Five local women ordained as Hebrew priestesses

The title of “kohenet” has been conferred upon nine women — including five from the Bay Area — who were ordained as Hebrew priestesses in a ceremony this summer in Connecticut.

Nina Pick of Marin at the Hebrew priestess ordination ceremony photo/jon leiner

The locals are Ariel Vegosen of San Francisco, Rae Abileah of Oakland, Ashirah Marni Rothman of Berkeley, Elsa Asher of Sebastopol and Nina Pick of Inverness.

“Kohenet” is a feminine form of “kohen,” or priest, and the women comprise the program’s fourth graduating class since the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute began 10 years ago.

Their ordination signifies that “they have been trained as ritual leaders in an earth-based, embodied, feminist Jewish paradigm that honors the history of women’s spiritual practices and the sacred feminine,” a press release said. Graduates will conduct marriages, funerals, baby namings, house blessings and other ceremonies and lead communities in prayer.

The ordination process, generally accomplished over two years, includes intensive weeklong retreats, training programs and course work. The institute, which has ordained 40 women, is a program of Hazon’s Elat Chayyim Center at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut.

In addition to the five new kohanot in the area, Kohenet co-founder Taya Shere lives in Oakland; she organizes Kohenet West training sessions and retreats.

Asher said she is excited about the possibilities for the Bay Area community with the emergence of such a high concentration of kohanot here. Some of them will be getting together in Berkeley this month to lead High Holy Day services. Beyond that, Asher would like to see them “connecting with other allied groups like Wilderness Torah, as well as non-Jewish organizations that are feminist-based or come from earth-based spirituality.”

Asher said she is looking forward to officiating at lifecycle rituals. “I’m already a doula, so I already do childbirths, but I’m excited to be able to do more rituals around that, like baby namings,” she said. —  david a.m. wilensky