“The calling of my rabbinate is to help people make meaningful connections between the Jewish tradition and their own lives and callings.” – Rabbi Debra Orenstein
Rabbi Debra brings the meaning and relevance of the Jewish tradition to audiences across North America as a guest speaker and scholar-in-residence. For twenty years, she was an instructor at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, where she taught in the rabbinical, graduate school, undergraduate, conversion, Elderhostel, and continuing education programs. She was a senior fellow of the Wilstein Institute of Jewish Policy Studies and spiritual leader of Makom Ohr Shalom synagogue. In 2010, she returned to her home state of New Jersey and became spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson, while continuing her writing and public speaking. Her passion is connecting Judaism and spirituality to our everyday lives and ultimate concerns. The focus of her social action is ending slavery in our lifetimes.
Rabbi Orenstein is the author or editor of five books, including the award-winning Lifecycles book series: Lifecycles 1: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones, Lifecycles 2: Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life, and the forthcoming Lifecycles 3 on Jewish holidays. She is a columnist for The Jewish Standard and has written essays for Etz Hayim Humash (2001), The Women's Prophets Commentary (2004), and Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer is Difficult and What To Do About It (2010), among others. Rabbi Debra is also a frequent guest on radio and television, commenting on spiritual issues of the day.
As an admirer and consumer of "teaching tapes" by Christian preachers, Rabbi Debra was inspired to create teaching CD's which include live recordings of speeches, text studies, sermons, and q & a sessions on a variety of themes, including Transformation, Awe, Compassion, and Gratitude. You can also take her with you on your travels via iTunes.
With an ongoing commitment to learning, as well as teaching, Rabbi Debra has completed trainings in mediation, meditation, and synagogue management, as well a conservatory program in acting. (She "worked her way through rabbinical school" as an actress.) Rabbi Debra continues to learn with and from rabbinic colleagues each week. She also engages in interfaith dialogue and learning. Together with her congregation, colleagues, and family, she works for charities and social justice.
Rabbi Debra attended Princeton University (A.B. summa cum laude), University of Judaism (B.H.L.), The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (M.A. and ordination), and The Meisner-Carville School (Two-year Program), and The Institute for Jewish Spirituality (Two-year Program). In recognition of her contributions to religious and academic life, she has been honored with the Wolfson Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Service, as well as Revson, Finkelstein, and Woodrow Wilson Fellowships.
Debra's rabbinate represents both the inherited tradition and its flexibility in every age. A seventh generation rabbi, she is also an alumna of the first entering class at The Jewish Theological Seminary to include women.
Debra has been blessed to become a wife and mother. She is pictured below left (in 2007) and right (in 2015) with husband Craig Weisz, son Emmett, and daughter Hannah Mathilda.
For an essay on the spiritual meaning of the stuffed toy in Emmett's hand, click here.
For essays on the sense of humor and the
serious spiritual commitment behind
Hannah Mathilda's goofy smile,
click on the highlighted links.
Articles About Debra:
The New Jersey Jewish Standard newspaper did a cover story on Debra and the blend of innovative and traditional work she has brought to Congregation B'nai Israel in Emerson, NJ.
About Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is widely recognized as one of the most innovative and influential spiritual teachers of the 20th and 21st centuries.
He died in 2014. His teaching CDs are featured here because he was a mentor and colleague to Rabbi Debra. They led High Holiday services together for 14 years, and the CDs are edited from live recordings of those services.
Learn more about Reb Zalman’s life and legacy at the Reb Zalman Legacy Project.
A note about RabbiDebra.com and ShareWonder Media
those of you ordering CD's - and I hope it's all of you - you are about to hear something truly wonderful.
I’m excited for you. I first heard Debra speak some 20 years ago at an
all-night study session for Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates God giving
the Torah at Mt. Sinai. I came planning to stay for a couple of hours to “check
out” all the talk I had been hearing about Rabbi Debra. No doubt, she was
charming. I had met her socially on a few occasions. But what else did she have
I was not prepared for the impact her teaching had on me – intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I ended up staying and studying all night. Our numbers dwindled from well over 100 to just over 10 by the time of 6 am morning prayers. Outside in the sun, I stood in a circle of strangers I had not known the night before. Now I related deeply to them, to God, and to myself. Rabbi Debra had led me to this place. She was the “real deal.” She had gotten through my critical shell and helped me to make my own discoveries, to get excited about my Judaism, to connect with community, and to feel my own soul – not just hers – at work in the world.
After that, I attended her services and classes. I contributed my time and expertise to her ministry and to recording her words, always with the idea of bringing her teachings to a wider audience.
ShareWonder Media grew out of this experience and my desire to share Debra's teachings with you. I invite you to listen to these CD's and the wonderful teachings of the eminent Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. These audio releases have been edited from live recordings and were delivered at High Holiday services to several hundred people. As Rabbi Debra introduces prayers, explains holy texts, offers her own commentaries, and answers questions offered spontaneously from congregants, I think you will discover both her great transformative power and, more deeply, your own . . . Oh, and by the way, she is now my wife.
- Craig Weisz
President, ShareWonder Media & RabbiDebra.com