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Meet Rabbi Debra

 “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, 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 six 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: Jewish Women on Holy Days and Communal Celebrations.  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 CDs 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 streaming or downloads.

     With an ongoing commitment to learning, as well as teaching, Rabbi Debra has completed trainings in mediation, synagogue management, and Positive Psychology, as well as 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), The Meisner-Carville School (Two-year Program), The Institute for Jewish Spirituality (Two-Year Rabbinic Program), and the Wholebeing Institute Certificate in Positive Psychology Training (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.  In January, 2020, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by The Jewish Theological Seminary for her years of service to the Jewish community.

      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 to the right (above) in 2007 and below in 2019 with husband Craig Weisz, son Emmett, and daughter Hannah Mathilda.

Visit Thanks & Acknowledgements Page to learn more about Rabbi Debra's partners and passions


For an essay on the spiritual meaning of the stuffed toy in Emmett's hand, click here.

Our Library, Ourselves

Our Library, Ourselves - "A library reflects not just one’s interests, but also one’s ongoing development. I notice that, recently, I have collected books on gratitude and happiness; I hope that bodes well." So wrote Rabbi Debra in 2011, as she reflected on books and life stories, including her own.


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.

The New Jersey Jewish News published an article welcoming Debra to New Jersey, and Debra then responded in a Letter to the Editor.

Additional articles in:

The Forward

NJ Magazine

Daily Princetonian

Jewish Standard

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