Our Interview with Dr./Rabbi Elisheva Irma Diaz, BAJS, MTS, DD: her journey thus far as a woman in religious leadership, her spirituality, and the choices she has made.
Our little office lit up with an atmosphere of joy as Rabbi Elisheva Diaz entered a few weeks ago. Her strength and confidence filled the room as she spoke words of empowerment over us. She has dedicated her life to encouraging others, specifically those searching for their Jewish heritage. She has been a prominent female figure in the religious and political spheres and has recently published her book, Wrestling for My Jewish Identity: an Eclipse with Reality. On this happy afternoon, she kindly agreed to let us delve into details of her life and her passions.
(Photo source: https://ujuc.org/rabbi-elisheva-diaz/)
Q: Why did you become a rabbi?
A: “I became a Rabbi because of my love for the Torah and my desire to teach others the debt of our Jewish tradition. I embraced my Jewish heritage to honor my mother and our ancestors. I grew up in an interfaith extended family and was enrolled in a Catholic private school, received the sacraments required and attended daily mass.
In the interim I was invited to my cousin’s Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs. This gave me exposure to both Catholicism and Judaism. Although brought up under the tutelage of nuns, I was drawn to my Jewish roots. As I got older I kept searching, researching and studying. I have always loved Biblical studies and to learn about my Creator. The more I studied – one thing led to another. I ended up a student in Seminary because I was so enthralled with the Word of God. I received my masters in world religions and from that point found myself all the more intrigued. I traveled to Israel to study. I would spend time there by myself studying and I would take groups there to study. I did that for many years. In the interim, simultaneously, my Christian ministry grew and became more popular than expected.
With that I produced my own television program where I taught from a Jewish perspective which aired for 14 years. I always taught from Torah principles, but yet was steeped in Christian ministry. It was a weird paradox, but I was really, really pulled toward embracing my Jewish roots for my mother and for my ancestors. Simultaneously, my son started to research more and found out my mother’s family originated in the Spanish Canary Islands and had suffered under the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. At a certain point, after meeting with religious leaders that included Rabbis, I decided that I was going to leave my Christian ministry and embrace who I was, who I believed I was, and I left everything – a cushy six figure income, the television program I enjoyed producing, the large established [ministry] and the team I traveled with… This was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I ended up embracing my Jewish roots… Not to soon after that I knew I had to enroll in Rabbinic school. I went through my rabbinic studies, graduating with honors from Gratz College in and simultaneously enrolled in Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI) and was ordained as a Rabbi in New York in 2012.”
Q: Where did you go to Seminary and then where did you go to Rabbinic school?
A: “I went to Covenant Life’s theological seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, and after my transition enrolled in Gratz College Rabbinic Studies in Philadelphia; this is a Jewish college. So here I am today. I love public speaking, I love sharing my story. I love encouraging people, especially those that have Jewish roots and are considering embracing who they are, their full identity. There’s something special about honoring your roots, honoring your lineage and the legacy that was left to you.”
Q: Were there any difficulties you faced as a woman while becoming a rabbi?
A: “Yes, as a woman, many times in our culture, in the Jewish culture, many sects in society, many areas do not accept women rabbis, and so I learned about that real quick. For example, in the Hispanic community, places like, Mexico City, they don’t accept—for the most part, generally speaking—women rabbis. So I refer to myself as Dr. as I have a doctorate in divinity, I would say ‘Doctora Elisheva’ and they are more comfortable with that. That’s ok, as long as it gives me a platform so that I can touch lives; that’s what I care about. So, when I come across that, I can usually feel it and instead of saying Rabbi, I’ll say doctora… but for the most part, here in Los Angeles, it’s a little bit more liberal in terms of that issue. I don’t cross the gender path a lot. Here in Los Angeles, it was more the suspicion of my background and why I would leave everything I had built. This story is detailed in my new book, ‘Wrestling for my Jewish Identity’.
Q: Why is it important to have women’s voices in religious leadership?
A: “I feel that it’s important to have a woman’s voice because the woman plays a major part in the household. The woman plays a major part in rearing our children, educating our children at home. The woman plays a major part in the workplace. In every aspect of society, the woman brings in a very, very major role and voice. It’s a delicate voice, but yet a strong voice. It’s meek, but it’s firm. It’s a powerful tenderness that is needed in society today. I feel that regardless of what your political beliefs are, regardless of whatever religious sect you come from or what you believe, the woman carries something within her that a man just doesn’t have. It’s very important to have her voice come through in every area of life.
The best way that I can say it – and as a rabbi I must – ‘woman’ is called the inside image of God because woman came from the man’s rib (Genesis 2:22). It’s a beautiful thing because woman completes everything. It’s like wherever a woman is, it’s complete. It is far from being just a man’s world. It can’t be a man’s world without a woman because she brings the completion and the wholeness, right?… We are the completion of humanity. We are the completion and we bring a voice from within, which is a deep, profound insight. Again, I want to be careful not to say that men don’t have insight, but the woman has an insight that’s very, very special. This is what we call the ‘Inside Image of God’. She is deep, discerning and understands the Universe even when she cannot put it in words. When I walk into a room, I’m there to complete it…. We need women in every [sector] of society, literally to complete it.”
(Photo source: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/wrestling-for-my-jewish-identity)
To hear more…
After our questions, Diaz gave each of us a hug, leaving us beaming and energetic. If you would like to hear more insights from this incredible women, her book Wrestling for My Jewish Identity: an Eclipse with Reality is available on Amazon. She is also a Public Speaker and Spiritual Life Coach and can be reached by clicking here: http://www.ayekah.org/spiritual-life-coach.html