Pittsburgher Kohenet Keshira haLev Fife has joined the Institute of Jewish Spirituality as its first Faculty Fellow.
The fellowship, which runs from 2022-‘24, is designed to identify and nurture exceptional spiritual leaders who can contribute new skills and perspectives to IJS’ teaching and programs, while developing greater expertise in Jewish mindfulness, pedagogy and core practices, according to IJS leaders.
“I feel grateful and honored to be able to learn from and contribute to an organization that’s centering spirituality and Jewish practice,” Fife said.
IJS was founded in 1999 and has “pioneered the development and teaching of Jewish spiritual practices that are grounded in mindfulness, draw upon the deepest wells of Jewish wisdom and enable people to live and lead with clarity, resilience and a sense of sacred purpose,” according to its website.
Its offerings include podcasts, virtual educational opportunities and text studies.
Fife said she first learned of the IJS when she joined a workshop it held in 2019. She began to participate in and help lead its daily meditation program, engaging with more than 300 regular attendees. Last year, she co-led an anti-racism program with Yavilah McCoy and co-led the Jews of Color Coalition, which had more than 900 registrants.
When IJS was adding full-time faculty, it reached out to Fife. While she didn’t want to work full time with any single institution, she said she would consider other programs in the future. Shortly after that exchange, Michal Fox Smart, IJS’s chief program officer, asked if Fife would consider a faculty fellowship.
The program was brand-new so Smart and Fife worked together to decide what the fellowship would entail.
Fife said the fellowship will allow for a circular flow of ideas.
“Every time I enter into the IJS space, I learn something that I bring to bear on my leadership,” she said. “The experiences that I have with various communities and organizations that I work with will get looped back to the work that we’re doing at IJS. Hopefully, it will strengthen my practice and leadership.”
Fife is the founding kohenet (Hebrew priestess) of Kesher Pittsburgh, an independent post-denominational community. She also serves as co-director of the ALEPH Kesher Fellowship, it the program director of Beloved and is the executive director of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute.
As an IJS Fellow, Fife will be involved in a variety of programs, including a weeklong daily sit intensive. She will join IJS Program Director Rabbi Marc Margolius and other consultants in redesigning and teaching “Awareness in Action: Cultivating Character through Mindfulness and Middot.”
She also will continue to co-lead IJS’s affinity group for Jews of color, in partnership with Yoshi Silverstein, and she will work to make all of IJS’ offerings more accessible and inclusive to Jews with historically marginalized identities, she said.
Fife is passionate about the last point, she said, and is happy that IJS has shown a commitment to diversity, equity and justice.
IJS is “honored” to have Fife join the organization,” Smart said. “She’s an incredible leader and educator.”
When attempting to find someone to serve as the inaugural Faculty Fellow, Smart said, IJS aimed to identify a leader with exceptional potential and talent who could bring things to the institute’s faculty that they don’t have in-house, and someone who could benefit and grow from the opportunity and master IJS’s core practices of teaching Torah, prayer, mindfulness meditation, tikkun middut (character building) and embodied practices such as yoga and “sacred listening.”
The IJS leadership, Smart noted, is looking forward to the new experiences and perspectives Fife can bring to the organization.
“The fact that she was trained by the Kohenet and has an earth-based spirituality, her love and facility with music, her experience as a Jew of color, will all help us make IJS programs more whole, more inclusive and more spirited,” she said.
Fife said she believes “in a Judaism that’s integrated — that our spirituality, our mindfulness practice, our text learning, the ways we care about our bodies, the ways we engage with social justice, all of it together is what makes us whole and are different expressions of our Judaism. I really feel grateful and honored to be able to learn from and contribute to an organization that centers spirituality and Jewish spiritual practices.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.