Teaching at Three Local Synagogues about Spirit and Authentic Living. Yiscah Smith was once a Chasidic man, living in Jerusalem with wife and children. But her quest to be her most authentic self led her on a decades-long journey, resulting not only in her transitioning to become the woman she knew she was, but returning into the fold of observant Judaism.
Yiscah now teaches lessons on using Jewish teachings (and religious teachings
generally) not to enforce normative behavior, but as a guide to liberate oneself to live
with utmost spiritual integrity.
Reb Yiscah, who is faculty at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and the Conservative
Seminary in Jerusalem, is visiting Sonoma County for a 3-day residency sponsored by
three local congregations.
On Wednesday, June 13 at 7PM, she presents “Forty Years in the Wilderness:
My Journey to Authentic Living” – in which she shares the joys and struggles of
her own spirituality and gender identity. This talk is at Congregation Ner
Shalom, 85 La Plaza in Cotati. Admission is free.
On Thursday, June 14 at 7PM, she will teach “Jewish Living as the Cultivation
of a Spiritual Practice” – based on the teachings of the Piasetzner Rebbe, also
known as the Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto, whose teachings were hidden in a
metal cylinder and unearthed only decades after the liquidation of the Warsaw
Ghetto. This teaching is at Congregation Beth Ami, 4676 Mayette in Santa Rosa.
Admission is free.
On Friday, June 15, at 1:30PM, she will offer a daytime teaching called “Go to
Yourself: Moving from One Self to Another Self”. This experiential session will
involve encountering the Divine within and moving from a finite sense of self to
a place that is limitless and beyond ego. The teaching, at B’nai Israel Jewish
Center, 740 Western Avenue in Petaluma, is followed, for those who wish, by a
thematically linked yoga session taught by Helaine Sheias. The talk is free and
the yoga session is sliding scale.
Studying with Yiscah is a moving experience. Ner Shalom’s Reb Irwin Keller, who has
studied with her in the past, says, “You imagine how much heartache her life journey
has involved; and yet the joy and ease that pours through her is real and it is infectious.
Whether she’s talking about a text in particular or the life of the spirit in general, you
walk away uplifted. And inspired too – so many people have had to turn away from
their religious traditions in order to be their true selves!”
Yiscah’s story is indeed unusual. While one reads and hears stories about transgender
(and other LGBTQ+) Orthodox Jews, those stories rarely have a happy ending in which
the individual can express the full breadth of their identity. With Yiscah as an emerging
voice, we may hope to see more happy endings.
Besides teaching, Yiscah hosts a podcast, and is the author of Forty Years in the
Wilderness: My Journey to Authentic Living. Read more about her at yiscahsmith.com.