Rabbi returns home to become health care chaplain - Rabbi Rachel Davidson ('21) | Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi returns home to become health care chaplain - Rabbi Rachel Davidson ('21)


Originally posted in the Cleveland Jewish News on July 8, 2021

By Jane Kaufman; Photo: Rachel Forth

Headshot of Rabbi Rachel Davidson

For Cleveland native Rabbi Rachel Davidson, the road to chaplaincy is leading right back to Cleveland as a chaplain resident at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center near University Circle.

“When I had the calling to the rabbinate, I felt specifically really pulled to becoming a health care chaplain,” Davidson told the Cleveland Jewish News June 21.

“To become a chaplain, you need training after seminary, so I’m starting that next level of training.”

In that clinical pastoral education, one third of her time will be spent in education hours and two-thirds will be in patient care. After she’s done that, there will be a certification process that will require additional writing and additional hours of patient care.

“They call it an action, reflection, action model, where you … go see patients, try things out, go back to your supervision group, figure out what can be improved upon and go back and try it some more,” said Davidson, 27.

At the VA, Davidson said she hopes to learn as much as she can.

“My ultimate goals are to move into palliative care and hospice chaplaincy,” Davidson said. “I really like being with people in that moment of transition and accompanying people as they face the transition between life and death.”

During her rabbinic training, she completed one of four required units of clinical pastoral education while working at two continuing care retirement communities: Lions Gate in Voorhees, N.J., and Monroe Village in Monroe, N.J.

Davidson said she is pulled to Cleveland by both family ties and friendships – and that her career choice is reflective of many influences of her childhood.

She is the daughter of Adina and Mark Davidson and the granddaughter of the late Sam and Anna Kelman. Anna Kelman is a Holocaust survivor and lives in Cleveland Heights. Davidson’s immediate family is rooted in Judaism, with her father being a Jewish educator and her mother a Jungian therapist.

She spent summers at the overnight Reconstructionist camp in South Sterling, Pa.

Raised at two of Greater Cleveland’s smaller liberal synagogues, Beth El-the Heights Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Kol HaLev, now in Pepper Pike, Davidson said both experiences resonated for her in different ways.

“I have very lovely memories of both,” she told the CJN. “My preferred davening style is more in line with Beth El. My friends all went to Kol HaLev. … So, I think my primary community was at Kol HaLev.”

At Camp Havaya, she enjoyed learning about Reconstructionist Judaism’s history, its 20th century founder Mordecai Kaplan, and the perspectives he espoused. Counselors dressed up as historical characters and imbued campers with one of Reconstructionism’s central tenets: that Judaism encompasses a religion, a civilization and a people.

It was as a teenager at Camp Havaya where she came out as bisexual.

And it was there at 18, having finished her freshman year of college at Oberlin College, Davidson realized she wanted to pursue the rabbinate.

She was caring for 9-year-olds, she said, and suddenly realized, “caring for others was not just important and good, but also sacred and holy and a way of channeling the divine.”

She said the image of G-d carrying humans on eagle’s wings came alive for her in that moment.

Having accompanied her father on Jewish nature retreats, she said, she often finds herself channeling him when leading her own programs.

At Oberlin, she took part in Shabbat services at Hillel and became a resident assistant at the college’s Hebrew Heritage House, an experience she called meaningful. The role allowed her to develop and implement Jewish programming while in college.

She was also active with the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, which allowed her to test her leadership skills. She was also president of the Queers and Allies of Faith, which brought together Oberlin’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

She studied at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem one summer while in college as well.

“Prayer is a really important part of my spirituality,” she said.

At age 15, she met Raisa Cabrera at Shaker Heights High School. The two began dating at that time and became engaged in spring 2016. They decided to marry shortly after President Donald Trump was elected out of fear their right to marry might be compromised under his administration, she said.

They held a small civil ceremony in December 2016 with a religious ceremony officiated by Kol HaLev’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Steve Segar, at Shaker Lakes Nature Center in Shaker Heights in June 2017. A party followed later at Edgewater Park on Cleveland’s west side.

In 2018, Davidson was president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Student Association, and she was ordained in May 2021 from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa.

She spent her final year as rabbinic adviser to the Hillel at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and previously served as a rabbinic intern at West Chester University of Pennsylvania in West Chester, Pa.

She lives in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia, and she and Cabrera plan to relocate to Shaker Heights later this summer.

She said she intends to rejoin her childhood synagogues when she arrives.

“Just like my parents were members of multiple synagogues, I think that’s my future,” she said.

More News

Reconstructionists Featured at Society for Jewish Ethics Conference

The Reconstructionist movement is being well represented at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Society for Jewish Ethics, taking place Jan. 6-9 over Zoom. In fact, in terms of the number of presenters —at least three — the movement will have a greater presence at this year’s virtual gathering than at any time since the first conference was held in 2003. 

College News

Dynamic Hebrew Bible Scholar to Lead Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Amanda Beckenstein Mbuvi, Ph.D., has been named the next vice president for academic affairs at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) outside Philadelphia. Mbuvi (she/her), a scholar of Hebrew Bible, brings to this role a wealth of academic, administrative and nonprofit leadership experience.

College News

RRC Student Armin Langer Selected for J Street Seminary Fellowship 

Armin Langer, a rabbinical student in his final year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, has been selected to participate in J Street’s Seminary Student Fellowship for the 2021-22 academic year.  

College News

Sharon Kleinbaum, RRC '90, rabbi of New York City LGBTQ synagogue, picked to rejoin US religious freedom commission

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who has led New York City’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah since 1992, is one of President Joe Biden’s choices to join the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

College News

Rabbi Emily Cohen ('18) Rabbi Connecting Jews on the Margins

I’m grateful to be a tech native since that has vastly improved my ability to do my work via Zoom and phone this year, but in some ways it feels like this first year will have been the warm up to my proper entry into the West End community. 

College News

The Naval petty officer who found her rabbinic legs at sea — Rabbinical Student Kanaan Goldstein

Goldstein chose to affiliate with the Reconstructionist Judaism movement and enroll in its seminary, because she felt it was “the only school for me because it is aligned with my values as a human being. Its policy on interfaith relations, Jewish blood lines, attitudes towards inclusivity and diversity – it made me feel that this is the school where I belong.”

College News

Kol hakavod Rabbi Miriam Geronimus ('21)

Geronimus chose to pursue rabbinic studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College because of its combined focus on Jewish history, culture, and spirituality. As a longtime spiritual seeker with an academic orientation, she found the rabbinic program that would work for her. She particularly appreciated the RRC’s emphasis on practical rabbinics.

College News

Incoming rabbi looks forward to meeting congregants in person - Rabbi Mikey Hess Webber ('21)

Rabbi Mikey Hess Webber has served as Columbia Jewish Congregation’s rabbinic intern for nearly a year and is now about to become the congregation’s new rabbi and spiritual leader, but she has yet to meet her new congregation face to face.

College News

Rabbi Michael Perice ('20) Shares Experience of Opiate Addiction to Help Others

Rabbi Michael Perice, a 2020 RRC graduate, recently told his congregation the story of his four-year struggle with opioid addiction and his celebration of 10 years of sobriety. His motive: to break down the stigma of addiction and inspire others to get help. 

College News

On Juneteenth, Joy and Grief Mingle for Black Jews - Rabbinical Student Koach Frazier

When Koach Baruch Frazier prepares their seder plate, they nestle beets next to okra, blackeyed peas, eggs boiled in hibiscus tea, hot red peppers, baked sweet potato and cornbread, all arranged in a plate set next to a kiddush cup fizzing with red soda, in observance of Juneteenth.

College News

New Sacred Music Inspired By COVID - Rabbinical Student, Solomon Hoffman

Solomon Hoffman’s foray into COVID sacred music came out of his experience as a hospital chaplain in New York City during the height of the virus’s outbreak.

College News

The Forward Spotlights Rabbi Darby Leigh ('08)

“This has been 1000% my experience,” he continued. “I have continuously been aware on a daily basis of living in a society that is not set up to meet my needs. But this is true for so many people – gay, trans-, bi-. If you’re a person of color here you are not living in a world set up for you. If you are a person with a disability you know this society was not set up for you”

College News

Film chronicles the work of Rabbi Kevin Hale ('97)

The film follows the work that Hale, the Northampton rabbi, does to restore two Torahs that were among nearly 1,600 scrolls saved in Prague, capital of what was then Czechoslovakia, after World War II. Workers in a Jewish museum in the city had stored Torahs and other valuables from synagogues that had been shut down following the German occupation.

College News

Reconstructionist congregations partner across the miles - Rabbi Nitkin-Kaner ('16) and Rabbi Weissman ('17)

Little did these two rabbinical students imagine that within a decade they would bring together their Reconstructionist congregations — one located in Ann Arbor and one in Attleboro, Massachusetts — for joint worship services and holiday celebrations on a platform called Zoom.