Rabbi to bring inspiring brand of wisdom to Peninsula

Rabbi Naomi Levy has drawn a national following for her exploration of spiritual renewal in the wake of tragedy and despair.

The Los Angeles–based Conservative rabbi understands the power of prayer to comfort. But it is prayer in times of contentment that nourishes the dialogue with God, says Levy, named by Newsweek magazine in 2010 as one of the 50 most influential rabbis in the nation.

In 12 free lectures from Jan. 10 to 22, when Levy will serve as scholar-in-residence for the North Peninsula, she says she will explore the spiritual journey that can open one’s eyes to the “great and unexpected miracles” that abound unseen.

Rabbi Naomi Levy

“Sometimes we are not aware of the call of our own souls,” she said. “My hope is to help people bring their inner life in line with their outer life so we feel more authentic: in our actions, in our interactions, our seeking, how we go about expressing ourselves and our life’s mission.”

Levy charted this ground to much acclaim in her 1998 bestseller “To Begin Again,” about the tragic death of her father, which she followed up in 2003 with “Talking to God” and in 2010 with “Hope Will Find You,” about her young daughter’s degenerative illness.

She has made TV appearances on “Oprah” and “Today,” and appeared in national magazines including People, Parade, Redbook, Newsweek and Self.

She also has galvanized unaffiliated Jews in the greater Los Angeles area, where in 2004 she founded Nashuva (Hebrew for “we will return”), an outreach movement she still heads. What started out as a group hashing out ideas in Levy’s living room has grown into a monthly Shabbat service that draws capacity crowds of hundreds with a band playing world music, an evolving liturgy and a focus on social action (one Sunday a month the community does social justice work together with a local church).

“I’m very excited for her visit here,” said Rabbi Daniel Feder of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, one of the places where Levy will appear. “She is a very powerful spiritual leader.”

During her residency, Levy will speak about the nature of the soul, talking to God, discovering one’s mission in life, spiritual parenting, and finding the courage to take a first definitive step in a new direction, among other subjects.

“I’m happy these are her topics, because our theme of the year is creating a true sukkat shalom, a true canopy of peace, and that involves being authentic with ourselves, with each other and with God,” Feder said.

“She has a profound, deep inner wisdom that really is very touching,” said Rabbi Lavey Derby, director of Jewish life at the Peninsula JCC, where Levy also will speak.

Launched in 2011, the North Penin-sula Jewish community scholar-in-

residence program brings a renowned scholar and teacher to the area to engage the community in lively learning with sophisticated themes. That suits Rabbi Nat Ezray of Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, who looks forward to Levy’s discussion of the soul in Jewish thought.

“Is there more to us than the physical? Is there something that survives after we die? It’s a topic we don’t talk about but we all think about,” he said.

“I can’t wait,” said Heidi Weinstein, a member of Peninsula Temple Sholom, who first attended a Shabbat service led by Levy in Los Angeles in 1991.“I’m so thrilled. I think the community is going to find it’s got a real treat on its hands.”

For a listing of Rabbi Naomi Levy’s appearances, visit www.pjcc.org/jewishlife/culture/scholar.html. The program is sponsored by the Peninsula JCC and includes partners Peninsula Sinai Congregation, Peninsula Temple Beth El, Peninsula Temple Sholom, Congregation Beth Jacob and Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.