Rabbi Drorah O’Donnell Setel is best known as the co-author (with Debbie Friedman) of the “Mi Shebeirach” prayer sung in congregations throughout the world. Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Rabbi Setel grew up in Buffalo, New York. A fifth generation Reform Jew, her Jewish commitment was formed through involvement in Temple and regional youth group programs and Reform summer camp. She is a graduate of Swarthmore College, Harvard Divinity School, and SUNY Buffalo Law School as well as having studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in the Religious Studies doctoral program at Yale University, and the rabbinic program at the Leo Baeck College, London, UK. In 1996 Rabbi Setel became the first person in Jewish history to be ordained by a rabbinical court comprised solely of women.
Rabbi Setel’s arrival
Rabbi Setel came to us in 2015, after serving communities in Niagara Falls NY, Seattle WA, and Los Angeles, CA. Her rabbinate has focused on integrating and balancing spiritual practice, study, and work for social justice within congregational life. Rabbi Setel’s intelligence and enthusiasm can be seen in each of these areas at Temple Emanu-El. As a spiritual leader, teacher, and organizer, she has sought to encourage and involve our members in pursuing a meaningful Jewish life.
Enlarging the tent
Rabbi Setel has been an innovator in enlarging the tent of contemporary Judaism. She has developed new Jewish life cycle ceremonies for aging, mourning, and welcoming children into a non-gendered Covenant of the Jewish People. In the 1980s she served as the Rabbinic Liaison to the Los Angeles Jewish Family Service Alcohol and Addiction Outreach program and has continued to work with Jews in recovery from addiction and abuse. In 1990 Rabbi Setel co-convened the first gathering of Jewish professionals and activists working to prevent sexual and domestic violence in the Jewish community. In the following decades she has led trainings for rabbis, Jewish community leaders, and domestic violence program staff as well as advised on the creation of Jewish Family Services domestic violence programs.
Engagement, reconciliation, mediation
For nearly forty years, Rabbi Setel has been involved in engagement and reconciliation across difference of religion, race, and gender. She is a trained mediator and has developed dispute resolution educational programs for clergy as well as led workshops and retreats on constructive conflict. Rabbi Setel is active in local interfaith and social justice activities including the RocACTS Clergy Caucus, Rochester J Street, the Secure and Just Communities Alliance, and MetroJustice. On a national level, she is a member of the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet and the T’ruah Network of Rabbis and Cantors, and has served on the boards of the Shefa Fund (now Bend the Arc) and the National Havurah Committee.
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