Navigating the Sacred
I believe that religious values and ideas belong in the market place of ideas—in the public domain—so I relish the opportunity to work as a spiritual advisor at Hampshire College where I am able to integrate spiritual teaching in a secular environment. I believe that while the secular and the sacred may speak in different idioms, they often address similar ideas and experiences, and I find myself straddling the line between these two worldviews. Indeed, I am as likely to engage in a soul-ful conversation with students who identify as secular as with those who identify as religious. Sadly, religion is largely misrepresented and misunderstood in our society and this is unfortunate, since religious/spiritual communities can help individuals feel both connected to one another and at home in the world.
Spiritual advising is particularly important for the student population. Students live among and feel the pressure of their peers who are all grappling with and trying out new identities. As a spiritual advisor and rabbi, I help students navigate the many challenges of college life and discover and stay true to their souls’ desires.
The Jewish Community at Hampshire College
Our Jewish community is made up of a diverse group of students ranging from those who grew up attending Jewish day schools to those who have never experienced Jewish life. They come from the U.S. and other parts of the world including Africa, France and Israel. Many students who are not Jewish join our community, appreciative of its values and its warmth and coziness. I often imagine our Jewish community as a secret society of seekers who have traveled some circuitous route to find their way home.
In our weekly Jewish life gatherings, we chew on the biblical parsha/portion or other biblical texts. We engage in a perennial conversation, examining the words of the text, looking for hidden meanings, diving into the metaphors, and exploring what the images and stories mean to us. Through this spiritual practice, we get to know ourselves and each other more deeply, as we create community.
We celebrate Shabbat each week with a singing service, a home-cooked, Hampshire farm-to-table meal, and spiritually focused conversation. One day a week we dedicate to the remembrance of creation—a day of, rest, peace, stillness, community and friendship. We reflect on the ancestors and how they negotiated relationships with each other, with God and with the land, considering how their journeys can help us to understand and grapple with our own.
We also celebrate the holidays. The Jewish holidays—each with its own flavor and stories—are woven into the tapestry of the seasons, providing critical junctures throughout the year that can sustain hope, inspiration and life. Shabbat and holidays at Hampshire provide a non-ideological haven, an island in time, where all students—regardless of any religious connection—have the opportunity to sink deeply into themselves and experience an expanded sense of self.
Students who participate in Jewish life at Hampshire cultivate a host of life and leadership skills. Here they can develop emotional intelligence, social intelligence, intuition and other critical competencies for navigating their way on life's journey.
To read more about my work at Hampshire College, please click here.
To read more about my thoughts about being a rabbi, please click here.
Spiritual Advising and Coaching
As a spiritual advisor and life coach, I work with individuals to help them live the lives they want to live. There are times in a life when we may feel confused, dispirited or stuck. I work with people who are looking for greater clarity or fulfillment in the areas of work, relationship, family, community and spirituality. I also work with people who are in the midst of a career or life transition and those who want to enrich their lives. I particularly enjoy helping environmentalists, artists, thinkers and creative individuals to bring their visions into reality.
Almost anyone can benefit from coaching. Here are some areas where coaching can help:
Accomplishing what you’ve always dreamed of: If you have a clear vision of what you want in your life, but you’re not realizing it, you are likely blocked in some way. Coaching can help you uncover the block and come to terms with it. Once you’ve identified the impediment, a coach can work with you to set achievable goals and an accountability structure, so that you can accomplish what matters most to you.
Taking risks: Trying something new in your life—something you’ve never done before—can be scary. It takes courage and commitment to take a risk. A coach can help to bolster your courage and cushion your falls; she will be a caring presence for you when you are at your most vulnerable.
Managing transitions: Transitioning into a new job or relationship or into a new phase of life, like retirement poses a host of challenges. Who are you, after all these years? It’s easy to lose your way in these times. A coach can help you stay true to yourself and find your way through the difficulties.
Confronting challenges: Sometimes we are confronted by problems that seem insurmountable—too large for one person to bear. A good coach can help you break a problem down into manageable pieces so that you can wrap your hands around it and deal with it—one piece at a time.
If you are curious about how coaching might help you, please do not hesitate to contact me. Coaching takes place by phone or skype, so it’s easy to work with you wherever you live. I am happy to offer a complimentary 40-minute session, so that we can assess if we would work well together. I am also happy, if time permits, to offer my services pro bono to environmentalists and artists who are in need of coaching.
I have made more progress in just a few months working with Rabbi Ellen Bernstein than I had in more than a dozen years of psychotherapy! Her coaching has helped me get a long list of foundering projects to the finish line. First, she helped me understand the obstacles in my way, then she worked with me to develop an end run around those obstacles and a step-by-step action plan. Along the way, she served as my memory, reminding me of emotional, professional and spiritual challenges and dreams I had mentioned earlier. As a result, multiple facets of my life have come into much better balance, enabling me to live in much greater alignment with my values and goals. Ellen’s gentle prodding and nudging, deep insights and ability to “connect the dots” is effective and energizing.
— J.P., Amherst, Ma.
Ellen's deep listening, insightful reflecting and gentle suggesting launched me on an purposeful, authentic path of fulfillment.
— Sarah CK Gabriel, Philadelphia, Pa.
Taking risks and stepping out of my comfort zone is an important part of creating a meaningful life, but it’s challenging to take risks when you’re living abroad solo, as I have been since I retired from work and my wife passed away. With Ellen as my co-pilot, I’m finding it easier to take the risks I need to live the life I want. I’m staying on task rather than fleeing into avoidant or magical thinking. Ellen’s rock-solid integrity and constant presence calls me to stay true to my dreams and my deepest self. Her clarity and focus have helped me break overwhelming problems down into simple manageable steps; I’m now creating order out of the chaos life presents. Our work together is not only meaningful, it’s intellectually enlivening, fun and full of humor! I heartily recommend Ellen as a guide and coach to anyone needing help along the way.
— Steve Tobias, Oakland, Ca.