Rakia Sky Beimel and Rabbi Tamara Kolton explore their different experiences celebrating the feminine divine.
Featured photo courtesy of Rabbi Tamara Kolton
For Rakia Sky Beimel, working the land has religious significance. When she and her ex-husband started Kibbutz Detropia in northwest Detroit five years ago, they saw it as a spiritual expression of their Judaism.
Two years later, Beimel decided to delve deeper into Jewish spirituality by enrolling in the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute. In August, she and 21 other women in the institute’s seventh graduating class were ordained as kohenot or priestesses.
Rabbi Tamara Kolton takes a somewhat different approach. She is focusing on Eve as a representative of the feminine divine. She says the story of Eve, whom she regards as the first victim of the #MeToo movement, “is actually the story of the first body shaming of a woman” — and the perpetrator was God. That founding Judeo-Christian myth granted generations of men permission to violate women, she said.
“This man-made figurehead of the patriarchy is not my God,” she said. “It’s time for the one truly loving, compassionate God — the God who wants nothing more than to see Eve rise and resume her place as ‘the Mother of All Living Things,’ to make herself known and available to all of us.”
Kolton grew up at the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine’s Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills and became the first rabbi ordained in Humanistic Judaism. She no longer identifies as Humanist and isn’t affiliated with any denomination. She offers clerical services including weddings, baby namings and funerals, teaches about spirituality and also offers counseling as a psychologist.
Kolton’s first book, Oranges for Eve; My Brave, Beautiful, Badass Journey to the Feminine Divine, will launch at 1 p.m. Dec. 1 with a party open to all at the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham.
Beimel says the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute’s program aims to help women reclaim “the divine feminine” by focusing on “the ancient practices of our foremothers,” though there are no documented instances of women in Jewish history being called kohenot.
The institute was founded by Rabbi Jill Hammer of New York, who was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Taya Shere from the San Francisco area. The two co-authored The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership and Siddur HaKohanot: a Hebrew Priestess Prayerbook.
The institute’s three-year training program includes a seven-week intensive residency at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn., with the rest of the learning conducted online.
“Birth and death traditionally happened in the home, which was the province of women,” said Beimel, who is also a doula, assisting women in giving birth. “We’re returning to some of those original practices, without the influences of capitalism and patriarchy.”
Bemiel also hopes to join many of the other kohenot licensed to officiate at weddings — licensure requirements vary from state to state — and she’d like to establish an alternative Jewish burial society.
In mid-September, Beimel and Keshira haLev Fife, a visiting kohenet from Pittsburgh, conducted a ceremony at the Jewish Community Center to mark the full moon of the Hebrew month of Elul. Beimel also curated an exhibit, “The Divine Feminine,” at the JCC’s Janice Charach Gallery late this summer.
For her kohenet capstone project, she registered Kibbutz Detropia as a nonprofit organization and developed plans to make it more active as a retreat center. She’s also looking into building a mikvah (ritual bath) near her home that would be easily accessible to Jewish women living in the city.