About Rabbi Marcia

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Marcia Prager is a rabbi, artist, liturgist and therapist, living and working in the West Mt. Airy community of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia where she received Rabbinic ordination and a Master of Hebrew Letters degree in 1989, and a D.Min honoris causa in 2014.  In 1990, she also received the personal smicha (rabbinic ordination) of  her mentor and teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l, with whom she continued to work closely for over twenty years.  In 2010, Rabbi Marcia was selected by the Jewish Daily Forward as one of the Top Fifty Female Rabbis.

Rabbi Marcia serves as rabbi of the P'nai Or Jewish Renewal Congregation of Philadelphia, the innovative congregation founded by Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi in 1973, and was the founding rabbi of a sister congregation,  P'nai Or of Princeton, New Jersey, which she served for thirteen years.

After receiving smicha from Reb Zalman they began to deepen their  professional and mentorship relationship and Rabbi Marcia began to work closely with ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, the national organization that grew out of Reb Zalman’s life-work to promote the renewal of Judaism as a spiritual path.  She was initially appointed a Pathfinder and Director of Professional Development for ALEPH and then in partnership with Reb Zalman, began to transition his private project of training and ordaining his inner circle of students into a formal seminary: The ALEPH Ordination Program, of which she is now Dean emerita. The ALEPH Ordination Program is an innovative seminary that trains rabbis, cantors, rabbinic pastors and mashpi’im (spiritual directors) with a rigorous curriculum that combines distance learning and intnsive retreat-based courses and practica. There currently are over 80 students enrolled in these combined programs making the AOP one of the largest rigorous liberal seminary in America.  On Tikkun Magazine's 25th anniversary, Rabbi Marcia was awarded the Tikkun Prize in recognition for her work as director of this groundbreaking program.

Her groundbreaking book, The Path of Blessing (Bell Tower, Nov. '98, Jewish Lights 2004) is modeled on the style of a “hasidic sefer,” and is an exploration of the Jewish practice of blessing. Reform Judaism magazine (Fall 99. vol 28) called it “one of the best introductions to Jewish Renewal and its approach to Jewish learning and practice.”

Her work involves creating many innovative tools for exploring Jewish prayer and spiritual practice.  She was a contributing commentator to the Reconstructionist siddur, Kol Haneshamah, and is the author and editor of the widely used P’nai Or Siddurm for Shabbat and other innovative liturgies. Her newest project is the new P’nai Or Machzor for Rosh HaShanah, which builds on the success of the Shabbat siddurim, and offers a spiritually expansive journey through the prayers of the High Holidays.

Another tool that helps us explore the transformative landscape of Jewish prayer is Rabbi Marica’s “Amidah in Guided Imagery” – 20 exquisitely illustrated cards which use guided meditationsto explore the brachot (blessings) of the weekday and Shabbat Amidah prayer.

Her other publications include the chapter “Live With the Times: Spiritual Direction and the Cycle of Holy Time,” in Jewish Spiritual Direction: An Innovative Guide from Traditional and Contemporary Sources (Jewish Lights 2006) and  “Friendship Counts Most,” the  Epilogue chapter in Interfaith Dialogue at the Grass Roots (Ecumenical Press, 2008).

Rabbi Prager's current work includes spritual counseling and teaching, emphasizing the wisdom of  Jewish tradition and Jewish spiritual practice as a path to personal growth and world healing.

She works with a wide range of students,  teaching classes in Jewish spirituality in local programs, and at Isabella Freedman/Hazon Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut.  Here, along with Rabbi Shawn Zevit she co-directs The Davvenen' Leadership Training Institute, a two-year training program for rabbis, cantors and lay congregational leaders in the art of public prayer. Now beyond its 20th year, this program has trained over 500 Jewish prayer leaders from across the Jewish denominational spectrum.

An exciting extension of this work is her involvement with EAJL, the European Academy for Jewish Liturgy under whose auspices she and her husband Hazzan Jack Kessler co-teach trainings for Europeans in Jewish prayer leadership along with European faculty.

In 2009 Rabbi Marcia became a RWB Fellow when she joined the first cohort of the innovative program Rabbis Without Borders – the first interdenominational Rabbinic Network in America. The rabbis in the RWB Network are committed to serving people wherever they may be, and share their Torah in pluralistic, innovative ways grounded by a sense of service to all.

Over the years, Rabbi Prager's work attracted the attention of other religious movements. She taught regularly in Quaker circles, at local Meetings in the Philadelphia area,  and at Pendle Hill, a Quaker residential study center. She was the first rabbi invited to teach at the Friends General Conference, the yearly national gathering of the Society of Friends, and was also the first rabbi invited to teach at Wainwright House as guest presenter for the Guild for Spiritual Guidance, an intensive program of this long-established liberal Christian retreat center. She is the only rabbi to have attended and completed the Billy Graham week-long training program for evangelical, born-again Christian ministers which she attended in order to immerse in the world of this faith path and hone her interfaith dialogue skills.  Rabbi Prager also returned regularly to teach Jewish spirituality at Calling Lakes Christian Training Centre,  a  retreat center of the United Church of Canada.

Throughout these years she continued her involvement in diverse environmental and social-change organizations, serving as a group facilitator and social-change skills trainer.  Upon completing her rabbinic studies, she embarked upon formal training in individual, family and group psychotherapy, and in 1992 completed a four-year training in Marriage and Family Therapy at the Marriage Council  (now the Penn Council for Relationships) and integrates these skills into her rabbinate.

Rabbi Marcia’s formal education has given her a broad background for her work. Her undergraduate work was in Cultural Anthropology with a specialty in Native American tribal traditions, and in Fine Art. She earned her B.A. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1972 and went on to study studio art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she was awarded a Master of Fine Arts Degree in 1974,  with  specialties in  Photography and  Drawing.  As a professional artist,  she worked primarily in black-and-white photography, exhibiting and teaching both in university and private gallery settings. Her work was described as “deeply affecting our opinion concerning the structure and meaning of visual experience.”  She taught for five years at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, before leaving that field to pursue full-time work in Jewish communal service and Jewish studies.

Rabbi Marcia continues her work as an artist, although the medium is more often ritual than visual.  She expresses her passion for social transformation through her commitment to awakening and deepening the spiritual person. In this work she finds artistry, challenge, depth and joy.

Rabbi Marcia lives with her husband, Hazzan Jack Kessler, a traditionally trained Cantor, JTS graduate, and active Jewish musician. He is the director the ALEPH Cantorial Program, teaches nusach and hazzanut to cantorial students, and is a master vocal coach. In addition, he directs two dynamic music ensembles: ATZILUT: Concerts for Peace, a nine-member ensemble that brings Arab and Jewish musicians together, and Klingon Klezmer, a high-energy Klezmer ensemble specializing in the celebration music of Jewish Eastern Europe.  They frequently lead workshops and programs together, enhancing Rabbi Marcia's blend of teaching and  group process with Jack's musical accompaniment.  They raised four sons, and now have two gorgeous grandchildren.