Rabbi Rachel B. Cowan was awarded the President’s Medallion at the Academic Convocation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem on November 14, 2008.
Ordained at HUC-JIR in New York in 1989, Rabbi Cowan was recognized for her groundbreaking contributions to Jewish spirituality and as a guide to the Mezorim Program at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, which is creating the language and vocation for a new profession of pastoral care-giving to serve Israelis at times of illness, crisis, and joy. The inaugural cohort of eleven Mezorim received their certificates at this Convocation; they serve in health care facilities, including hospitals, hospices, and rehabilitation centers, as well as in community educational settings, where they are introducing the role of chaplain to Israeli society.
“As an ardent advocate for spiritual practice in contemporary Jewish life, Rabbi Rachel Cowan is having a significant impact on the creativity and enrichment of worship, liturgy, and ritual throughout the Jewish community, its institutions and congregations,” said Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR President.
Rabbi Cowan is Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS), which seeks to develop, nurture, and disseminate through mainstream Jewish institutions the vitally needed stream of contemplative Judaism that serves to enrich the inner lives of Jews, revitalize the Jewish wisdom tradition, open Jewish institutions to new forms of liturgical and ritual expression, and ultimately to link the search for inner wholeness with social and environmental activism. The IJS creates extensive learning experiences for Jewish professionals and lay people and supports Jewish professionals in creating environments in their own communities that will provide such learning opportunities for others. It guides Jewish institutions to develop their capacity to meet more effectively the needs of their constituents for a contemplative Jewish practice, and nourishes a network of faculty and students to support these goals.
Previously, Rabbi Cowan served as the Director of the Jewish Life and Values Program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York. Born in 1941, Rachel Cowan grew up in a Unitarian family in Boston. Her New England Roots trace back to the Mayflower . She received her B.A. in Sociology from Bryn Mawr, and her M.S.S. from the University of Chicago. After 16 years of marriage to the late writer, Paul Cowan, she converted to Judaism. They are the co-authors of the books, Mixed Blessings: Untangling The Knots In an Interfaith Marriage and A Torah is Written. Rabbi Cowan has spent many years leading workshops for interfaith couples and speaking out on the need for Jewish communities to be more open to non-Jewish spouses and to encourage their commitment to Judaism.