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Deborah Eisenbach-Budner

Deborah Eisenbach-Budner became Havurah Shalom’s first Education Director in 2001. Since then, she has worked with hundreds of Havurahniks of all ages, enabling them to connect more deeply with Judaism. She has created and nurtured a wide variety of educational programs, generated innovative holiday and Shabbat experiences, and contributed to the vibrant growth of the community.

Deborah is passionate about making Judaism and Jewish life accessible and enriching. She has experienced and witnessed the transformative power of Jewish narratives, practices, values, and community. But, more importantly, she employs Judaism as a tool to cultivate our humanity and to provoke us to become the most whole people we can be.

For over 30 years, Deborah has united this love of Judaism with a critical mind in her many roles as teacher, organizer/manager of education programs, synagogue and community developer, and facilitator of life-cycle and other rituals.

She studied and trained for eight years in the fields of Jewish education, identity construction, community organization, and Jewish Studies, earning an M.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies (Brandeis University), an MA in Jewish Education (Brandeis), and a B.A. in Comparative Religion with a focus on Gender Studies (Oberlin College). She also studied classical Jewish texts, history, and culture in Israel (Pardes Institute, International Youth Leaders Institute) and general religious studies at Portland State University.

Deborah was awarded a Wexner Graduate Fellowship in 1991 and continues to receive Jewish leadership training through their internationally distinguished program. She recently completed an 18-month Jewish Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher Training course with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality  and the Awakened Heart Project.

Deborah also learned about religion, spirituality, international power, poverty, and cross-cultural communication through traveling independently through China, Nepal, Tibet and India for most of a year, working and studying in Israel for two and half years, and living with her family in Kazakhstan for three months. She counts these experiences as some of her most significant training.

She has been an Education Director and synagogue leader since 1994, directing large Reform synagogue education programs for Temple Israel of Boston and Temple Shir Tikva of Wayland, Massachusetts (1994-2000).  She has taught  adults, youth, and children of all ages, created intensive family education programs, worked in Jewish day schools and  informal educational settings such as Jewish camps and the Young Judea youth movement.

Deborah is particularly committed to empowering adult beginning learners. She teaches concrete Hebrew decoding skills and textual interpretation skills so that adults can grapple with enduring human questions and wrest meaning for themselves from prayer, Torah and Jewish literature. She has shepherded six large cohorts through multi-year Adult B’nei Mitzvah learning processes, taught Introduction to Judaism classes to hundreds of interfaith couples (Boston Area, Reform Movement), and taught Jewish Ethics and History in the Portland Melton Adult Mini School for ten years. A major area of focus throughout her learning and teaching has been gender, power and sexuality in Hebrew Bible and Jewish literature.  She has delivered dozens of workshops and courses on those topics in Boston area educational venues, Portland State University, and Havurah Shalom.

Deborah loves working with families and individuals to create ceremonies that use Jewish language and ritual to celebrate/observe important life-passages. Whether it be to welcome a new life,  mark an important transition, or celebrate the union of two people, she endeavors to use the process of ritual creation and the ceremony itself as opportunities for spiritual expression. She sees every life-cycle ritual as a two way process. Judaism can inscribe values on the person or community who are marking an important moment while at the same time each individual life moment, celebrated within a Jewish context, challenges Judaism to expand to accommodate new ideas and human experiences.

Jewish feminism has informed Deborah’s sense of ritual, calling on her to change or reinterpret traditional rituals as well as innovate new rituals for life moments that have been overlooked or not considered to be worthy of spiritual attention.  She considers ritual innovation to be a powerful vehicle for spiritual activism, particularly when it demands Judaism to be more inclusive and/or enfranchises marginalized Jews.

In the late 1980s, she was part of the Oberlin Womens’ Haggadah collective that innovated Makom, making a symbolic place for gays and lesbians on the seder plate and within Judaism (Link to article). This gave rise to the famous folk ritual of placing an orange on the seder plate (Link to article).

When she was working on her own wedding she helped create a new ritual to call out the heterosexism of traditional wedding liturgy and hold out a vision of a world and a Judaism that affirms all lovers (Link to article).  Recently she published “Ambivalence – When the Abortion on the Table is Your Own,” about rituals for abortion, in Lilith Magazine (Link to article).

Combining art and ritual has always been an interest and she was the innovator of MALACHIM Jewish Angel Cards (Link to Article), also known as Messages of Blessing, in the late 1980s, when she first made them by hand. She has since printed them, and they are used in many homes and communities throughout the U.S., Europe, and Israel (Link to article).  Her work has been included in The New Jewish Wedding Book by Anita Diamant and Inventing Jewish Ritual by Vanessa Ochs.

Over the years Deborah has taught many classes about making Judaism work well within family life and using Jewish values for positive parenting. She is currently interested in the spirituality of parenting and other everyday occupations: how do we braid together the daily and sometimes tedious work of life with our own spiritual practice and understandings? She is working on a curriculum for Jewish mindful parenting.

It is true that Deborah, who grew up in Portland, could not wait to get out of Portland, circa early 1980s, and experience the bigger world, more diversity, and more Jews. And now she counts working with the Havurah Shalom community and living in Portland to be among her greatest blessings.

Tue, February 20 2024 11 Adar I 5784