GTU Alum Profile | Genevieve Greinetz (MA, 2017)
Genevieve Greinetz serves as Assistant Rabbi and Director of Education at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, CA. Her work there encompasses running youth and teen programs, overseeing services and other events, and engaging in mindfulness practices with people of all ages. She has an academic background in East Asian religion and graduated with an MA in Jewish Studies from the GTU in 2017. Among her other pursuits in mindfulness, she is also a published poet.
GTU: You are in the first year of your first rabbinic appointment here in California. What have you learned so far?
Genevieve Greinetz: I have learned so much. First, I attended a non-denominational rabbinical school and personally resonate with being unaffiliated with a certain denomination. Now I serve at a Reform congregation. It has been interesting to learn about that world from the inside and to learn more about what being “non-denominational” means to me. If before I thought that it meant “open to any denomination,” I now know that my inner identity remains unclassified and is very opinionated. I am learning about denominational authority and authenticity and seeing that even without those labels in the spheres where pluralism and non-denominational Judaism collide, a longing for some kind of a “truer” authenticity persists. For me, this means suddenly perceiving myself as a person who stands for some kind of Jewish authenticity or authority. I like being a student and looking for those representations of genuine power in teachers and others, but now I am walking around teacherless and teaching my own thought. It’s quite a transition. I don’t have any conclusions but I live questions, like: what is authentic? Why do some claims of authenticity make me uncomfortable? Am I actually a pluralistic Jew? If not, am I non-denominational in an un-pluralistic way? I could keep going with a whole page of questions regarding authority, power structures, representations and acts of hierarchy and so forth. I guess my learning has been living questions like these while having to exercise power in various new ways.
I have also learned so much about people, communication, relationships, and the way organizations work. It feels like now is when the real school has begun, but what I learned in school gave me a solid foundation that informs my actions. Being deeply rooted in Jewish texts and thought certainly guides my ethics, how I communicate with people, and what I bring to the table, even politically.
GTU: How did your studies at the GTU prepare you for the rabbinical studies you pursued at Hebrew college?
GG: They prepared me thoroughly! A funny example is that “finals” season in rabbinical school was stressful for everyone in my cohort, but the 5-10 page papers we had to write were a breeze for me. After regularly writing 10- and 20-page papers as well as a lengthy thesis, not only did I learn to absolutely love writing papers, but 5, 10 pages? That was nothing for a GTU graduate.
More seriously, my education at GTU fostered my critical ability. I learned how to read and unpack complicated thought, which served me well in rabbinical school. I was able to jump in and enjoy primary and secondary sources with the critical skills I had learned.
Being a student at the GTU was—this is vulnerable—the first time in my life that I felt smart. This is because Deena Aranoff and Naomi Seidman took my voice and thoughts seriously. While they are amazing, critical, and disciplined professors, they also had a way of making the classroom a safe environment. They taught me that learning at a high level could feel loving and nourishing in ways I did not expect. I remember once sitting at the table in Deena’s class on Medieval Jewish thought. We were unpacking something Maimonidean and I said something with quite a lot of insecurity. A male student at the table started to speak over me and Deena paused him and said, “Wait, Genevieve is saying something important here.” I didn’t know what I was trying to say, but Deena helped me find greater security in bringing my voice to the table, and in feeling like I did have something to say. Maybe I was smart, too. I really appreciated the generosity at GTU, the way the professors wanted their students to find their unique voice.
GTU: What is the relationship between academic inquiry and your spiritual life?
GG: The central aspect of my spiritual life, aside from meditation, is text study. I have a personal practice of studying Talmud, and I have a few chevrutot whom I study various Jewish texts with throughout the week. Critical inquiry and that concentrated, academic mindset are the entire framework of my spiritual life. I oscillate between the critical, focused states of inquiry as it manifests in Jewish learning, and wide openness in my meditation practice. That’s my spiritual life in a nutshell. The relationship is central.
GTU: What type of work you are currently engaged with?
GG: I run the education programs for grades K-6, function as the teen engagement director, and oversee weekly rituals from Shabbat services to B’nei Mitzvah rituals and any holiday or commemorative service, oh and funerals, weddings…basically, if something is happening at the synagogue, I am involved. I do get to teach Torah a few times a month and I spend a lot of time talking with congregants. Regardless of the topic, those conversations tend to be pastoral. Everything I do tends to be pastoral, even though it sounds like logistics at the surface level. Even when we’re ordering food for an event, the conversations with staff can open up into something I’m suddenly holding space for. Then there is preparing to lead services, which means writing. The Torah teaching and the service leading are places where my academic self can be found, sometimes.
GTU: Your bio says that you engage in Jewish mindfulness. How would you define mindfulness within a Jewish context?
GG: Mindfulness in a Jewish context is no different than mindfulness anywhere else because it is those moments that are within their framing, no matter the language of that frame. Mindfulness is attuning the outlook toward the present, which is being inside of the body and its senses. Using a Jewish framework becomes inevitable for those of us steeped in Torah. The specificity of the Jewish textual framework means interfacing with Judaism’s figure of Wisdom, then the practice is to be quiet and have an unmeditated encounter with Wisdom, who seems to show up in different guises across traditions. I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter what framework somebody chooses, because it does, but mindfulness is that thing a practitioner can carry with them to a Jewish ritual and can then find itself mirrored inside the order of any Jewish ritual. I think that Torah itself can be like a mirror – you will go in and find what it is you’re projecting. Anyone can bend any story to mean anything. We can see that playing out in the world of mindfulness, and we can see it playing out in less generous ways when we look at, say, Christian conservative stories about abortion. The same stories producing contrary reflections. A central component of mindfulness practice is a notion of emptiness – in a Jewish context, when you delve into emptiness we say that’s finding slivers of God. Emptiness is vast, it is void. But, you can also take emptiness and fill it with anything, so mindfulness seems like a tool that’s carving out emptiness within the practitioner in order to encounter emptiness outside of the self, and there is no goal of filling the emptiness on either side.
GTU: In addition to being a rabbi, you are also a published poet. How do your spiritual work and creative work inform one another? What are some of your other pursuits?
GG: I appreciate the comma between rabbi and poet because it feels true to the welcomed separation in identities. It’s interesting to ask how my spiritual work informs my creativity – it seems to be channeled in different ways based on the different identity I’m assuming. When I am a poet I am inhabiting my body and putting word to what it feels like to live in the world as it is. Lately, my poems are about my body, women’s bodies, the ocean, the ways those bodies are polluted, and things like that. My “spiritual” life is both connected and disconnected from that work. These are not Jewish poems, nor are they poems that will be deemed “spiritual” by readers, nor will they be quoted in a rabbinic drash, nor will I ever want to read them from the bema. They are the most human thing, outside of my body and what it creates, that I create. My spiritual life plays in more appropriately when I write in the Jewish context such as when I write a drash, a form of Jewish poetry.
Some of my other pursuits include creating a medicinal framework for text study and working with individuals to foster healing, mindfulness coaching and consulting, and, to be honest, surfing.
GTU: What do you recall most fondly from your GTU days?
GG: My most fond memories from the GTU are looking out the windows of the classroom while Deena or Naomi taught. These were cherished moments of passive contemplation and poetic reverie when the teachings and discussion sent me to a place of wanting to look off into the distance and wonder. Writing my thesis under Deena Aranoff’s guidance—this was a critical and fun project that let me soar into the academic depths while working to find my voice, with Deena’s observant help. Riding my bike around the campus and reflecting on the learnings of the semester in the quiet there.
GTU: As part of the GTU 60th anniversary, the GTU has a tagline that says, “Building a better world since 1962.” How has the GTU inspired you to help build a better world?
GG: Intellectual pursuit has everything to do with building a better world. GTU has helped me by sharpening my intellect in trustworthy ways, giving me a critical lens, and an ability to engage in high level thought. Those skills are essential for moving into the realm of imagination, which is the sphere of religious thought and practice and the place where I can make changes in this world. The GTU gave me the tools to get into that abstract world, peer about critically, and do the gentle work of altering what the broader culture holds in its mythical understandings of our shared reality.
GTU: What was the lesson that impacted you most at the GTU?
GG: Deena Aranoff and Naomi Seidman live a model of teacher/student relationship that is filled with healing integrity. The way of relationship in that particular constellation that they demonstrate is the antidote to the toxicity we are seeing in those relationships across the board. Deena and Naomi not only teach in their extraordinarily planned lessons, but they both modeled to me a feminism that I continue to learn from; a living feminism of a radical and respectful teacher/student relationship. The lesson of how to be a teacher and how to have a healthy, and even healing relationship with students is one that trickles into my day-to-day life.
GTU: What advice would you give to someone who is considering studying at the GTU?
GG: Trust your teachers, let your pre-written conclusions go, and be compassionate with yourself.
GTU: What are some of the reasons that it is worth investing in the future of the GTU?
GG: Academically, the GTU maintains a way of being inviting while also being unapologetically critical. The skills I learned there translate to my daily life, and the professorship at the GTU continues to invite me into a broader conversation in the academic worlds of philosophy and Jewish thought. It is worth investing in the GTU because there is no other place like it. It is like a sacred library from ancient times that needs to be protected since it holds not only wisdom books, but teachers who show students the way into those books. These are not paths one can traverse without an education like this.