Rabbi Cat Zavis
I grew up in Highland Park, IL, a suburb of Chicago. Although I attended Sunday school and went to High Holiday services, we were not a religious family. I sought connection with a spiritual reality that I did not find in Judaism at that time.
Watching Roots on television at the age of 12 awakened my passion for social justice. I vividly remember my body shivering at the impossibility of what my eyes were seeing on the screen. I knew at that moment I would spend my life’s energy striving to create a just world. I have worked as a lawyer in the areas of public defense, women’s rights, prisoners’ rights, and domestic violence. I spent a year working for a legal rights organization in South Africa during apartheid and taught feminist and anti-racist thought and theory at colleges and universities. All of these nourished my soul and gave me a sense of meaning and purpose.
Still, a small, yet powerful voice within continued to call to me to deepen my spiritual practice and connection. I found spiritual connection in nature, parenting my sons, Nonviolent Communication, mediation, collaborative law, and meditation. Through this work, I deepened my connection with Divine energy – witnessing the miracle of life in all its manifestations and tribulations.
Years later, Rabbi Michael Lerner shared with me a Judaism that I never knew existed. One that integrated spirituality, social justice, psychological depth, and intellectual challenge – all four areas of practice and learning that were essential in my life. I eventually began working with him at the Network of Spiritual Progressives and deepened my connection to Judaism. One day I said to a friend, “If I had been exposed to this form of Judaism years ago, I would have been a rabbi!” The rest is herstory! After attending one Ohalah gathering, I began taking classes and eventually enrolled as a rabbinic student.
It has been quite a journey. Lots of wrestling with the Divine, others, and myself! Incredible growth and learning. Some stumbling and lots of fun.
I continue my social justice work in various ways, including leading trainings in Prophetic Empathy and Revolutionary Love, editing for Tikkun magazine, and working with unhoused people in the Bay Area.
My two sons bring me great joy and laughter and am deeply grateful for our connection and love. My parents have always provided endless love and support for which I am immensely grateful. I would not be here today without the loving support of my husband, Rabbi Michael Lerner.
Special thanks to Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg (my Director of Studies), Rabbi Shulamit Sapir Thiede and Rabbi Leila Gal Berner for your endless support and for being my smicha advisors, and to Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, who jumped in at the last moment to edit and support me on my capstone project. And to everyone else who has supported me on this journey, with whom I’ve learned and studied, and who have been my cheerleaders and God-wrestlers – Thank You!