Rabbi Juliet Elkind-Cruz
I grew up in New York City in a family where being Jewish was appreciated, but religion was totally rejected. Though I always yearned for it, Judaism, I was told, was at odds with social justice, which trumped all. Thus, I chose a “practical” and “stable” profession that could help others. I became a teacher of Spanish and English as a Second Language. I taught for about twenty years, serving the fight for social justice by working with the underserved in NYC public schools and community college.
Besides, I was an atheist.
My life took a sudden turn about ten years ago when I began to understand Judaism on a spiritual level, as a path to healing for myself and others. And when I read Rabbi Michael Lerner’s book, Jewish Renewal, I learned that my passion for social justice was not at odds with Judaism, but was actually completely in sync with it. I decided it was time for me to follow a new path. That’s when I entered ALEPH as a rabbinical student.
Soon after beginning my studies, I realized that I needed to take two very big opportunities as part of my rabbinical path: Hashpa’ah (Jewish Spiritual Direction), and Jewish Chant through Kol Zimra with Rabbi Shefa Gold. These two programs were invaluable to me and have been central to my goals as a rabbi. They meant longer retreats from home, longer recovery times, less time for vacation with my family, and greater financial strains, but they have meant everything to me as a rabbi.
During this whole journey from public school teacher to rabbi (and possibly cantor…we’ll see), I have been supported by my wonderful husband, Oswaldo. He was raised Catholic, but never wavered in his participation in Jewish life and learning. Whenever I was discouraged, he reminded me why I was doing this and that it was all worth it in terms of the time, energy and money. He has been there for many tears in comfort.
We’ve been married for over 30 years and have raised two very special children together. We’ve given them a Jewish identity while making sure they don’t lose their appreciation and pride for their Latino roots. We are so proud of them and who they are as human beings. They, too, have been extremely supportive and have expressed great pride in my accomplishments. I am happy to have been an example to them that learning and growth never stop, and that it’s okay to take big chances in life.
Besides my family, I am proud and grateful to have had Rabbi Leila Gal Berner as my Director of Studies. The list of those to thank is too long, so let me just say thank you to all the other teachers, rabbis, colleagues and friends who have influenced and supported me along the way over these years.