About Our Rabbi

The Royal KingA resident of West Chester for 20 years, Rabbi Elyse Seidner-Joseph brings an energetic, eclectic background to the Makom Kadosh (JFCC)  community.

IMG_1518

Rabbi Elyse was ordained in January 2013 by the Aleph Rabbinic Program, a non-denominational, decentralized program that understands its core mission as the spiritual renewal of Judaism. A former physician who left the practice of medicine due to disability, Elyse holds a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from Gratz College.  She attended the Juilliard School as a classical pianist, studied Shakespearean literature at Penn, and graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Elyse was a fellow in the first student cohort of Rabbis Without Borders (RWB) a project of CLAL (the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership), She was one of the founders and leaders of the Student Group in the Aleph Rabbinic Program.

Rabbi Elyse is committed to deep ecumenism, to interfaith dialogue and meaningful connections between traditions.

Camera“My teacher, Reb Zalman, uses the analogy of a human being, that each faith tradition is an organ, ligament, or muscle of the body, and that we need all of the parts to survive and thrive.  To me that describes deep ecumenism.”

Rabbi Elyse is a student in the well of wisdom offered in teachings of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a Sufi saint from Sri Lanka, and is a member of the Sufi fellowship that bears his name.  Elyse has taught or guest preached at many churches, including the West Grove United Methodist Church, the United Methodist Church of the Open Door in Kennett Square, and the Church of the Loving Shepherd in West Chester, and other Baptist, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ churches.  Collaborative efforts with the Temenos Church, and their minister, Christine Campbell, have included joint Sukkot-Native American Celebrations and a Tu B’Shevat seder.Completing a unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) at Lancaster General Hospital, Elyse served as a chaplain to patients of many faiths–Amish, Mennonite, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and those without a faith tradition.   She spent a year as the Rabbinic Intern in the hospice programs of Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Philadelphia.

Rabbi Elyse volunteers weekly at the St. Agnes Day Room in West Chester, serving lunch to the poor and homeless in our own community.  Elyse is a member of the West Chester Inter-Religious Council, and leads a West Chester branch of the national group, Daughters of Abraham, an interfaith women’s reading group. Along with Sandra Francis, Deborah Tanksley-Brown, and Suhaiba Toomey, Elyse co-created the first annual Chester County Women’s Multi- Faith Seder. Close to 100 women of many faith traditions and cultural backgrounds attend this annual event.  Click  for photos.

IMG_2447

Elyse lives in West Chester with her husband, Kenny, a musician and teacher, and their dog, Ace.  Elyse and Kenny enjoy entertaining at home, reading, cooking, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Metropolitan Opera, playing ukulele, thrift and consignment store shopping, and riding scooters.  Their son Sam is a chef in Colorado.  Their daughter Erica is a recent graduate of West Chester University who lives and works in Philadelphia. Kenny and Elyse are ardent supporters of local eating, and are members of IMBY/Misty Hollow CSA (community supported agriculture).  They love gardens and enjoy visiting Winterthur and Longwood Gardens, two amazing local treasures.

Looking for a skilled ritual leader to co-create and facilitate your wedding?  Rabbi Elyse is available to officiate at weddings in NJ, PA, DE and NY.

Rabbi Elyse’s Talk for the West Chester Inter-Religious Council pre-Thanksgiving Service, 2011:

Modah ani lifanecha melech chai vikayam, she-he-chezarta bee nishmatee b’chemla, raba emunatecha.

I offer thanks to You, living and eternal king, for You have restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.

“Modah ani” is the way Jewish people for centuries have said thank you when we wake up in the morning.

With Modah Ani, our first conscious moments are spent thanking G-d for the gift of life.  I learned about Modah Ani from my grandmother.  I wake into each day with this prayer.

Not long after I was asked to speak with you today, which is a great honor, I had a wonderful visit with my friend Lillian Middleton. Lillian has worked for 3 decades to feed the hungry right here in West Chester, while raising a family and working with the very elderly at the Hickman, and, for the past 15 years, struggling with a serious and incurable disease.  Last weekend, she and her team delivered food for Thanksgiving to 250 families.

Lillian was recently interviewed for a magazine article, its title a direct quote from her:
“Every Day is a Day of Thanksgiving.”
Lillian says that while Thanksgiving Day is a wonderful thing, a time to be with family and friends, that it is important for each individual to make “thanksgiving” every day.

In the article, Lillian traces this core belief to her upbringing in rural North Carolina by her grandparents, a midwife and a minister.
A midwife and a minister.  One who helps bring lives into the world, and one who helps bring meaning into lives.

They did not have much—they had a little garden, and sometimes grandpop was paid with a chicken or other food.  Even so, Lillian says that she did not know what the word “poor” meant.”  She DID know to be thankful for whatever she had.

Lillian goes on to say, “Thankfulness comes from being alive.  When God wakes us up in the morning, He couldn’t order a better gift…. Thankfulness goes with life, it’s more than a word.  I live being thankful.  Thankfulness is something that has to be in your heart.  That heart has to show love and kindness.”

How did Lillian learn this?  From watching her grandparents live being thankful.

Just as my friend Lillian wakes each day, in gratitude and with the deep understanding that God is present in that awakening, the simple Hebrew prayer Modah Ani helps us to begin the day with thanks—with our bodies, minds, hearts and souls attuned to the blessings in our lives before we even get out of bed.

RAV, one of the great teachers of the Talmud (175-240) teaches that we should give thanks for the ability to give thanks!

The Hebrew expression for gratitude is “hakarat hatov,” which means, “recognizing the good.”  Recognizing the good depends not on getting something good, but on recognizing the good that you already have.

There is within all of us a very powerful inclination to complain rather than to praise. Its easy to find fault in ourselves, in our relationships, our government, our bosses, our friends, our neighbors, our children.

Our tradition challenges us to respond to this tendency towards complaint by incorporating Hakarat Hatov into our consciousness; to recognize the good in our lives, and to train ourselves to see it – to make the effort in all of our encounters, to appreciate, to praise, to thank.

This is a great challenge, particularly in difficult economic times, times of divisiveness in government, times in which moral responsibility is abdicated, times in which we are so worried about taking care of ourselves and our own families that we lose sight of the scriptural imperative to care for the stranger, the poor and the orphan in our midst.  Hakarat Hatov, recognizing the good, demands constant, vigilant attention, so that each moment of every day becomes an occasion for recognition, appreciation and thanksgiving for our countless blessings.

As Lillian goes on to say in the article, “That’s why I can talk to you and look at you and say, be more thankful for what we have today.  Over in other countries, it is much worse.  Let us appreciate America.”   Yes, let us appreciate America.

This is how Lillian lives, this is the power of Modah Ani, of offering thanks from the minute we wake up every morning.

Can we live thanksgiving every day?  Can we wake up with a thankful consciousness, rather than a complaining one?  Can we be thankful, as Rav taught 18 centuries ago, even for our ability to give thanks? This is the challenge.

May we all be blessed with a beautiful and meaningful Thanksgiving, tomorrow and every day.  May God bless you and your communities, our country, and the entire world with peace.