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.

In return, what I will do for God is be more patient with myself, less judgmental and critical. I will develop deep self-compassion so that I will have compassion to give to others in my healing practice.  I believe, as my teacher reminded me, “you can’t give what you don’t have.”  I will focus my meditative energies towards understanding the divine attributes so that I can use those energies to activate connectivity and healing.

A Prayer Vision
By Student Rabbi Alison C. Brown

It feels as though some pretty wonderful things are already happening in my life this year.  My twin girls started college and so far, so good!  Now I have more time to focus on trying not to call or text them; to finishing my rabbinic thesis; and to worrying about the November elections!

Good health is of course my number one wish for my family and all those I share this planet with.  Good health is intricately connected to the health of our planet and I also wish for this, the good health of planet earth.  I count on God, on Makom, God’s manifestation in the physical world, for Her continuous creation.  Likewise, God counts on us, her human partners to protect creation.  In return for the gift of good health, I will work harder to live sustainably and support sustainable causes.  With prayers and blessings I will thank God for all that Her creation provides for me and I will try every day to minimize my environmental footprint.  I love and appreciate our farmlands and the farmers that tend them lovingly; I love and appreciate our Lake Michigan and the volunteers that protect it lovingly.  In return for these gifts this year, I will better consider my consumer choices.  (I’d give you examples, but I’m so spoiled it’s embarrassing!)

I also wish that in our upcoming November elections my fellow Americans will embrace our long- held values of equality, justice, safety and equal opportunity for all.  I wish that every eligible American registers to vote.  I wish that every registered voter votes.  I wish that those candidates who will fight for equality, justice, safety and equal opportunity for all will get elected.  The High Holidays continue throughout October; our elections are November 8th.  The timing is, I believe, besheirt (meant to be).  While we give thought to our personal vision for the New Year, we can soul search our vision for this great country and ask ourselves, “Can we take pride in the ongoing candidates’ political discourse and the values they represent?”  And, “What can I do to support the values I hold dear within the context of a democratic society?”  The Shechina embraces us all.  I too should try my best to embrace and be empathetic towards each and every person; so too should our elected officials.   In return for God’s support of my prayer vision, I will volunteer at voter registration drives and increase my volunteer commitments in general.  Additionally I will continue to practice and improve my Hebrew skills, as well as make time to practice the many Kabbalistic meditations that Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer has taught me, in hopes that my prayers will be more efficacious and my deeds less self-centered.

God’s 13 Attributes of Mercy
by Student Rabbi Sandra Charak

It is also suggested that we recite and meditate twice a day on Adonai’s 13 attributes of God during the month of Elul until Yom Kippur.  According to Kabbalah, Adonai is closest to us during this month, in spirit, energetically speaking.  The gematria of Elul אלול   equals 13 which is also love אהב. There are 13 attributes of Adonai, showing love to His children if they listen.  This is best illustrated on Yom Kippur when we get a chance to create a new contract with Adonai promising teshuvah, our turning, returning to God.  Any changes we promise to strive for, even minor ones as long as we are moving towards becoming better people, causes Adonai to smile.

Adonai’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, or His ethical attributes are repeated twice in the Torah, in Exodus and the prophet Micah, giving them extra important meaning.  These verses are the very core of the Selichot prayers said each day during Elul until Yom KippurS’licha means forgiveness.  During the month of Elul we do teshuvah knowing that we are all one and connected in God.

The Thirteen Attributes begins with Adonai, Adonai :

  1. יהוה

Adonai – compassion before a person sins;

  1. יהוה
    Adonai – compassion after a person has sinned;
  2. אל
    El – mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need,
  3. רחום
    Rachum – merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;
  4. חנון
    Chanun – gracious if humankind is already in distress;
  5. אפים ארך

Erech appayim – slow to anger;

  1. רב חסד
    Rav chesed –plenteous in mercy;
  2. אמת
    Emet – truth;
  3. לאלפים נצר חסד
    Notzer chesed laalafim – keeping mercy unto the thousands;
  4. נשא עון
    Noseh avon – forgiving iniquity;
  5. פשע נשא

Noseh peshah – forgiving transgression;

  1. חטאה נשא
    Noseh chatah – forgiving sin;
  2. ונקה
    Venakeh – and pardoning.


In Preparation for the High Holidays, Check Your Vision!

Part II, by Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

During the month of Elul, our Kabbalah teaches us that each of us needs to create a Prayer Vision.  That is we need to visualize, think, and write down all the wonderful things that we want to happen to us in the New Year.  When we create a prayer vision, our Kabbalah encourages us to create a vision of spirituality that is a vision in which we are doing good deeds, mitzvot and prayers in the coming year.  Inherent in our prayer vision and vision of spirituality is that we come to the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services with a written proposal in hand to God and we say it whispering very softly during two to three of the prayers: Hashem it is worth investing in my life and making my prayer vision a reality because this is what I’m going to do for you this year.  The return on investment (ROI) is definitely worth your while.  This is the contribution I intend to make to your global of tikkun olam.  You might propose, I will give more to the poor; I will help in the food pantry at my temple; I will become much more spiritual; or, just as I am doing Modeh Ani in Elul, I will do it regularly during the year; I will go to shul at least once a month; and/or I will read at least one book next year on Judaism.  A small investment of blessings by you on me will pay off because I will be generous in so many ways next year, you won’t regret your investment in me.

We write on the paper that we are bringing to shul what we promise to do to make this a kinder more gentler year, and in exchange we ask God to bless us with good health for us and our family; a strong financial earning for the coming New Year; and that the cancer that my family member is experiencing go into remission this year.

This prayer vision and proposal of spirituality should be written and spoken every day in the month of Elul and also during the silent prayers during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  The last thing we do to make Elul the most powerful spiritual month of the year, is to read Exodus 34: verses 6-7 in Hebrew.  The words in these verses contain highly charged vibrations that move Hashem to automatically send blessings to you when you recite them aloud during Elul.  With the reciting of these verses, you create a spiritual gravity wherein God cannot help but send down blessings for the entire year for you and your family.

All of this is what makes Elul the most powerfully charged spiritual month of the Hebrew calendar.  Do it and God will send to you great blessings which will heighten the power of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in your life.

Our Country Welcomes You & Your Vote!

From the desk of Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer and Alison C. Brown, Executive Director

We recognize that a very serious federal election is approaching.   We also recognize that it is crucial for everyone to vote and to exercise this liberty that our country has granted each one of us.

Our Torah is very clear when it talks regularly about everyone’s rights to speak their mind.  We are taking advantage of Judaism’s commitment to free speech to maintain that we believe this election is perhaps the most serious election we have ever faced in this generation, maybe even in our country’s history.  Before you cast your vote, please remember that it is so important to have a president who welcomes and embraces all minorities.  As a matter of fact, all of us or most of us reading this have members of our own family who were once refugees and this country opened it door widely in accepting people of all religions and races and colors.  This is what has made America great and this is what makes Judaism great.

Remember the words of our prophets, “Proclaim freedom unto to all the land.”  We can be so proud that the teachings of Torah and the teachings of our constitution are identical in accepting the rights of all people regardless of national heritage or background.


Rabbi Goldhamer and Alison

Check Your Vision


You’ve Got Your High Holiday Tickets, but Before You

Consider What to Wear, Check Your Vision.


By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

The month of Elul, the last month before the Jewish New Year is the most important theological month of the Jewish year.  In the month of Elul, God is closer to us than at any other time and our prayers are more powerful than at any other time, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If we focus our thinking on God during the month of Elul, we will be so much in God’s thoughts that during the High Holiday services, when we pray in temple, we will “hear” God answer.  The word “hear” can be either hearing with your ears or feeling intensely a separate being inside of you speaking to you.  I pray so intensely during Elul that when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur comes around, I actually hear by feeling a separate being answer me who lives within me.  It is an amazing, frightening and yet inspiring moment.

We know it is our tradition to say the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon wakening, but if you say the Modeh Ani prayer during Elul you will feel the intensity of the prayer greatly.   You will feel the power of God flowing through you like in no other month.

Modeh (feminine: Modah) ani l’fanecha melech chai v’kayam shehechezarta bi nishmati bechemlah rabah emunatecha.

I thank you with my very being, living, enduring King, for restoring my Divine Soul to me in compassion.  You are faithful beyond measure.

The Modeh Ani prayer strongly opens the gates of our soul so that when we recite the Modeh Ani prayer during the month of Elul, God not only returns our soul to us every morning when we wake up, but our soul becomes so pure.  This is because, with a minyan of ten, the channels or gates open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and we can hear God.  There are two channels to the soul that allow us to hear God, if these channels are open.  The first channel is Nefesh, that part of the soul that resides in our blood stream.  When that channel becomes open, it allows us to hear God from the bottom up.  The other channel that opens during Elul, when we recite the Modeh Ani, is that part of our soul called Neshama.  The Neshama resides in Keter, in the crown of our head.  When the channel Neshama opens, we hear God from the top down.  So on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashannah both channels open when we say the Modeh Ani during Elul and our godly experience is enormously intensified.  The Modeh Ani is the single most mystical prayer that is said in the month of Elul.

Here is the optimal way of saying the Modeh Ani meditation during month of Elul: 1) Say the Modeh Ani prayer.  2) While you are saying the prayer, there should be a concomitant internal dynamic that we are thanking God for the channel of the Neshama that opens up and allows the presence of God to come down to us from Ayn Sof (the One without End).  3) Also imagine that there is a channel within us, Nefesh within our bloodstream that opens up and allows God to enter into us from the bloodstream up through our whole body.  4)  Imagine a lighted candle before you.  Visualize it.  See it.  5)  With your eyes closed, imagine the candle coming closer and closer to you as you say “The light of the Lord is my soul.”  (Proverbs 20:27).  6)  Visualize the candle entering you, see yourself filled with the light of God augmented by God’s extra light coming down into you through Neshama and God’s additional light coming up to you through Nefesh.  Like a booster shot, God’s extra light adds punch and power to light you already have now with the two channels open.  Up and down, these two sparks ignite the light that already is in you.  Know that this Elul morning experience will have tremendous mystical ramifications on hearing God during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Watch for Part II Proposing a Prayer Vision!


Yes, Jews Do Believe in Reincarnation!

Judaism maintains that there are five levels to the human soul.  As a result, our actions not only have a direct impact on our soul, deciding how, when and where we will reincarnate – but a person’s actions also have a direct impact on the corresponding spiritual worlds which exist in our physical universe.

When we perform good acts, it unifies the levels of our soul to the extent that, when we pass, we will either reincarnate in another person, or as an angel of God.  The study of reincarnation, or in Hebrew gilgul, is an extremely fascinating disciple and practice in Judaism.   Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, master Kabbalist, says, “I am more excited about sharing my Aramaic and Hebrew research of the soul in Judaism than any other discipline I have ever taught.”

Get your soul in shape!  Call 847/679- 4113 to register.  Ask about our other fall courses!

Hebrew Seminary’s Reincarnation Class
begins October 30, 2016
12 noon – 1:30 pm for 10 classes
non-credit tuition $150

The 21st Century Rabbi

I recently asked Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Laurence Edwards, Ph.D, what areas of Jewish studies do you view as most important to the 21st century Rabbi?

In some ways it might seem that Jewish study for rabbinic students today would be pastoral care, psychology, crisis counseling, and such.  Yes, it is important to know these subjects, but in my view it is most important that a rabbi be a teacher and student.  One must never stop studying and delving deeper into Jewish studies.  That is the only thing that gives the title of rabbi any credibility.  Rabbis need to know the history, the texts, and the literature.  We need to be competent in both text and tradition.  If we don’t have that, then the authenticity is gone.  I don’t feel that I totally live up to this standard, but I aspire to it.


Hebrew Seminary invites those considering the rabbinate to sit in on a class during the upcoming fall semester.  Or, better yet, audit a class and experience the learning, capture the connection!  847/679-4113

Fall Semester 2016 – 2017

September 18, 2016 – February 3, 2017

(Breaks: Oct. 2–18; Oct. 24-25; Nov. 24-27; Dec. 25 – Jan. 7)

Kabbalah: Reincarnation – Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Zohar – Rahmiel Hayyim Drizin

Biblical Hebrew – Rabbi Shari Chen & Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis

Talmud – Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis & Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub

Practical Rabbinics: Liturgy for Life Cycle Events – Rabbi Rob Jury

Practical Rabbinics: Weddings & Funerals – Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis

Psychology: Interviewing Skills for Rabbis – Dr. Stephanie Kutzen


“Why did God create man?” “Because he wanted to hear a good story!”

We met with Hebrew Seminary alumni and faculty member Rabbi Shari Chen to share her passion for the stories of the Bible, as so beautifully manifest in her 2005 thesis for rabbinic ordination on the Midrashim of Our Mothers.  This is the second half of that interview.

You conclude each of your thesis chapters on the different women in Genesis with your own midrash exemplifying their faith.  How did you go about this and is the retelling of midrashim part of our Jewish tradition?

Our Talmud teaches that, Torah m’daberet b’lashon adam – Torah speaks in the language of man. There is no greater way to relate to the Torah than through midrashim.  It is asked, “Why did God create man?”  “Because he wanted to hear a good story!”  God wants us to create new midrashim to share his words with new generations in a contemporary language that they can relate to.  It was my hope in creating these new midrashim that I would be able to inspire young women to want to learn Torah and to learn more about the women we came from.  My midrashim of Eve Naamah (Noah’s wife), Eidit and our matriarchs, all based on Judaic sources, not only brings them to life but illustrates the often unsung goodness within each of them.

This summer we read the Torah portion Chukat in which Miriam dies.  Rabbi Shefa Gold, renown for her teaching of sacred, Hebrew chants, writes, “Miriam had a way with water.  She could touch the depths with her song and call forth spiritual nourishment.  No matter how difficult the journey, Miriam’s dance would bring ease and beauty to the process itself.  She carried with her the feminine wisdom that could not be written down.  Upon her death we are given a spiritual challenge: to reclaim the source of her wisdom, to discover the song in our voice and the dance in our step.”  Is there an ancient or modern midrash that can help us with this spiritual challenge?

Midrash tells us that after pharaoh’s decree that every Hebrew newborn son be cast into the Nile, it is said that Yochevet and Amram, Moses’ parents, separated so that they wouldn’t conceive any more children.  Miriam goes to her father and convinces him that he shouldn’t do what pharaoh wants, stop bearing Hebrew children.   Because of Miriam’s wisdom, Yochevet and Amram reunite and Moses is born.

Miriam’s great spiritual wisdom is also clearly illustrated in a midrash relating to the crossing of the Red Sea.  It is said that when the waters first split, the men began to argue about which tribe should have the honor of going first into the sea.  While the men are arguing, Miriam instructs the women to all take hands and enter the sea together and the sea splits into twelve distinct paths.  This is an example of how not one of us is any better than any other and that God wants us to join together to celebrate as one people, equal in the eyes of God.

When you counsel congregants, how do you use Torah text and in what ways have you found the texts to be helpful?

I often use midrashic text and stories to help congregants.  There’s a beautiful midrashic story about seeking the perfect object that will bring the wealthiest, most content person to tears, and yet brings gladness to the ones who are suffering the most.  The object, which is found after much effort, is a ring with four simple words engraved within it, “this too shall pass”.  I feel that all of us need to remember this truth at some point in our life.  When we are going through hard times there are many different midrashim that can offer us hope.  For thousands of years we have sought answers to the greatest question: why?  Why must we suffer?  Why is life sometimes so difficult?  Our inspiring and cherished midrashim help us to understand that we are not alone and that we, like our ancestors, will not only survive but we will endure guided by love and by faith.

What Midrashim collections can you recommend for us?

Robert Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary

Chaim and Rabinitsky Bialik, Sefer Ha’agadah: The Legends that are in the Talmud and Midrash (HEBREW)

Gerald Friedlander, Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer

Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories

Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of Jews

Jill Hammer, Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women

The Midrashim of Our Mothers

I recently met with faculty member Rabbi Shari Chen to share her passion for the stories of the Bible.

In 2005, you completed your thesis for rabbinic ordination on the Midrashim of Our Mothers.  What is midrash and what did you learn in your research that might inspire us to read midrashim?

The word midrash comes from the Hebrew root drash, which means to seek, study, and inquire.  Our midrashic literature seeks to help us understand the reasons behind the actions of our ancestors and in so doing brings them more fully to life for us.

I learned in my research that there are so many midrashim that can enrich our Jewish life, as well as help us relate to and connect with our heritage.  For example, many of the woman of Genesis are unnamed.  They are only referred to as eishet or “wife of”, but these women do have names and significant roles to play in our history.  Women, in a basic reading of the Torah, are often portrayed in a negative light.  The midrashim redeems them by examining the circumstances of their lives and why they did what they did.  A perfect example of this is Lot’s wife, whose name according to midrash is Eidit, meaning witness.  Eidit in the bible is portrayed as a woman whose curiosity leads to her ultimate demise because she did not obey, but instead turned back to see the destruction of the city.  This story is seen as a warning to women to do what they are told.  But through midrash we learn that the reason she looked back, was not out of curiosity, but out of motherly love.  She was searching for her two older daughters who remained in the city.

As you studied the women of the midrashim you were seeking ways to better understand and portray Genesis’ female characters to young readers.  What did you discover as you did your own translations of the Hebrew texts?

I discovered that these women were to be admired; that Eve, in particular, got bad press!  Through the midrash you realize that she was not entirely to blame for her actions in the garden.  One of my favorite midrashim regarding this says that God did not create Eve until Adam asked him to, because God knew that the first time something went wrong, Adam would blame him for creating the woman.  Which is exactly what Adam did, saying, “The woman you gave me….”

Another midrash portrays Adam as having no faith in Eve.  He told her not to touch the tree, but God never said that.  Adam thought saying that would keep her away from it, but ultimately that embellishment becomes a convincing lie for the snake, who used it to demonstrate for Eve that just as there is no dying from touching the tree, there is no dying from eating from it.  To illustrate his point, the snake pushed Eve into the tree.

If you look at the Hebrew in Genesis 3:6, when it talks about Eve giving Adam the fruit of the tree, it uses the word “she gave it to the man with her.”  Ayinmemhey with a dagesh in it.  The original Hebrew says that Adam was with Eve while the snake was deceiving her and thus Adam tacitly approved of her eating the fruit, as he did not stop her.  Most translations, by excluding the word “with her”, make it appear as though Adam came upon Eve eating the fruit and then he ate of it unknowingly, but Adam was with her the whole time.  According to most translations, Eve was responsible for the transgression, not the two of them together.