Rabbi Heather Paul
When I applied to ALEPH in 2017, my life was already filled with joy, meaning, and purpose. I had been a Hillel professional for over seven years, empowering emerging adults to explore their own Judaism. I’d also spent six years facilitating children’s grief groups and supporting families facing cancer through Camp Kesem and Milton Marks Family Camp. I loved learning and I had earned degrees in creative writing, history, and Jewish experiential education. These threads of my life had always been part of the same tapestry. They were parallel colors, complementing each other as part of a whole. But something was missing with my life divided. I applied to ALEPH seeking synthesis, the strands spun into one thread.
I wanted to continue my work with Hillel and with cancer and grief care, but I was also seeking something deeper in ALEPH. I strove to learn from educators who inspired me to bring my whole self to Judaism, challenging me to explore different dimensions of practice. This was not a rejection of my tapestry; rather, I needed the colors to be more vibrant and enriched. I wanted to grow in my work, to provide spaces that encourage deep relationships and a connection to the Divine Spark within.
I can’t claim that I’ve achieved these capstones. I’ve learned about prayer and holding space, texts and interpretation, tradition and innovation, counseling and authenticity. But I’ve also learned that every student has something to teach me. Every prayer service, every text, every conversation opens the door to another way of experiencing the world. Becoming a rabbi doesn’t mean I’ve finished the tapestry; it means I’ve committed to weaving for the rest of my life.
I am grateful to my ALEPH teachers who have supported me, especially Rabbis Elliot Ginsburg, Shulamit Sapir Thiede, and Marcia Prager. Thanks to my chavrutot, especially Geo Poor and Rabbi Lex Rofeberg. Thanks to the editors and supporters of my capstone project, especially my advisor, Hila Ratzabi. And thank you to my DLTI chevreh. You know who you are and you know what you mean to me.
I’m also grateful to my Hillel, camp, and community mentors: Josh Feldman, Sheila Baumgarten, Ken Kramarz (z’l), Abby Marks, Erez Cohen, Carly Froomkin Barak, and Rabbis Mychal Copeland, Shalom Bochner, Danielle Leshaw, Jessica Lott, and Rachel Nussbaum. Thank you for encouraging me, always.
I wouldn’t be here without my family. Thank you to my parents, Robin and Steve, my grandfather, Leonard, and grandmother, Adrienne (z’l) for always believing in me. Most of all, thank you to my husband, Joseph, my “hubbitzin,” my partner in everything. Thank you for figuring out I wanted to be a rabbi before I did. Thank you for supporting me in making it happen. Thank you for staying home with Ella to keep her safe. Thank you for being by my side on this journey and every journey yet to come.