Course Instructor

Mike Comins

Rabbi Mike Comins grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of California in Los Angeles, (UCLA) with a B.A. in Near Eastern Studies. After making aliyah (moving to Israel), he guided Jerusalem for American youth and served as chairperson of Netzer Olami (the International Reform-Zionist Movement). Mike studied classical Jewish texts for 3.5 years full time at Machon Pardes, a yeshiva in Jerusalem, and in 1996, he was ordained by the Hebrew Union College - Israeli Rabbinical Program. Exploring his lifelong interest in philosophy and theology, Rabbi Comins' rabbinic thesis, "Borowitz and Beyond: Towards a Hermeneutic Account of I-Thou Encounter," received a score of 97 from referee Professor Paul Mendes-Flohr. He holds an MA in Jewish Education from Hebrew University, and worked for five years as education director of Kehilat Kol HaNeshama, a Jerusalem congregation he helped to establish. Upon ordination, Mike earned his license as an Israeli desert guide. He founded "Ruach HaMidbar Desert Trips and Retreats," leading many trekkers, often rabbis, rabbinical students and students for the ministry, on spiritual journeys through Israel's deserts and the Sinai mountains.

Returning to the U.S. in 1998, Rabbi Comins spent his first years back in North America on an extended spiritual sabbatical. He participated in several two-year institutes for rabbis: the Mindfulness Leadership Training program at Elat Chayyim and the first rabbinic cohort of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.  He participated in four- and six-week silent meditation retreats at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center and, to date, has completed five solo wilderness retreats (four days of meditation, prayer and fasting in a small circle, generally known as a Vision Quest) under the guidance of different teachers.

He founded TorahTrek Spiritual Wilderness Adventures in 2001 while serving the Jackson Hole Chaverim in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the community's first resident rabbi.

Currently, Rabbi Comins lives in Plano, Texas with his wife, Jody Porter. He continues to grow TorahTrek, now the non-profit TorahTrek Center for Jewish Wilderness Spirituality (www.TorahTrek.org), and contributes to numerous books and periodicals. A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways in Judaism appeared in 2007 and Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer is Difficult and What to Do about It (both Jewish Lights Publishing) was published in 2010.

Rabbi Sam Feinsmith

Rabbi Sam Feinsmith has been immersed in the world of Jewish contemplative living, learning, and teaching for over fifteen years. Serving as a consultant on a number of cutting-edge projects related to prayer, spirituality, and education, he has conducted Jewish meditation workshops and retreats for young children, teens, and Jewish educators and community leaders. After fourteen years of teaching Jewish mindfulness to teens and educators in NY and Illinois, Rabbi Feinsmith currently directs the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s national Educating for a Jewish Spiritual Life pilot for Jewish day schools and summer camps.

Shefa Gold

Rabbi Shefa Gold is a leader in Aleph: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal and received her ordination both from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. She is the director of C-DEEP, The Center for Devotional, Energy and Ecstatic Practice. Shefa composes and performs spiritual music, has produced ten albums, and her liturgies have been published in several new prayerbooks. She teaches workshops and retreats on the theory and art of Chanting, and trains Chant Leaders in Kol Zimra, a two year program for rabbis, cantors and lay leaders. Shefa is the author of "The Magic of Chant" (published by Jewish Lights), "Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land" and "In the Fever of Love: An Illumination of the Song of Songs."

Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell

Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell is a Program Director and teacher of Jewish mindfulness for the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Jordan was ordained in 2008, after which he served as a congregational rabbi and began interning with the Institute. Prior to pursuing his rabbinical studies, Jordan studied Conservation Biology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, spent several months at Zen centers in California and France, led spiritually engaged Jewish backpacking trips, worked at a number of Jewish summer camps and studied Jewish text at yeshivot in Jerusalem. Jordan is a founder of the Center for Jewish Mindfulness in Chicago, now a part of Orot: Center for New Jewish Learning.

He is a 2014 recipient of the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize for emerging Jewish educators.

Jordan is a proud father of three and partner to Yael Bendat-Appell; they live outside of Chicago.


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Aviva Chernick

Those who have experienced Aviva Chernick’s intoxicatingly soulful vocals never forget where they heard them first. Whether in her new, CFMA nominated, self-titled project of original devotional songs When I Arrived You Were Already There, as the lead singer with the two-time Juno Award-nominated world music ensemble Jaffa Road, or singing the Balkan Judeo-Spanish repertoire, Aviva’s passionate voice blurs the lines between sacred and secular, asking, isn’t it all holy?

Writing, recording and touring an original combination of world music sung in Hebrew, Ladino, English and French, this multi-lingual singer collaborates with some of Canada’s best world music makers as well as international virtuosos such as Yair Dalal and Frank London. With each performance, whether for 40 people at a house concert or for 1000 at a music festival, audiences are moved and delighted by Aviva’s authentic presence and ease on stage.

Aviva is also a cantorial soloist, leading prayer at congregations in and around Toronto as well as traveling to congregations around North America as a guest leader, teacher and facilitator of her engaging group vocal and spiritual workshops.

Cantor Julie Newman

David Jaffe

Rabbi David Jaffe is the Founder and Principal of The Kirva Institute, dedicated to bringing people into closer, healthier relationships with others, themselves and God for the sake of the repair of the world. He is the author of Changing the World from the Inside Out, Winner of the 2016 National Jewish Book Award for Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice

Hazzan Eliot Vogel

Hazzan Eliot I. Vogel graduated from the second Cantor’s Cohort of IJS over ten years ago and has since been actively involved in Hevraya, their alumni organization. During this time he has actively incorporated contemplative Jewish study and practices into his own personal spiritual life. Previously introducing small numbers of the Har Zion Temple community to the methodologies of modern embodied Jewish spiritual practice (yoga, meditation and Hassidic text study), Hazzan Vogel is pleased to see a growing interest in this field.

Jonathan Slater

Rabbi Jonathan Slater co-directs the Clergy Leadership Program at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and is a graduate of the Institute’s first rabbinic cohort. He is the author of A Partner in Holiness: Deepening Mindfulness, Practicing Compassion and Enriching Our Lives through the Wisdom of R. Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev’s Kedushat Levi  (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2014) and Mindful Jewish Living: Compassionate Practice (Aviv Press, 2004). Jonathan received his ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1979, and served as rabbi at Beth Am in Santa Rosa, California, for 19 years. He is on the faculty of Makom: Center for Mindfulness at the JCC in Manhattan, teaching and leading mindfulness meditation.

Kohenet D'vorah J. Grenn, Ph.D.

D'vorah J. Grenn, Ph. D., former Chair of the Women's Spirituality MA program at Sofia University in Palo Alto (originally the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology), Palo Alto, California, founded The Lilith Institute in 1997, producing San Francisco Bay Area women's spirituality/study circles, public and private rituals and a variety of lecture series. She is the founding kohenet/priestess of Mishkan Shekhinah, a movable sanctuary honoring the Sacred Feminine in all spiritual traditions. Dr. Grenn has served as a domestic violence advocate for Shalom Bayit and now for other groups, and was on the Founding Advisory Board of the Kohenet Priestess Training Institute.

Dr. Grenn’s dissertation, “For She Is A Tree of Life: Shared Roots Connecting Women to Deity” was an inquiry into Jewish women’s religious/cultural identities, beliefs and ritual practices among the South African Lemba and United States women. In 2009 she published Talking To Goddess, an anthology of sacred writings of 72 women from 25 spiritual traditions, including blessings, prayer-poems, oriki, meditations, and invocations. Her essay, "The Kohanot: Keepers of the Flame" appears in Stepping into Ourselves: An Anthology of Writing on Priestesses (2014). Other writings include her book (2000), and articles in , Vols. 1 and 2; Feminist Theology, Women in Judaism, and Metaformia: A Journal of Menstruation and Culture.

Her research includes ongoing explorations of the role of the ancient and contemporary priestess; women's contemporary ritual practices; midrash as a liberating literary genre, and ancestor reverence.

devorahgrenn@me.com

Rabbi Benjamin Ross

Rabbi Ross was raised in Newton, MA, refined in Brooklyn, NY, and received a B.A. in Comparative Religion from the University of Rochester.  From 1996 to 2011 he worked as a community organizer in Harlem and Brooklyn and directed national leadership initiatives in the Jewish community for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.  While at HUC-JIR he interned at East End Temple in NYC, Kol Ami in White Plains, and Beth Ha-Sholom in Williamsport, PA, and was mentored by rabbis and congregants alike.  In addition, Rabbi Ross founded www.ProjectZug.org, connecting hundreds of Israeli, Americans, and Jews around the globe in one-to-one online learning, and conceived and directed HUC-JIR’s Smashing Idols Fellowship, to engage college students to strengthen progressive Jewish life on campus.  Rabbi Ross is married to Liz Bennett and they have two boys, Reuven and Zeke.

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought, mysticism, spiritual practices, and meditation at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and Yeshivat Hadar and the Drisha Institute in New York City, and leads Jewish meditation retreats in Israel and North America. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago in Jewish mysticism and has taught in a wide variety of settings in America and Israel on Judaism, Jewish mysticism, and Jewish spiritual practices. R’ James is known for his grounded, insightful, and personal teachings, his ability to make texts and concepts relevant to how we live our daily lives, and a transformative approach to Jewish practice that is relevant to people from all backgrounds. He strives to integrate his study and practice and to help teach and live Judaism as a spiritual discipline.

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought, mysticism, spiritual practices, and meditation at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and Yeshivat Hadar and the Drisha Institute in New York City, and leads Jewish meditation retreats in Israel and North America. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago in Jewish mysticism and has taught in a wide variety of settings in America and Israel on Judaism, Jewish mysticism, and Jewish spiritual practices. R’ James is known for his grounded, insightful, and personal teachings, his ability to make texts and concepts relevant to how we live our daily lives, and a transformative approach to Jewish practice that is relevant to people from all backgrounds. He strives to integrate his study and practice and to help teach and live Judaism as a spiritual discipline.

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought, mysticism, spiritual practices, and meditation at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and Yeshivat Hadar and the Drisha Institute in New York City, and leads Jewish meditation retreats in Israel and North America. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago in Jewish mysticism and has taught in a wide variety of settings in America and Israel on Judaism, Jewish mysticism, and Jewish spiritual practices. R’ James is known for his grounded, insightful, and personal teachings, his ability to make texts and concepts relevant to how we live our daily lives, and a transformative approach to Jewish practice that is relevant to people from all backgrounds. He strives to integrate his study and practice and to help teach and live Judaism as a spiritual discipline.

Rabbi Lisa Bellows

Rabbi Myriam Klotz

Rabbi Myriam Klotz is the director of the Spirituality Initiative and Bekhol Levavkha Jewish Spiritual Director at HUC-JIR in New York, New York.  She has been teaching Yoga and Embodied Practices with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality for 14 years, and co-created and directed of the Yoga and Jewish Spirituality Teacher Training at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.  Myriam teaches Jewish embodied practice and spirituality at synagogues and yoga retreat centers nationally.  She lives in Philadelphia with her spouse Rabbi Margot Stein and their son Raffi.  

Rabbi Nancy Flam

Rabbi Nancy Flam was the first Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and a co-founder of the Jewish Healing Center in 1991. She then directed the Jewish Community Healing Program of Ruach Ami: Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco. She has served as a consultant for Synagogue 2000 and the National Center for Jewish Healing. Rabbi Flam earned her B.A. in Religion (Phi Beta Kappa, Summa cum Laude) from Dartmouth College in 1982; her M.A. in Hebrew Literature from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1986, and was ordained in 1989.

Rabbi Nancy Flam

Rabbi Nancy Flam was the first Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and a co-founder of the Jewish Healing Center in 1991. She then directed the Jewish Community Healing Program of Ruach Ami: Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco. She has served as a consultant for Synagogue 2000 and the National Center for Jewish Healing. Rabbi Flam earned her B.A. in Religion (Phi Beta Kappa, Summa cum Laude) from Dartmouth College in 1982; her M.A. in Hebrew Literature from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1986, and was ordained in 1989.

Rabbi Nancy Flam

Rabbi Nancy Flam was the first Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and a co-founder of the Jewish Healing Center in 1991. She then directed the Jewish Community Healing Program of Ruach Ami: Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco. She has served as a consultant for Synagogue 2000 and the National Center for Jewish Healing. Rabbi Flam earned her B.A. in Religion (Phi Beta Kappa, Summa cum Laude) from Dartmouth College in 1982; her M.A. in Hebrew Literature from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1986, and was ordained in 1989.

Rabbi Sheila Weinberg

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg has been a congregational rabbi, mindfulness teacher, spiritual director and writer of poetry, liturgy and prose; she has published, among many writings, Surprisingly Happy: An Atypical Religious Memoir. She has been a core faculty member of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality since its inception.