Lifetime suburban girl Rabba Amanda Veazey Flaks grew up in Durham, N.C., in a home with no religion, and felt a preteen “call” to Judaism. After earning a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and political science from University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and a Master of public administration (with graduate certificate in nonprofit administration) from Virginia Tech, she became a rabbi (or rabba) in 2021.
Looking back on this journey, she said, “Around age 12, I felt a deep pull towards Judaism – it’s not something I can explain. A midrash offers that every Jewish soul received the Torah together at Sinai, not just the Israelites. Our sages suggest that not all the Jewish souls at Sinai ended up in Jewish bodies. These are Jews-by-Choice. Even as a teenager, I knew that I was Jewish, and it was imperative for my spiritual wellbeing to convert so I could fully live as I was meant to.”
Further, she was recently accepted to Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership to consider a Doctorate of Hebrew Letters focused on Jewish medical ethics.
Rabba Flaks knows her way around medical ethics because she currently serves as a full-time chaplain for a hospice and has previously worked in hospitals providing spiritual care to those at the end-of-life. She refrains from being confined to one “box” and would welcome the future opportunity to return to the Jewish community in a congregational or organizational role.
Medically relevant, she also lives with significant chronic illness, including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, autoimmune arthritis and depression. She stated, “Judaism absolutely plays a role in my wellness. When the significant health challenges began in my late 20s, I felt unmoored and very far from G-d’s presence. Through Jewish rituals, deep and open conversations with the divine, and the support of my Kehilla, was I able to reconnect spiritually. Rediscovering my spiritual center while living with chronic illness is what brought me to my work as a chaplain- I have deep empathy for those in spiritual distress while navigating illness.”
Backing up to the gap between college and her simcha, she said, “I seriously considered entering seminary after college, but detoured and worked in Jewish communal service for about 15 years. On a trip to Israel, I met with leadership from Women of the Wall, and their director encouraged me to pursue my dream of the rabbinate.”
After many interviews, she joined the first class of a new pluralistic seminary, PRS, graduating in 2021 because she valued the experience of learning with all streams of Judaism. She explained, “Social justice and radical inclusion are essential in my spiritual practice: I believe G-d imbued everyone with a divine spark and seek to honor that spark in every person I meet.”
She identifies as Liberal/Open-Orthodox – committed to egalitarianism in traditional Judaism. She uses the title Rabba, a feminized version of Rabbi, that’s becoming more popular among traditional women rabbis. Currently, she attends a Conservative synagogue locally where her family finds a good balance of tradition and inclusion. About her congregant role there, she mused, “It’s fulfilling being an ordained ‘Jew in the Pew.’ Being a rabbi-congregant, there are many opportunities for me to support my shul while also having a spiritual home where I’m not on staff.”
Rabba Flaks feels that Jews don’t fully understand and elect hospice care because of Judaism’s focus on pikuach nefesh – saving one’s life and exhausting all possibilities of treatment until death. She encourages more Jews to explore hospice and palliative care as halachically permitted, encouraging them to discuss their last hopes, wishes and empowering them in their healthcare decisions until the very end of life.
In terms of her own family as a mother of two, she concluded, “Judaism is the fabric of our life, and I encourage my children to fully engage Jewishly. Every moment (sometimes to their chagrin) can be a teaching moment. As a rabbi, I am often needed away from home, so work-life balance is essential. After navigating seminary with young children, intense chaplaincy training and now, my work, time together is non-negotiable.”
- education and camp
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Rabba Amanda Veazey Flaks
- religious studies
- Political Science
- University of North Carolina-Greensboro
- public administration
- Virginia Tech
- Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership
- Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
- autoimmune arthritis
- Women of the Wall