One woman’s journey to becoming a rabbi


When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be four things when I grew up. Like most 5-year-olds: I wanted to be a teacher, an actress, a rabbi and a trained white horse. At that time (1945), I had as much possibility of becoming a rabbi, as I did of becoming a trained white horse.

My desire to be a rabbi stemmed from my admiration of my grandfather, Rabbi Israel Porath, head of the orthodox rabbinate of Cleveland, Ohio. I wanted to have a small percentage of his knowledge of Judaism, his ability to access the Torah, Talmud, and other holy books, and his skill in counseling congregants who came to his door with questions, personal challenges and life-cycle needs.

I had a wonderful childhood in Cleveland and loved studying Judaism, learning Hebrew and living a loving Jewish life. I did community theatre and summer stock. I began teaching Hebrew at the age of 16, when I left high school for the University of Chicago, where I earned my B.A. in education, and married a young medical student, Alan Mintz. Helping to put my husband through medical school on a public school teacher’s salary and raising a growing family was challenging, but rewarding. Alan became a well-respected radiologist and our four sons grew. The years flew by and in the 1970s I watched as women finally were accepted in rabbinical seminaries, but my responsibilities as a wife and mother, teacher, actress and interior designer (so, I could afford to be a teacher), kept that long-desired aspiration to be a rabbi unfulfilled.

When my husband retired (briefly, it turned out), he turned his attention to a new branch of medicine, age management and decided to open the Cenegenics Center for Age-Management Medicine in Las Vegas. We moved to Las Vegas in 1997. I came most reluctantly, not knowing anyone here, nor with any purpose in mind.

I gave myself permission to be depressed for six weeks and then threw myself into volunteering within the community. Within a few months, I became aware of a brand-new seminary for the training of rabbis, cantors and chaplains, the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. It was trans-denominational, training Jewish clergy to be able to serve in reform, reconstructionist, conservative, or orthodox communities. It was exactly what I had dreamt of since I was 5 years old. (God does work in mysterious ways.)

I asked my husband what he thought about my enrolling in the AJRCA rabbinical training program, as it would mean commuting weekly to Los Angeles for up to five years. When he didn’t even pause for a moment, but replied: “You put me through medical school; now it’s my turn to put you through rabbinical school.”

My years of study at AJRCA were some of the happiest in my life, even though my senior year included my being diagnosed with breast cancer, undergo a double mastectomy and six months of chemo. I only missed one day of classes, and personally can attest to the power of prayer, as I have been cancer-free for the past 16 years. All of my family — sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren — even some aunts and many friends were at the ordination. I was 64 years old.

In 2005, I was installed as Rabbi for Valley Outreach Synagogue (now known as Congregation P’nai Tikvah) and, over the years, have had the privilege of being its spiritual leader, teaching adults and children, facilitating life-cycle events (weddings, births, baby namings, b’nai mitzvah, funerals, etc.), presiding at holidays throughout the Jewish year, doing pastoral counseling and spiritual direction.

I am a member of the board of rabbis of Southern Nevada and one of its past presidents, a member of the Board of Jewish Nevada, the Interfaith Council, the Honorary Board of the Jewish Family Service Agency, the Board of Directors of the AJRCA and a past president of OHALAH (the professional organization for rabbis and cantors in the Jewish Renewal movement).

When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a teacher, an actress, a rabbi and a trained white horse. Three out of four isn’t bad.

Rabbi Yocheved Mintz is now Rabbi Emerita of Congregation P’nai Tikvah. She is the first female rabbi in Las Vegas. For more information on Congregation P’nai Tikvah, go to www.pnaitikvahlv. org or call 702-436-4900.