Faculty changes

There has been a change of faculty since the 2019 Academy was first announced. Rabbi Chava Bahle was in an auto accident and will not be recovered enough to attend. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, a friend of Rabbi Bahle and her recommended replacement, has graciously agreed to be a presenter.

rev. father john mefrige

Rev. Fr. John Mefrige is a Canadian of Syrian and Lebanese descent, a Naturalized
American and a permanent resident of San Antonio, TX. He has both theological and
psychological education and formation, has served various parishes in the Orthodox Church and also has practiced as a professional Marriage and Family Therapist.
Fr. John is endeavoring to establish a uniquely Orthodox expression of the psychological sciences and is particularly committed to teaching healthy conflict resolution skills to both parishes and family’s and is the founder of the The Coalition of Orthodox Peacemakers.
Fr. John is happily married to his loving wife Janet and they have three daughters: Cassiana (14), Emmanuelle (12), Marina (9), and one son, Andrew (7).

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat


 Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, named in 2016 by the Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, was ordained by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal as a rabbi in 2011 and as a mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual director) in 2012. 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. Since 2011 Rachel has served as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel, a congregation in western Massachusetts. As of 2018, she is also a Founding Builder at Bayit: Your Jewish Home.

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 five 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), and Texts to the Holy (Ben Yehuda, 2018.)

A 2012 Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, Rachel has 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. S03 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 with R’ Jeff Goldwasser in 2014 she released Days of Awe: the Velveteen Rabbi’s Machzor, now available in a revised edition.

She has taught courses arising from the intersection of the literary life and the spiritual life at the Academy for Spiritual Formation, the National Havurah Institute’s winter retreat, the ALEPH Kallah, many congregations around New York and New England, and at Beyond Walls, a writing program for clergy of many faiths at the Kenyon Institute.

Rachel lives in Williamstown with her son.

Leadership Team

  • Jamie Norwich-McLennan - retreat leader

  • Mike Flury - registrar

  • Amalia Spruth-Janssen - listening circles

  • Sally Ruggia-Haden - worship coordinator