Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Kaya Joy Stern-Kaufman is the daughter of Judith and Lawrence K. Stern and the granddaughter of Rabbi Harry M. Katzen, z”l, – a Latvian born Talmud scholar and pulpit Rabbi who served his Brooklyn community for 55 years. Kaya’s Jewish journey began in their homes.
Rabbi Katzen was the seventh generation in a Rabbinic lineage that included a leading commentator on the Ein Yaakov, known as Eitz Yosef. Kaya recalls that she never saw her grandfather without a sefer in his hands. She was so impressed with her grandfather’s knowledge and his life-long dedication to learning that she requested to be enrolled in ASHAR- a modern orthodox yeshiva in Monsey, New York, where she began her Jewish studies in the fifth grade. Coming from a traditional home, Kaya never imagined that as a girl, she could ever perpetuate the rabbinic tradition of her family. Nevertheless Kaya was inspired to learn and discover the pearls of her lineage. After graduation from ASHAR, she continued her Jewish studies at the Frisch School, a yeshivah in Paramus, New Jersey. Kaya became deeply involved in NCSY “an Orthodox youth group” and as a teenager, committed herself to Orthodox religious practice.
Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman attended SUNY-Binghamton and then New York University where she earned a BA in psychology. During her college years Kaya was influenced by the feminism of her day and struggled with her orthodox practice in light of her newly emerging sensibilities. Kaya subsequently left the Orthodox world and began a long period of spiritual exploration, seeking to discover the universal truths that underlie many of the world’s religious traditions. Kaya understood that her future work would lie in the healing arts and at this time she also began to study many aspects of holistic healing.
In 1990, Kaya returned to NYU where she earned an MSW and then began her work with young children and families, specializing in childhood trauma in Eugene, Oregon, where her two children, Ariel and Sophie Rose were born. Some years later Kaya moved to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, where she currently resides with her husband and children.
After ten years working as a psychotherapist, Kaya expanded her healing work to the realm of the environment. Combining her love of spiritual wisdom, training in psychology and interest in the influence of the environment, she became certified as a Professional Feng Shui Practitioner. Kaya provided architectural, color and interior design consultations on homes and businesses in Massachusetts and Florida. Through this work Kaya was able to help people create healing environments conducive to physical and spiritual well-being.
In 1999, after the death of her beloved grandfather, Kaya felt a sudden urgency to pass on the treasures of Jewish learning she had absorbed in her early education. She recognized that there was a need for a new kind of Jewish education and for healing in the greater Jewish community. Kaya became a Jewish educator teaching Hebrew and Judaic Studies in local synagogues and at Sinai Academy of the Berkshires. Seeking to integrate broad perspectives gained from her diverse experiences and emphasizing the wisdom inherent in Judaism, Kaya made Jewish education for children and adults her priority.
Simultaneously, while searching for a place to daven, Kaya discovered a small independent traditional/egalitarian minyan in the home of a friend. It was in this tiny living room that all of Kaya’s yearnings and aspirations for Jewish life coalesced. She became a founding member of The Berkshire Minyan and continues to serve the community in a variety of roles. Thanks to the enthusiastic support of Rabbi Deborah Zecher, the Minyan has, for the past five years, found a home at Hevreh of S. Berkshire, the largest Reform synagogue in Berkshire County. The opportunity to facilitate and participate in a pluralistic community has been a tremendous blessing in Kaya’s life.
One shabbes morning, The Berkshire Minyan welcomed a guest from New York. Rabbi David Greenstein, who was the Rosh Yeshivah of the Academy for Jewish Religion, attended the service and Kaya was overjoyed to discover that there was a school that embodied her values of pluralism, tradition and innovation. Her dream to become a Rabbi finally seemed possible. Kaya is deeply indebted to AJR and all of her teachers for the wealth of learning she has been privileged to experience. Her achievement would not have been possible however, without the loving support of her husband Stephen Kaufman, the patience and understanding of her children Ariel and Sophie Shrum, and the encouragement of her parents, Judy and Larry Stern.