Rabbi Leila Gal Berner was born in San Francisco in 1950. Raised in a Labor Zionist household, Berner understood the need to support the people and the State of Israel and immigrated to Israel in 1967, on the eve of the Six Day War. Berner lived on a kibbutz for two years and received her undergraduate education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with B.A. degrees in History and English Literature. Berner also trained as an Israel Government Licensed Tourist Guide, during which she gained a deep knowledge and visceral love for the Land of Israel, its natural beauty, its archaeology and the ancient roots of all the peoples who dwell there. Today, she is actively involved in the quest for peace and justice in the Middle East and is a supporter of Rabbis for Human Rights and like-minded groups.
After a decade in Israel, Berner returned to the United States to pursue graduate studies. In 1986, she received a Ph.D. in History from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) with a specialization in the Jews of Medieval Spain. Berner has taught at Reed, Swarthmore and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Colleges and at Emory, American and George Washington Universities. In 1989, Berner was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) and has served congregations in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Washington D.C. and Virginia. Rabbi Berner was also the Founding Director of the Center for Jewish Ethics at RRC.
Rabbi Berner has served two LGBT congregations: Bet Haverim in Atlanta, Georgia and Congregation Bet Mishpachah in Washington, D.C. and she was one of the first lesbian rabbis to “come out” (in 1992) in a ‘mainstream’ congregation, Beth Israel in Media, Pennsylvania. Rabbi Berner has been teaching for several years as a Scholar-in-Residence in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at American University in Washington, DC and also serves as spiritual leader of Kol Ami: The Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community in Arlington, Virginia. Rabbi Berner is the founding director of Lev Tahor: A Center for Jewish Soulwork, an organization that assists Jews in reclaiming their spiritual connection to Judaism. In January, 2012. Rabbi Berner was appointed Dean of Students for the ALEPH Alliance for Jewish Renewal Ordination Program, a seminary without walls that ordains rabbis, rabbinic pastors and cantors.
In 2007, Letty Cottin Pogrebin (one of the pioneer editors of Ms. Magazine) named Rabbi Berner among America’s “Top 50 Rabbis” in a list she compiled as a response to Newsweek’s hierarchical (and predominantly male) list of the same name.
In addition to her scholarly works on the Jews of medieval Catalonia, Rabbi Berner has contributed to the literature of LGBT Jews with several articles:
- "Charting the New Maps: Reflections on Jewish Lesbian and Gay Life Cycle Celebrations," Reconstructionist, vol. 64, no. 2, Spring, 2000, pp 23-28.
- "Ten Years on the Journey toward Wholeness,” in Lesbian Rabbis: the First Generation, ed., Rebecca T. Alpert, Sue Levi Elwell, Shirley Idelson.
- “From Moral Judgment to Empathic Support: The Religious Jewish Community’s Response to AIDS,” in Religion in the Age of AIDS, Public Media Center.
- “Uncharted Territory: Lesbian Commitment Ceremonies,” in Lifecycles: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones, ed., D. Orenstein.
- “Journey Toward Wholeness: Reflections of a Lesbian Rabbi,” (under pseudonym, “La Escondida,” in Twiced Blessed: On Being Lesbian, Gay and Jewish, eds. , Christie Balka and Andy Rose.
Rabbi Berner has written numerous articles on Jewish feminism as well as new feminist rituals and liturgy. Her liturgies, music and poetry appear in new Jewish prayer books throughout North America. Berner’s commentaries on prayer also appear in the series of prayer books published by the Reconstructionist denomination of Judaism, entitled Kol Haneshamah.
In recent years, Rabbi Berner has developed a Jewish contemplative practice of reading and meditating on the Hebrew Bible called kriat ha-kodesh, based on the Christian practice, lectio divina, and she is currently at work on a book to be published under the title, Reading the Sacred: A Contemplative Entry into the Book of Genesis.
Rabbi Berner lives in Rockville, Maryland with her life-partner, Franna Ruddell and their daughter, Kayla Moriya Gal.
(This statement provided by Rabbi Leila Gal Berner.)
Biography Date: November, 2007
Jewish (Reconstructionist) | Author/editor | Clergy Activist | Feminism | Ordination/clergy