Growing up in Kentucky, Rabbi Jessica Minnen learned there are many paths to God. During Minnen’s childhood, her mother, who had married at 19, began a process of questioning that led her to convert to Christianity.
Rather than turn Minnen off to Judaism — the religion of her extended family, which ran a women’s clothing store, Minnen’s, in her hometown of Paducah — her mother’s spiritual journey prompted her own.
“It brought us close, because we are both spiritual seekers,” said Minnen, who received ordination from Jewish Theological Seminary in 2013.
Minnen sees her mission as helping others find answers to life’s challenges through Judaism. While in rabbinical school, she founded “Seven Wells,” a sex-education program for adults in their 20s and 30s that draws on ancient Jewish wisdom.
“We live in a society where sexuality is often discussed in terms that are not spiritually mindful,” she says. “Seven Wells” is a program to “use Jewish texts and values as a scaffolding for this conversation about intimacy and relationships.” Program workshops have taken place at conferences and seminars and this fall, “Seven Wells” will be implemented as a series of workshops for participants at various synagogues and Jewish institutions in and around New York City.
Minnen, who holds a High Holy Day pulpit position at Beth El Congregation in Bethesda, Md., also works as assistant director of the Jewish Journey Project. A Manhattan-based education initiative, JJP re-imagines Hebrew school: children can choose their own “journeys” which, while they require learning Hebrew for a bar or bat mitzvah, can include an array of other athletic, cultural, and spiritual pursuits ranging from Israeli dance to the Israeli martial art krav maga to creative classes like “midrash manicures” in which kids are invited to apply rabbinic interpretations of Bible stories — to their nails!
In addition, she is director of content and training for The Shabbat Project, a new joint project of the Steinhardt Foundation and the Paul Singer Family Foundation designed to promote the “Shabbat dinner experience” for 20s/30s Jewish young adults.
Heart, soul and twang: Minnen loves what she describes as “real country music,” which she says (quoting Harlan Howard, the songwriter who wrote Patsy Cline’s famous hit, “I Fall to Pieces,”) is “three chords and the truth.”