Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, named in 2016 by the Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, was ordained as a rabbi in 2011 and as a mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual director) in 2012. Since 2011 Rachel has served as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel, a congregation in western Massachusetts. She is a Founding Builder at Bayit: Building Jewish, a pluralist spiritual innovation incubator. From 2015 to 2017 she served as co-chair, with Rabbi David Markus, of ALEPH. In spring 2017 she served as interim Jewish chaplain to Williams College.
She holds a BA in religion from Williams College and an MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. In addition to several poetry chapbooks she is author of six book-length collections of poetry: 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013), Toward Sinai: Omer poems (Velveteen Rabbi, 2016), Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016), Texts to the Holy (Ben Yehuda, 2018), and Crossing the Sea (Phoenicia, 2020.)
A Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, Rachel served as alumna facilitator for the Emerging Jewish and Muslim Religious Leaders retreat organized by RRC‘s Office of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives and co-presented in 2016 with the Islamic Society of North America. Since 2003 she has blogged as The Velveteen Rabbi, and in 2008, TIME named her blog one of the top 25 sites on the internet.
Rachel was a regular contributor to Zeek magazine, “a Jewish journal of thought & culture,” from 2005-2015. Her work has also appeared in the Reform Judaism Blog, The Wisdom Daily, Lilith, The Texas Observer, The Jewish Daily Forward, and anthologies including The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry (Bloomsbury), The Women’s Seder Sourcebook (Jewish Lights), and God? Jewish Choices for Struggling with the Ultimate (Torah Aura), among other places. Her downloadable Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach has been used around the world, and her slideshare machzor Holy at Home was used in communities around North America and Israel this year.
She has taught courses arising from the intersection of the literary life and the spiritual life at the Academy for Jewish Religion (NY), the Academy for Spiritual Formation (both two-year and five-day retreat programs), the National Havurah Institute’s winter retreat and Summer Institute (where she was digital Liturgist In Residence in 2020), the ALEPH Kallah, many congregations around New York and New England, and Beyond Walls, a writing program for clergy of many faiths at the Kenyon Institute.
Rachel lives in Williamstown with her son.